Gymnastics, the sport gravity forgot, a heady mix of speed, strength, balance and hand-eye coordination, just a few of the requirements essential to be able to compete at any of the disciplines.
One of Britain’s greatest ever proponents of the sport is Leeds’ Nile Wilson, a former Olympic Bronze medalist in 2016 and winner of multiple golds at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games including solo wins for Horizontal Bars and the Individual all-around event.
He’s also something of a YouTube star with well over a million subscribers to his channel that shows Nile taking on ultimate challenges and rubbing shoulders with other celebs.
With the recent publication of his book Raising the Bar: How Gymnastics Can Change Your Life, we caught up with Nile to speak about his life in gymnastics, the training required to be a World class athlete and his hopes for the future.
The MALESTROM: You’re a massive advocate of gymnastics being life changing – how has it changed your life?
Nile Wilson: Well, I got into gymnastics when I was four years old, so it hasn’t changed my life, rather it has been my whole entire life!
I genuinely believe gymnastics can change someone’s life whatever age they start. The physical and mental benefits from the sport are huge. I talk about them a lot in my book and I think there is so much positive that comes from the sport. I wish everyone would just have a go and try it!
TM: How did you first get into the sport?
NW: I was clumsy as a child, so my parents took me to the gym at four years old to learn some special awareness where everything was soft and bouncy! And that was it, I was in love with the sport and have never looked back.
TM: Tell us about the training required to become a top-level gymnast?
NW: We train six days a week and anywhere between 3-6 hours per day. The training is tough, so you need to look after your body away from training as well. Get enough rest and recovery and eat and drink well.
You can’t switch off from being a gymnast because the physical demands are so hard. If I have a night or day off, then I quickly must get back into my regime.
TM: What’s the most brutal part of the training?
NW: To master a new skill, you simply must do it again and again. It is all repetition, so it can be a little boring and physically very demanding. But if you don’t do it enough times then you won’t master it.
TM: Is it difficult to keep that flexibility with all the muscle you need?
NW: Not really because we stretch every day and our bodies are used to being both flexible and strong at the same time.
TM: How important is flexibility for all of us?
NW: It’s a cornerstone of being a gymnast.
TM: Tell us about your diet and nutrition. What does a typical day’s food look like for you?
NW: I normally start the day with a Formula 1 Herbalife shake and after that my diet would be one dominated by enough protein (fish, chicken, eggs etc) in order to allow my muscles to recover from training.
Enough carbohydrates at lunchtime to keep my energy levels; and of course, some good old-fashioned fruit and veg! There’s no great mystery to it, it is just a very good healthy and balanced diet. I also make sure I am hydrated throughout the day.
TW: Do you have to supplement to get all the nutrition you need?
NW: I have been using Herbalife products for several years and they are incredible. They blend in with my daily diet and have been amazing for me.
TW: Scientific studies have said gymnastics is the hardest sport in the world both mentally and physically. What are your thoughts on this?
NW: It’s difficult to judge mentally but I think it must be physically. We put our bodies through a lot of pain from an early age and it never stops.
TM: Do you think any sport compares to others when it comes to strength?
NW: There are plenty of other sports people that are as strong as us, but I think the amazing part of gymnastics is that our bodies are trained to move our own bodies through the air.
So, gymnasts’ bodies are beautifully balanced and flexible. I think that sets us apart from some other sports people.
TM: What sacrifices have you had to make to be a part of gymnastics?
NW: You train almost the whole time and outside of it you need to rest, so you miss a lot of things that your friends are doing – nights out, parties etc. It is all worth it though.
TM: What does it feel like to compete for Great Britain at the Olympics and to medal for your country?
NW: It was the proudest moment of my life. Competing at the Olympics for my country was a dream come true for me. I would just like to make that Bronze and Gold at Tokyo 2020.
TM: For older people who aren’t likely to start a career in gymnastics, what can they realistically implement from the sport into their regime?
NW: It depends how old, but I think there is something in gymnastics for everyone. It doesn’t have to be all about flying around a bar. Gymnastics can be as basic as stretching and some bodyweight movements. Older people can do that.
TM: How’s the future of the sport looking in this country?
NW: Very healthy. We have a lot of amazing gymnasts competing on the world level and at the grassroots, gymnastics is as popular as ever.
TM: What are your hopes for the future?
NW: World and Olympic Golds.
TM: Is there a piece of wisdom you can give us from your time in sport?
NW: Enjoy the journey. Don’t get so hung up on the result, that you forget to enjoy the whole process on the way there. If you enjoy what you’re doing, in my case Gymnastics, then just enjoy every day in training and the results will come.
Nile’s book Raising the Bar is out now published by White Owl
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