As early as the 1850s, YMCAs began to promote physical health and well-being all across North America.  Many of the earlier gymnastics instructors were circus performers, and gymnastics training and performances were an integral part of promoting the YMCA.  By the 1920s and 1930s, gymnastics in North America was largely sustained by the YMCA, the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union), athletic clubs, and a few colleges.  

The first YMCA National Gymnastics Championships for men (along with squash and badminton) was held in 1938 in Detroit, Michigan.  The team winner was St. Paul Minnesota.  National Championships continued for 3 years, but were suspended in 1942 for World War II.  After a 13-year hiatus, the Championships were resumed in 1954, with Abie Grossfeld from the West Side Branch YMCA of New York City becoming the all-around champion.  Grossfeld went on to compete in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, and coached in the 1964, 1968, 1972, 1984 and 1988 Olympics.

In 1965, the National Championships for women began with only 12 competitors, and was held in conjunction with Men's Nationals.  It was held in Berkeley, California, with Seattle, Washington taking the Team Championships, and Joyce Tanac (Schroeder) becoming the all-around champion.  Tanac went on to compete in the 1968 Olympics, and won the AAU National Championship and swept all four events in 1969.  Tanac was part of the Seattle YMCA team led by coach George Lewis.  This legendary team went on to win 8 National Championships. 

Another well-known YMCA gymnast of that era was Linda Metheny (Mulvihill).  Competing for the McKinley, IL YMCA, Metheny was the AAU National Champion in 1966, 1968, and the USA Gymnastics National Champion in 1971.  Metheny competed in three Olympics - 1964, 1968, and 1972.

In 2009 the Lakewood WA team won their 9th National Team Title breaking Seattle's record.