Achieving the Perfect 10: Speed, Velocity, and Torque in Gymnastics

The vault is one of the most visually thrilling events in collegiate gymnastics but it can also be one of the most dangerous.

  • The vault, as with other gymnastics events, calls for an athlete to be in the best physical shape possible. Gymnasts need power in their legs, arms, core, and must possess huge mental capacity to focus on completing the right moves at the right time.  Other key factors involved in pulling off the perfect vault include agility and flexibility. A gymnast must strive to be in the top physical and mental shape in all of these areas if they hope to score the coveted perfect 10!
  • The vault begins with the approach down the runway. A top gymnast can reach up to 17 miles per hour when approaching the vault! This means that a gymnast running at 17 mph would go from the Jon M Huntsman Center to Rice-Eccles Stadium in under 95 seconds! Time = Distance / Speed.
  • The gymnast will need this high speed in order to pull off the complicated aerial stunts required in today’s world of competitive college gymnastics. When she hits the vault she will compress her arms and hands to spring herself into the air. Some gymnasts reach as high as 13 feet in the air!
  • As she is flipping and spinning in the air, the gymnast must use torque in order to get the proper angular velocity to pull off the combination. Torque is basically the amount of force placed on an object, in this case the gymnasts body, to get it to rotate. The more torque a gymnast places on her body, the more rotation she will be able to achieve. Angular velocity, or the speed at which something is rotating, is also determined by the torque.  Higher torque causes higher angular velocity.
  • Ute Senior gymnast, Kyndal Robarts, has one of the most difficult vaults in the country. After she hits the vault, she does two front flips in under 1 second! This means that she must put enough torque on her body to increase her angular velocity to more than 720 degrees per second! In order to do this, Kyndal tucks her legs in and keeps her arms close to her body. Much like an Olympic figure skater, this shrinks her center of mass (the area about which her body rotates) and she is able to spin faster.
  • As she is in the air, Kyndal must come out of her spin at just the right time and have complete focus so that she can land and not take a step (aka “stick it”).
  • These are all the steps that are required to pull off a perfect 10!


Articles by Kenny Morley.

From Tee to Fairway: How Physics Affects the Drive, the Club, and the Golf Ball

Golf Ball Velocity

Golf Ball Velocity

When a player exerts force on the golf ball, he/she swings an average of 4-5 miles per hour.  If the player uses a club with a flexible shaft, the act of swinging adds an additional measure of torque as the head of the club also propels forward to connect with the ball.  The head of the club has grooves that increase the friction between the club and the ball, allowing the club to more effectively focus the area of contact.

The optimal angle to hit the ball ranges from about 12 to 20 degrees.  Putting a backspin on the ball increases lift and can add significant distance to the drive.  The dimples on the golf ball itself help reduce drag from the air stream by reducing turbulent air pressure around and behind the ball, shifting the wake further behind the ball, thus allowing for smoother, less resistant flight.   Any combination of these variables contributes to how well the ball overcomes the forces of gravity and air resistance.

Learn the basics of how physics affects golf or read the more technical details here.

Articles by Trevor Stoddard.