With the 2015 Trampoline Gymnastics World Championships about to get underway in Denmark this week, we asked U.S. trampoline champion and 2012 Olympian Steven Gluckstein to tell us more about the sport he calls “the next big thing — because everyone can do it, from a 2-year-old to a 92-year-old.”
Having been involved with the sport for the past 15 years, Gluckstein — who considers trampolinists as “pioneers at opening the eyes of the public to this awesome sport” — tells us five things most people wouldn’t know about the sport he loves so much.
1. It’s Even More Fun Than It Looks
At only 9 years old, Gluckstein had a love for sport, but it wasn’t trampoline he was passionate about. After six years in taekwondo and earning a black belt, the young athlete thought his career in sport would consist of kicking his competitors. But when the martial arts school he was attending closed, his mom told him he would have to choose a new sport.
“With my mother being 5-2 and my father being 5-8 — they knew I wasn’t going to be very tall,” Gluckstein said. “So my parents said football is out. Basketball is out. And the options they left me with were be a jockey, a cheerleader or a gymnast. Of course being a 10-year-old boy, I didn’t really like any of those options. But I eventually decided to try gymnastics, even though all I knew about it was you had to wear a uniform and you didn’t get to hit people.” But after seeing the trampoline and foam pit he “immediately fell in love with it.”
At the time, his current coach, 1996 trampoline world champion Tatiana Kovaleva had just moved from Russia to New Jersey and was starting a trampoline program. “She saw me in the recreational classes and wanted me to join her team. So she asked my mom. My mom said no, so the next week she asked my father. My father said yes. I’ve been on the team with the same coach for going on 16 years now.”
Gluckstein highly recommends the sport to anyone, and suggests finding a local trampoline or gymnastics club to give it a try. “If you can make a 9-year-old boy fall in love with something he doesn’t want to do — and something that’s not hitting or throwing a ball — then anyone can learn to love it. But they’ll only find out if they try it.”
2. The Training Is Intense
Seriously. “A lot of people see trampoline and they say, ‘Oh, you do trampoline? My daughter has one in the backyard and she’s pretty good.’ But they have no idea the amount of training we do to perfect our routines,” Gluckstein said.
If you’re having a hard time imaging what that involves, here is what a typical training day looks like:
“I train for two and a half to three hours in the morning and then another two and a half to three hours at night, on top of an hour of strength training and an hour of Pilates training.” That’s eight hours of training a day!
And Pilates isn’t the only type of exercise trampolinists do. “On the strength side, we also do weightlifting (similar to Olympic weightlifting), because they’re essentially jumping with weights when they do things like clean and jerk and snatch. And that’s exactly what we need — a stronger jump. Because in order to gain the height needed for your jumps, you have to have strong legs.”
Trampolinists also have to be elegant in the air while they’re flipping and twisting, and yoga “helps us to become more flexible so we can get into deeper positions with our tucks and pike, which is essentially folding yourself in half while you’re flipping,” he said. “And ballet helps us a lot in keeping our legs straight, our feet pointed and our posture in line.”
3. The Trampoline Is Not Your Average Backyard Toy
When you envision the sport of trampoline, do you picture Olympians jumping on that circular contraption you have taking up space in your backyard? According to Gluckstein, that is something completely different than what you see Olympic trampolinists using.
“For starters, our trampoline is 7x14 feet and is rectangular, as opposed to circular. Also, the springs are larger and the web netting has small holes in it that allows the bed to move up and down, enabling us to jump about 30 feet in the air on it.”
Even though his trampoline is a lot more powerful than what you’re used to — “people watch and they can’t really comprehend how hard it is to jump on this trampoline until they’ve tried it” — Gluckstein is confident even if you did try it, you wouldn’t realize the differences because “you’d be having so much fun on it. I honestly believe — once you seen it — it’s hard not to fall in love with trampoline.”
4. Trampolinists Are Also Great In The Water And On The Snow
It’s hard for most people to imagine getting to the Olympic level at one sport, let alone two. But Gluckstein said that trampolinists actually excel at a couple of additional sports: diving and aerial skiing.
“Because trampolinists are masters at their own body awareness, anywhere the human body is in air moving, trampolinists can adapt pretty quickly. We excel at diving because the flips and twists are very similar — although you enter the water headfirst as opposed to on a trampoline, where you land on your feet – and at aerial skiing.”
But even though divers and skiers alike have been known to train for their sport on the trampoline, trampolinists prefer to practice jumping into foam pits. “You would think the pool would be a good place to practice our routines,” he said. “But we try to stay away from diving head first into anything.”
5. It’s More Than Just Jumping
“Whenever I tell people I do trampoline, they think it’s just a contest to see how high you can jump.” But that’s not the only misconception, he said. “They also think its like figure skating, where the scoring is subjective.”
In trampoline, there is a subjective part to the scoring: “You are awarded one score for execution, which is how neatly your routine is done as far as straight legs, pointed feet, jumping in the middle of the trampoline. … But you also receive a score for flight, where they measure how high you jump by timing you, and that gets added to your total score. And degree of difficulty is calculated based on every flip and twist you perform.”
But what most people don’t know, he said, is that “our routine is terminated if we touch the side panel or we stop. So you can’t catch your breath and then finish your routine — it all has to be done consecutively.”
The sport is working on new ways to get the public to better understand the scoring, one of those ways is what he called “a traveling machine.” Gluckstein explained it as “something that will measure exactly where you land on the trampoline. So if you stay on the X in the middle, you’re awarded a perfect 10. But if you’re performing your skills on the side of the trampoline, your score gets deducted.”
With this new system he hopes it will “be very easy for the public to understand and hopefully they’ll be even more interest in trampoline competitions.”