Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

Training or torture? A look at China’s youth gymnastics training


In the pursuit of Olympic glory, athletes around the globe immerse themselves into a world of intense training, exceptionally high expectations, and immense pressure. In the case of young Chinese gymnasts, the pressures, expectations and intense training sessions are imposed upon them from as early as five years old. The results stemming from this type of system have many negative outcomes and few results are positive.

Through our various RSS classes relating to physical and mental well-being, we have identified several issues and negative outcomes of the Chinese training regimes.


These include but are not limited to:

  • Lack of education
  • Questionable diet
  • Intense training – questionable training techniques
  • Very little time to be a child – play
  • Lack of body maturation
  • Forced into training schools
  • Exceptionally high expectations – realistic?

In saying that, not all feel that this type of training is inappropriate. There are several success stories of Chinese athletes making it “to the big stage”. Many feel that being an World champion or an Olympian far outweigh the negative impacts of training.
There are many reasons why athletes feel this way. Some of the reasons include:

  • Economic benefits
  • To be recognized – status in the country
  • Prepares them for the “real world”
  • Conforming to social norms (belief that you will not be a lazy person)

We feel that China’s reasoning for training this way is not simply for punishing and torturing the athletes. We feel that their culture and morals are very different from Western countries in terms of reasons for playing sport. Some feel the need to play and train in sport because intrinsic factors (love of the game), and some do it for extrinsic factors (economic benefits).

What are your thoughts on the training strategies China puts their athletes through?

Below are a couple of videos that really capture the intensity and controversy of the training regimes for the youth gymnasts in China.

3 thoughts on “Training or torture? A look at China’s youth gymnastics training

  1. I think that this is a great reminded how cultures perceive themselves in sport.
    Although it seems cruel and painful for the children from our perspective, children and parents in these countries don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing because it is the way they grew up and learnt.


  2. I’ve read this for a different class and thought it was disgusting how they treated their children. Not having your mother or father there must really be hard on the kids. The methods they use to train these kids are beyond anything I thought would have happened.


  3. For some this may seem so foreign, wrong, or make us try to understand the mentality of another culture. On the other hand, perhaps this is a reality on our own soil and eludes us right under our noses. Or perhaps we just need a reminder. Do we remember Richard Sandrak, the young American builder who defied belief when he was a child and was suspected of using steroids under his fathers supervision. As Canadians, some of us might be able to recall knowing a child who is forced to play hockey and be successful even though they do not want to. How about overseas in Romania where two young body builder brothers named Giuliano and Claudiu Stroe who are aged 9 and 7. What about child beauty pageants and shows like toddlers and tiaras. Is pushing or forcing a young child to athletic perfection much different than how one of the worlds greatest musicians was forced to practice playing the piano as a child until he was into tears? This young prodigy and future composer of some of the worlds most renowned music is Ludwig van Beethoven.

    I see how one would think that the athletic training methods in China can be cruel, but I ask, do you fall in love with someone because they are perfect in every single way, or do you accept their imperfections in a paradoxical way that makes them even more perfect? This is how I feel about China’s culture and our culture as well when it comes to training young athletes, which is precisely what I just stated. Yes things aren’t perfect and could very well benefit from changes, but there is something special about the imperfect, or dark underbelly of society that makes us cringe. Plus, the world would be a dull place without wild and wacky ideas that make us scratch our puzzled heads. With that said, this does not reflect what actions I would take as I gladly subscribe to our own cultures norms when it comes to training young athletes.


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