Gymnast Explains What Simone Biles Means By Saying She Got The ‘Twisties’

by : Hannah Smith on : 29 Jul 2021 10:13
Gymnast Explains What Simone Biles' Means By Saying She Got The 'Twisties'PA Images

When Simone Biles explained that she had decided to withdraw from the gymnastics team final to protect her mental wellbeing after experiencing the ‘twisties,’ viewers had more questions than answers.

To most of us mere mortals, Biles’ vault on Monday just looked a little bit off, but gymnasts watching immediately knew the problem was far more serious than many realised.


In a Twitter thread, a former competitive gymnast and diver has explained what exactly Biles meant when she said she got the ‘twisties,’ explaining that the experience, while common among gymnasts, can have hugely dangerous consequences.

Simone Biles vaulting at the Olympics (PA Images)PA Images

‘When you’re flipping or twisting (or both!) it is very disorienting to the human brain,’ wrote Catherine Burns, adding that gymnasts learning new routines have to practice moves hundreds of times before their brain gets used to doing the trick. Burns describes the ability to perform a trick successfully while spinning through the sky as ‘air awareness.’

For gymnasts, the ‘twisties’ occur when your brain suddenly forgets how to do the trick, which Burns compares to a person all of a sudden completely forgetting how to drive a car while zooming along a highway.


Simone Biles Is Explaining ‘Petrifying’ Details Of Her Twisties

published at6 months ago

‘It’s terrifying. You’re moving way too fast, you’re totally lost, you’re trying to THINK but you know you don’t usually have to think to do these manoeuvres, you just feel them and do them.’

For gymnasts, this experience is also known as getting ‘lost in the air,’ which Burns says can be ‘scary and unnerving’ and ‘incredibly dangerous’ even for basic gymnasts, let alone those like Biles whose routines are highly complicated and rely on soaring far higher in the air than most.

Burns added that recovering from the twisties can take weeks, and praised Biles for taking the decision to step away to protect her wellbeing. ‘Choosing to bow out pushes back against a dark narrative in gymnastics that you sacrifice yourself for the sake of the sport,’ she tweeted.


Other gymnasts have echoed Burns’ analysis, with former USA Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez saying it was ‘insane’ Biles even managed to land on her feet.

Biles herself has liked Burns’ thread, and in a tweet last night wrote ‘the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.’

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Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith is a London-based journalist at UNILAD. After studying History at UCL she worked for print publications on both sides of the pond, including spells at Harper's Magazine and The Times, before graduating with an MA in Newspaper Journalism from City, University of London.

Topics: Sport, Gymnastics, Olympics, simone biles, Tokyo 2020


  1. @WittyNameChoice/Twitter

    Hi, your friendly neighborhood former gymnast and diver here to attempt to explain the mental phenomenon Simone Biles is experiencing