Gimbarr — Chicagoan shares his passion for obscure Colombian street workout

Gimbarr has existed for a handful of decades, born in the neighborhoods in Bogotá, Colombia. Its name comes from its Colombian roots — “gimnasia a barra” — gymnastics on the horizontal bar.

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If you have walked past Lake Shore Park in Streeterville, you might have seen William Slotwinski, 25, twisting himself around the calisthenic bars. The sport he practices is gimbarr — an obscure street workout featuring contortionist elements.

These techniques are agonizing yet mesmerizing to witness, let alone perform.

Gimbarr has existed for a handful of decades, born of the Kennedy and Fontibón neighborhoods in Bogotá, Colombia. Its name comes from its Colombian roots — “gimnasia a barra” — gymnastics on the horizontal bar.

William Slotwinski practices the Colombian sport of gimbarr in Streeterville.

William Slotwinski practices the Colombian sport of gimbarr in Streeterville.

Colin Boyle/For the Sun-Times

The maneuvers for gimbarr vary greatly — elements can reflect gymnastics wherein the athlete swings on the bar. Others are more contorting and strength-focused; one pulls himself up, twists around and holds a challenging pose.

Slotwinski, who had been interested in calisthenics, tumbled down a rabbit hole in his YouTube search a few year ago and came across videos of Russian athletes performing gimbarr.

It looked easy, Slotwinksi thought, albeit painful. Undeterred, the hopeful athlete began practicing one element (a gimbarr move). It wasn’t until six months later that he was able to successfully execute it.

“After you get that feeling of success ... you start to love it a little bit more and you appreciate it, and you appreciate the people who do it,” he said.

Such grit is a common theme for this athletic activity.

A social sport

Anderson Alvarez, 24, resides in Villavicencio, a city in gimbarr’s home country, and has been practicing the sport for 11 years. He is connected with Slotwinski via Instagram and has a YouTube channel with seven years and more than 100 videos of various gimbarr tricks and featured guests.

Alvarez responded to an interview request sent via Instagram by sending videos of his answers in Spanish.

“With gimbarr, compared to other disciplines such as calisthenics, street workout, gymnastics and parkour, we perform elements that require flexibility, agility and elasticity,” Alvarez said.

The sport requires very little equipment: simply a horizontal bar and a human body to perform the strenuous maneuvers.

William Slotwinski puts his arms on a calisthenic bar at Lake Shore Park in the Streeterville neighborhood. On his left arm, a tattoo reads “Gimbarr Arte en Barras” (gimbarr, art on bars).

William Slotwinski puts his arms on a calisthenic bar at Lake Shore Park in the Streeterville neighborhood. On his left arm, a tattoo reads “Gimbarr Arte en Barras” (gimbarr, art on bars).

Colin Boyle/For the Sun-Times

In the early 2000s, gimbarr’s popularity spread from its equatorial origins to former Soviet nations. These geographic borders that separate the athletes are then broken down by social media such as Instagram, VK — a Russian social media site — and YouTube.

Dmitry Petrov, 25, works in Moscow as a Java-developer. But the Russian is programmed for more than just coding — he serves as a gimbarr competition judge and has won prizes for his athleticism.

Petrov is one of the first people whom Slotwinski came across in his search for gimbarr videos – his popularity in the online community comes from his experience and vast knowledge of the sport.

“
The earliest uploads [of gimbarr videos] were in 2007. It was the beginning of Gimbarr spreading in the world,” Petrov said in an email. These videos were noticed in the street workout community and first attempts to emulate the Colombian elements surfaced online in 2008.

Now, there are community pages on VK and tutorial channels on YouTube for instructional and entertainment purposes.

However, the popularity of gimbarr is sprinkled worldwide, with its athletes few and far between. Local communities exist, but typically can be found outside of the US. Although per Slotwinski, there are a handful of gimbarr enthusiasts in New York.

Disciplined and determined

Training almost completely by himself for over five years, William Slotwinski finds his gimbarr competition through social media.

Training almost completely by himself for over five years, William Slotwinski finds his gimbarr competition through social media.

Colin B Photography

During his epoch of elements, the Rogers Park resident has only met one of his gimbarr friends, Vladimir Yanushkovsky, from his online communities. They trained together in Chicago while Yanushkovsky was traveling across the US last year.

“Meeting him really helped me want to strive further and actually seeing elements in person, other than me doing them, it gave me some sort of hope,” Slotwinski expressed.

Despite the lack of a nuclear community of barristas — those who practice gimbarr –— Slotwinski finds his motivation watching his international Instagrammers develop.

William Slotwinski practices the gimbarr move known as a sole, using calisthenics bars at Chicago’s public parks. After years of training, Slotwinski cannot picture his life without the strenuous sport.

William Slotwinski practices the gimbarr move known as a sole, using calisthenics bars at Chicago’s public parks. After years of training, Slotwinski cannot picture his life without the strenuous sport.

Colin Boyle/For the Sun-Times

In an effort to start anew, Slotwinski made the “best decision” of his life when he moved to Chicago from the state of Georgia three years ago. In Georgia, he had struggled in his youth from his time in school and working at a manufacturing plant. His interest for the sport sparked during his southern chapter in life.

Here in Chicago, Slotwinski takes his talents to the calisthenics bars at the public parks. After years of training, Slotwinski cannot picture his life without the strenuous sport.

“For most of my life I was never disciplined with one specific thing,” Slotwinski said. “I’d say that gimbarr is one of the things that I don’t think I could ever quit because there would be so much time and effort, blood, sweat and tears lost.”

William Slotwinski, 25, performs a esquadra, which is a gimbarr element, on the calisthenic bars at Lake Shore Park in the Streeterville neighborhood on November 21, 2019 in Chicago, Ill. | Colin Boyle for the Sun-Times

William Slotwinski credits his “athletic body” to gimbarr and calisthenics. Here he performs a esquadra, which is a gimbarr element, on the calisthenic bars at Lake Shore Park in Streeterville.

Colin Boyle/For the Sun-Times

On his left arm, a tattoo reads “Gimbarr Arte en Barras” (gimbarr, art on bars).

And for his physical health, Slotwinski says the impact has been “tremendous,” leading him to having an “athletic body” through gimbarr and calisthenics.

He balances a heavy work schedule of two jobs in Chicago, commuting downtown nearly every day to train whenever he is off the clock.

Through it all, Slotwinski wants to be the one who evolves the sport in America and sees that it receives due recognition.

“That’s the least I can do,” Slotwinski reflected. “This sport, in many ways, saved my life.”

Colin Boyle is a freelance photographer.

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