The moves of rhythmic gymnastics

Discover what makes a winning routine with this quick guide to rhythmic gymnastics moves.

Five gymnasts strike a group pose with outstretched legs and arms holding orange balls and hoops at Athens 2004.

Rhythmic gymnastics is an elegant art, rooted in dance and performance. Gymnasts have four apparatus to choose from – ribbon, ball, hoop and clubs – and a world of creative choreography to be explored.

To achieve the perfect score, they must perform a complex series of balances, leaps and rotations to music, with their chosen apparatus intricately entwined in every move.

At times almost hypnotic, you won’t see any acrobatic tricks – such as handsprings and aerials – in the performances. They’re not permitted, and that's one of the key differences between artistic and rhythmic gymnastics.

Learn about the rhythmic gymnastics moves in this helpful guide and brush up on your technical knowledge ahead of Tokyo 2020.


Spanish rhythmic gymnasts lean forwards, flick the ribbon and kick their leg up behind them at Rio  2016.

Ribbon gymnastics is a mesmerising spectacle, with gymnasts creating beautiful shapes using a six-metre-long satin ribbon. Some popular moves include snakes, when the ribbon forms a continuous S shape, and spirals, where the ribbon moves in a circular motion to create a tube-like shape around or to the side of the gymnast. In group performances, you’ll also see tosses, which sees the ribbons thrown between the gymnasts.

The most difficult moves across every type of apparatus are called Dynamic Elements of Rotation (DER). In ribbon gymnastics, these involve throwing the handle of the ribbon into the air and performing a series of turns and moves, before catching it in one fluid motion and continuing with the routine.

Watch Danielle Prince of Australia perform her ribbon gymnastics routine at Rio 2016 to see exquisite examples of DER moves.


The hoop gives rhythmic gymnasts a whole host of creative possibilities, being able to use so many parts of their bodies. Circles can be performed around the arm, waist, neck, knees and feet. They can also experiment with throws and catches, like two-time Olympic champion Evgenia Kanaeva from Russia, who can effortlessly catch the hoop with her ankle.

Other technical elements of hoop performances include spins, where the gymnast rotates the hoop on the floor and moves around it, as well as passing through the hoop.

Watch the Ukrainian team perform an incredible hoop routine in this video of their performance at the Rio Olympics.


A rhythmic gymnast, Melitina Staniouta of Belarus sits arched backwards on the floor and her arm stretched up holding a blue ball at Rio 2016.

Rhythmic performances with a ball must be smooth, continuous and flowing. Gymnasts must combine elite skill with total mastery of this tricky apparatus. Olympic choreography will often include bounces, tosses, catches and rolls – the latter of which can be performed on the ground and on the gymnast’s body.

Exchanges are another move which are easy to spot. This is when the gymnast passes the ball from one hand to the other around their waist, ankles or other part of the body.

At Rio 2016, Ganna Rizatdinova won the bronze medal with her incredible ball performance. Watch this replay of her hypnotic performance, which showcases her immense control and grace – a truly world-class display of rhythmic gymnastics moves.


An Olympic gymnast kicks her leg in the air and bends backwards to the floor, holding two yellow clubs over her head at Rio 2016.

Performances with clubs are fast and slick, showcasing the gymnast’s agility and accuracy, using their hands and wrists. Core moves include circles, when the clubs swing in the same direction, and mills, when the clubs swing in opposite directions.

As is the case with every piece of apparatus, throws require the most skill. The difference with this apparatus is that you can perform throws with one or both clubs. Watch Margarita Mamun of Russia perform her gold-medal-winning baton performance at Rio 2016 to We Will Rock You.

Discover rhythmic gymnastics’ top performers and their spell-binding moves on the Olympic Channel.