Flippin’ Out: VR & Reducing Gymnastics Injuries

Have you ever seen someone trip or fall and find it hilarious? Yep, me too. We find it funny when people fall or get hurt. Why? Not sure, ask a psych major, but I can almost guarantee that at least one of these has been a gymnast. If you haven’t seen this, check out this video of gymnastics fails. Warning: highly addictive, great for procrastination.


Feelings post watching that video 

The 4-inch balance beam and the only 6-8 inch mats make gymnastics one of the most dangerous sports in the world. In the United States, out of the 3+ million children between the ages of 6 and 17 who do gymnastics, over 25,000 of them are treated in emergency rooms each year for gymnastics-related injuries, reported by the Center for Injury Research and Policy. It’s the same injury rate as hockey. One misstep, twisting or flipping too early, can easily cause a devastating injury in the sport, and ruin the rest of your career in the sport, like it did for this gymnast.


As a gymnast, cheerleader, runner, and dancer, I have been injured on an almost consistent basis beginning at age 9. My mom’s last words to me before I went through airport security to go abroad were, “Please, don’t get hurt.” In the past 12 years I have had:

  • Mysterious soft tissue ankle injury that killed all muscle in my ankles
  • Patellar Tracking Disorder
  • Patellar Tendonitis
  • Achilles Tendonitis
  • Strained Achilles
  • Strained Calf (3x)
  • Strained Hamstring (2x)
  • Right wrist break (2x)
  • Left wrist break (3x)
  • Concussion (1st one – 4 weeks, 2nd one – 9 weeks)
  • Broken finger (as pictured below)
  • Hip surgery: Femoroplasty and repair of labral tear
  • Perroneal neuritis

My broken, middle finger, 2 weeks after initial injury.

So, what’s the point of all of this? Coming from personal experience, it would have been great to have had technology to reduce my injuries. Wouldn’t it be great if there were technology that could reduce the injury rates of gymnasts today? Well, guess what? There is and it is something we’re becoming more and more familiar with every day: Virtual Reality.

VR made its reappearance in 2015 with Samsung’s headsets. Since then, VR has been immersed into the sports related field to aid training as well as recruiting athletes. Today, it’s used in a couple different ways.

  1. Viewing sporting events in VR
  2. Viewing the action from the player’s perspective
  3. Recreating the action in VR
  4. Using VR to train teams

Viewing Sporting Events in VR

This has been seen using the 360-degree cameras in order to make those fans who cannot attend the game in person, feel like they are actually there. This is typically done through a VR headset and app. The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio promised VR broadcasting and followed through, but the day after. Other leagues such as the NFL, NBA, and NHL are still experimenting with this.

Viewing the Action from the Player’s Perspective

A Spanish startup called FirstV1sion used this technology for a couple sporting events, but this use is best for training purposes.

Recreating the Action in VR

Beyond Sports is a VR startup that is aiming to create 3D simulations of games that would allow users to see the perspective from anywhere in a stadium.

Using VR to Train Teams

This is usually at least a $50,000 investment, but is the most-explored use of VR and is what will aid the gymnastics world. The best part of this, according to STRIVR, a VR startup, is that it helps football teams prepare players for games without requiring their excessive presence on the field, where they risk being injured and exposed to summer heat,” and gymnasts are exploring it.

VR is the main factor in the new sports simulation system that is helping a diverse scope of sports train. According to a study done by Lei Chen, the way the system works is, “It analyzes the problems in sports field through the method of system analysis, and uses related knowledge about math, graph theory, gray theory, operational research, control theory, information theory and so on to establish simulation pattern, then conducts real time, super real-time, under real-time simulation demonstration by using computer technology and connecting graphics, film and video BA and psychology”

For gymnastics, the entire VR system is based on “difficulty movement storehouse” and the “section plane” or body difficulty movement. The difficulty movement storehouse is taken from the “Code of Points of Gymnastics”, the new rating system that was implemented after the scoring scale of 10 was removed in 2006. This is built in accordance with the difficulty of movements in order to create the basis for the database. The complexity rises with gymnastics due to the 4 different rotations, floor, beam, vault, bars, as well as the differentiation between scoring for women’s and men’s gymnastics.

Regardless, as the difficulty level of the movement increases, so does the value of the technology. By taking into account the gymnast’s gender, height, weight, and the forces of gravity, developers are hoping that this platform will be able to precisely time and simulate the routine of the gymnast to avoid injuries. For example, this technology will be able to say something along the lines of “at the bottom of the giant swing (a gymnastics term for swinging around the high bar in an outstretched position), the gymnast should wait 3 seconds before letting go to complete dismount.” This would enable the gymnast to time the dismount so they get enough momentum and height to land the dismount and avoid hitting their feet on the bar if they were to let go of the bar too late. Now, I’m sure if you’re not a gymnast, you’re totally lost, so here’s a video to show the skill that I just explained:


The goal of using VR with gymnastics is so through this technology, the coach can edit, or


Nastia Lukin 2012 Olympic Trials

design a new action in order to show the athlete what they should be doing and how. Stringing multiple actions together could make a routine, making a huge impact on the
competitive world of gymnastics. The beginning of VR with gymnastics is here, and shown through this video using a 360 degree camera. Only time will tell if these new efforts reduce injuries for gymnasts. Hopefully, VR won’t fall flat on its face, but will rise and prevail to help the poor gymnasts that are still experiencing this.


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  1. Great personal post. Gross finger picture though! VR and sports definitely seems like a promising avenue in a number of sports :)

    And the video was pretty funny…

  2. whitmcdonald2 · ·

    Brittany! I get squeamish so I’m not saying thank you for that photo- but thank you for sharing. Being in the dance world and somewhat close to gymnastics, I always had an interest in trying it out but I am a scaredy cat and have always chickened out. Anyways! I really liked your post as it is so fascinating to watch gymnastics. I’ve always wondered how you guys learned new tricks- seems like you just have to try and fail over and over again in order to make progress! So, I am curious if this will work and prevent injuries and push athletes to the next level!

    Who is your favorite gymnast? Thanks for sharing- minus the pic! :)

  3. juliasmacdonald · ·

    Cool post! It’s great to see the applications of technology like VR making a positive impact. It is definitely no longer limited to entertainment or gaming, although leagues, most recently the NBA, are looking into it to create an even more interactive viewing experience for fans (check out this cool article describing how VR lends itself to basketball: https://www.si.com/nba/2017/11/07/nba-virtual-reality-future-cameras-technology-lebron-james). It’s awesome that it can help reduce the risks that athletes take. As a former volleyball player, I would love to see if it will ever become popular in player training for volleyball. I can see it helping players improve their angles and approaches without having to constantly run drills that put their bodies (especially ankles and other joints) at risk.

  4. Great post, Brittany! I think it is so clever to be using VR in this way and as a great, preventative measure for gymnasts to practice and perfect their technique before they get seriously injured. Gymnastics is my favorite sport to watch during the Olympics, so I definitely agree that it’s a great way to give fans kind of a front row seat into the world of gymnastics.

  5. Really interesting post! VR in athletics is such a clever application of these technologies. I used to play tennis on a “smart court” that would give tips on how to improve and would point out patterns, which was especially helpful when I wasn’t playing with a coach to point those things out. While helping improve your technique and fine tune your skills is really beneficial, preventing injury is invaluable (especially for an extremely injury-prone person like yourself). When athletics are such an important part of your life and possibly future career, this type of technology can spare you from creating more “weak links” in your body. It’s also awesome that this can be used to train teams because team sports are a setting where you need to be constantly reacting and adapting to what people around you are doing instead of only focusing on controlling your own actions. The fact that this can be simulated with VR must open up huge potential.

  6. ojeagle121 · ·

    This is a really neat progression of simulation. I think initially simulation for training was focused on stationary skills, like driving. I know when I was learning to fly, I was in a flight simulator just as much as I was in the cockpit. Its interesting to see VR take simulation training to movement sports. Hopefully it will prevent more injuries like you’ve stated! Although, people falling IS pretty funny

  7. I think VR is a great idea for sports. Or really anyone that needs to become acclimated to a job that relies on milliseconds of reaction. Giving an individual the chance to see what exactly will happen can only help. I know during high pressure situations, we are taking in a lot of information of the world around us, but if we can train ourselves to what we will see, we are creating a huge advantage.

    I bet in the future this is one of those tools that will be the difference between a champion and second place.

  8. m_thompson19 · ·

    It’s so cool to see all of the positive impacts that innovation such as AR and VR can do to hep so many different industries. I completely see how influential AR can be in training. It’s making me think of a movie that I used to love – Ice Princess. The Disney movie was about a smart girl who loved physics and ice skating and taught herself how to skate well using the aerodynamics and physics influenced the skating. It’s an old movie, but the similarities of using technology and models in order to better train and learn sports are definitely there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2P6-MnnV2o

  9. emmaelennon · ·

    I wasn’t sure how VR would work here, given movement — but using it as a guide when taking into account the physics behind movement makes sense…I wonder if other high risk solo sports like skateboarding and snowboarding are using it, too!

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