Archive for January 2010

Basics, Basics, Basics!!! Training the Front Handspring on Floor – Part I

January 31, 2010

I had a request from a good friend of mine to do the next basics post on Front Handsprings on floor.  As I started doing this, however, it got really long (I know, surprising, right?).  Therefore, I’m going to post this in several parts.  So, here goes Part I:

The biggest thing that I would stress about FHS on floor is that I try and do about a gazillion times more front handspring step-outs than front handsprings to two feet.  This is the same philosophy I have about cartwheels and round-offs.  In my opinion, the more round-offs and front handsprings to two feet the athlete does, the more she re-enforces the bad habit of bringing her feet together too soon.  This habit is extremely counter-productive to the speed through these skills that is necessary for the continuation of the pass after this skill.  I’ve had it explained to me in the past as a simple matter of physics.  Basically, if an athlete kicks her back leg over the top as hard and as fast as she can, then it is virtually impossible for her to bring her feet together at the top without slowing down the leg that kicked over first.  This is a sure-fire method to a loss of momentum through the skill.

THE HURDLE:  Chris has written two very informative articles on the hurdle.  Please refer to these to understand the importance of the hurdle.  As far as the technique itself, I always teach the knee-up hurdle technique.  I have never been a big fan of the “chasse’ ” type hurdle or the recently seen “straight leg in front” hurdle.  The “chasse’ ” type does not lend itself very well to getting to the lunge as efficiently as the “knee-up” type, in my opinion.  The “straight leg in front” type is very confusing to me, and I would love to hear any opinions on this method.  I don’t really understand, from a physics point of view, how this could possibly be beneficial to the speed and power of the tumbling pass.  I have been proven wrong before, however, so I will gladly listen to other ideas on the subject. 

There is a great video from Bart, who coaches at Flips in Minnesota that demonstrates a great hurdle drill.  You can view this on Chris’ post on the Hurdle – Part II.  Here is another drill that Bart has up on his website gymnastics-skills.com for round-offs, but I like the hurdle part of this:

Thanks, Bart, for some very good drills!

Here are two other drills that we do for hurdles:

The point of the first drill above is to try and get the athlete to really feel the back leg get underneath them and then use it to push themselves forward.  This is in line with the points that Chris is trying to make with his two articles.  I was guilty for a long time of putting too much emphasis on getting on to the front leg in tumbling, and now I really try to stress to the athletes how important it is to keep that back leg underneath them, and then use it to propel them through the skill.  They have to basically “compress the spring” before the spring can be used.

THE LUNGE:  I talked a little about the lunge in my handstand article “Basics, Basics, Basics!!! The Training of a Handstand.”  There is some video of good lunges on there.  The important thing about the lunge in tumbling, to me, is the bending of the back leg.  As I said above, I always think of this as the “compression” of a spring.  If there is no bend of the back leg, then there is no way that the gymnast can push herself into the skill with that back leg.  This lack of push with the back leg is a big key to the failure of many gymnasts’ front handsprings.  There is a great drill for this that was done by Tammy Biggs using furniture movers.  We do this drill quite a bit.  Here is Tammy’s video:

Thanks to Tammy for another great idea!

And here are some of our girls doing front handspring step-outs with furniture movers: 

The second thing that is extremely important about the lunge for the front handspring is that the shoulders need to be completely extended.  The way I explain it to my gymnasts sometimes, is that their armpits should be completely open in the lunge and throughout the levering action.  A great principle to keep in mind about this is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  If a gymnast closes her shoulders going into the front handspring, the resulting action is that the back leg will stay down, instead of kicking over the way it should.  One drill that we do to help solve that problem is to have the gymnast do a front handspring from a lunge while holding on to a stick that is held by a partner above her head.  This just re-enforces the open armpits in the lunge and through the lever.  Here is that drill:

Another drill to help with the lunge is to do a lot of front handspring step-outs from a lunge, rather than running, etc.  When a gymnast has to do the skill from a lunge, she has to really focus on the right technique, as she can’t “cover up” poor technique by using speed from the run and the hurdle.  This is not easy at first.  It takes time and patience.  One of the drills we do is a front handspring step-out from a lunge going down to a lower surface such as a resi, etc.  As you will see in the next video below, this is basically the same drill as above, just without the stick.  One of the reasons that I have included it is to demonstrate that, while my gymnasts don’t keep their shoulders completely open when using the stick, you can see how much less likely they are to keep them open when they don’t have the stick to remind them.  This (the open shoulder angle) is, to me, one of the more difficult and most important things involving the front handspring.  It is important that we do the work to help them overcome this challenge.  Here is the drill:

***You will notice that, in most of these videos, the weight in the lunge is placed mostly on the back foot at the beginning of the skill.  This is something that we have started doing a lot of  recently (in the last 3 months), as I really want the girls to start feeling more of that push from that back leg by doing a kind of “rocking” through the lunge.  We have found this very helpful, but I am interested in any feedback that any of you have about it.***

Stay tuned for Part II of this series, which will cover the “Lever Action” and the “Front Leg Push” in the Front Handspring on floor.

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“If You Don’t Have Time To Do It Right, When Do You Find Time To Do It Over?”

January 29, 2010

I have a pretty extensive video library of gymnastics training videos that I’ve either bought, recorded myself, or copied from other coaches.  So, I pulled several excerpts from one of my favorite videos – “Double This, Double That.” This is a video that was distributed by the former USAIGC and is a lecture put on by Dave Adlard around 1996.

Dave has a video available through GymSmarts called Cool Games & Fun Warm-Ups.  Go check it out!

Dave and his wife also host a big meet out in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho called the Great West Gym Fest.

This lecture is not only entertaining and informative, but it has been very instrumental in shaping a lot of my philosophy and ideology on gymnastics training.  If you are still not convinced about the importance of sound basics in a developing gymnast, hopefully if we continue to “beat a dead horse into the ground,” we can convince you!

Maybe those of you who read this blog are convinced.  Fantastic!  Unfortunately, every time I walk into a meet, I constantly see the same stuff – sloppy, poor technique and it all stems from neglected basics. So, it’s pretty obvious to me that not everybody gets it.  Oh, they all “talk the talk,” but I see so few who “walk the walk.”

Here are two excerpts from the video.  The first video talks about training gymnasts right the first time and the second excerpt explains how practice is permanent.

Again, these excerpts were taken from a VHS video using Dazzle software.  If the sound quality is poor, I apologize.  You should be able to hear fine if you turn up your speakers or plug in your headphones.

Why Spend More Time on Basics…part 2

January 28, 2010

The following is an excerpt from JAO‘s comment on the training of basics, and why some coaches don’t train them enough.  I think this is pretty accurate, and definitely something we should think about.

Coach A, maybe only even subconsciously, wants to prove to the world he’s an awesome coach. Why else would Coach A be coaching team? If Coach (A) *just* loved coaching, he could coach rec kids and not have to worry about levels and meets and stress and fears and injuries and crying and nagging parents (or at least not to the same degree). So, on SOME level, at SOME point, we’re all coaching competitive stuff because we like competing, and we like competing because we like winning.

So, we can probably agree Coach A wants to win, and accept that as a reasonable premise? Now, perhaps at some level, Coach A has begun to notice his kids aren’t winning at meets. That’s ok, Coach A thinks, because there are other ways of measuring how good his kids are, i.e., how good of a coach he is. Coach A can persuade his girls, his parents, and most importantly himself, that it’s ok not to win at meets, for any of a number of reasons (we don’t train for this level, we train for the next level, the other teams have older girls, second year girls, they only practice meet stuff and we work on next year stuff, etc.) And those are all plausible, believable, and even potentially valid reasons for why Coach A’s girls did not place very well at a meet. Indeed, there are effective gyms that train ahead, practice other things, and only compete at certain USAG level because they have to in order to move their girls up, etc. But that’s not Coach A, and Coach A doesn’t understand that.

Coach A’s problem may be that he subscribes to a very dangerous and sadly all too common perception of gymnastics, which incorrectly states: If Coach A and Coach B both have a girl competing the same skills in Level X, but Coach A’s girl is younger, then Coach A must be the better coach, because he got his gymnast to do Level X before Coach B.

For a million reasons, we know that’s not a true conclusion. But it is in Coach A’s mind, though Coach A might not even admit it out loud, it nonetheless exists on some level to some degree. We’ve all been guilty at some point of seeing a team with a dozen babies at whatever level and thought “holy cow, I wish I had that.” (Which is the sister perception, also incorrect: If Coach A has 10 kids in optional level X and Coach B has 5, Coach A is a better coach)

So, if this is an operational thought in Coach A’s mind, it’s going to affect his philosophy and approach toward coaching. Which means instead of trusting patience and discipline, he’s going to equate greatness with earliness, and if he’s in a large enough market or has even just a little bit of luck, there’s going to be a girl who moves through his program every once in a while (just frequently enough to convince him his approach is right) who is going to be able to pick things up at the speed at which he coaches. She’ll look narsty, (that’s intentional) but he either won’t care or won’t know. It will justify him to himself, and be reason to be upset with the other girls who aren’t picking things up.

So why would Coach A spend any more time on a handstand than is minimally necessary? He won’t, because he needs to feel like he’s a great coach, and, unfortunately for him, he thinks that means getting kids to do things before other people can get their kids to do things. If he slows down, he’s going to feel like he’s behind, like he’s losing the race, and like he’s a bad coach; and his kids, who have been raised on speed, will suddenly be resistant to this new type of slow coaching, which will create chaos, argument, etc., and he won’t have the courage to keep the foot down, the kids and parents will run over him, and he’ll be forced back into speed-coaching in a few months with nothing to show for it but a few angry quitters and some mean emails from parents accusing him of not knowing what he’s doing, which is every insecure coach’s nightmare.

I think the key here is that JAO‘s description of this type of coach is exactly the opposite mentality of what I wrote about on my post on “Why Spend More Time on Basics”.  Coach A is mostly concerned with his own ego and reputation.  Coaches who are more concerned about their athlete’s well-being and goals are much more likely to spend the time necessary on basics for ALL of their athletes to be more successful, and not just the ones who would be successful in any program. 

Thanks, JAO for an awesome comment!

The Hurdle – Part II

January 27, 2010

In the first blog post on the hurdle, I discussed the importance of the position of the back leg at initial contact after landing during the brief flight phase of the hurdle.  Furthermore, as shown in the videos, the back leg seemingly pulls in under the gymnast or even slightly in front of the gymnast’s hip(s).

Even with a background in biomechanics, I could not figure out a mechanical reasoning for this phenomenon.  Why do many of the best tumblers do this?  How does it give them an advantage?  After much thought, I think it’s no different than why landing the feet in front of the body for forward vaulting is necessary. In vaulting, as the feet contact the board and are essentially “stopped,” the rest of the body continues to travel forward due to its horizontal momentum. How far the feet should be in front obviously depends on the speed (velocity) of the athlete. Athletes who are very fast will need their feet further in front, because they tend to generate much greater momentum. If the feet are not far enough in front, they are too far forward, too much rotation is created, and the athlete struggles to get enough of an upward flight trajectory to effectively contact and/or clear the vaulting table.

In the floor hurdle, I believe that the initial foot (leg) must contact directly underneath or even slightly in front of the hip to allow a more optimal position of the center of mass. Whether its underneath or slightly in front will again be dependent upon the velocity and the momentum generated by a particular athlete. If the athlete does not pull the initial leg under upon contact, they must compensate in some way so that they remain “stable” as they are transitioning into the round-off.  (At :52 into the Cheng Fei video, if you stop the video, you will see what I am talking about.)

So, how does the gymnast compensate if they do not pull the leg in under them? From my observation, they often push the hips backwards, which is completely opposite of what you want to happen!  This allows a better position of the center of mass so that they remain stable and do not lose their balance. Another compensation is kicking the leg around the side in some fashion. (There are other issues that cause this, of course…head position, etc. so if your athlete kicks their leg around the side of a round-off, don’t assume it’s purely a hurdle issue. I am just citing another possible compensatory strategy)

(Also, as a side note, if you watch kids who do not bend the front leg knee in the lunge as they land out of the hurdle, their hips move backwards as well. That’s why lunging is so important! Teach your kids to lunge when they first walk in the gym!)  Look back at Troy’s post on handstands!

Another thing to consider when we’re talking about the hurdle is the position of the body. The body should be upright with no closure at the hips. Many gymnasts “reach” to the floor and do so by bending (piking) at the hips. The body should act like a lever and pivot over the lead (“lunge”) leg with the back leg initiating the “kick” over the top. The gymnasts should think about “kicking” the back leg to turnover – not reaching to the floor. The weight of the head, arms, and trunk (HAT) actually helps to create an additional torque (rotation) as the body is pivoting over that lead leg and should be helpful to the overall turnover in my opinion in addition to the active “kicking” of the back leg.

However, if the upper body bends down at the waist too soon, the gymnast has lost this additional torque and may also create stability problems because their center of mass will now move too far forward of the lead leg over which they are pivoting. I believe that this, too, can cause a gymnast to innately move the hips backwards as well as to kick around the side.

So, I promote a hurdle that moves up and forward and stress getting the initial contact leg in underneath or even slightly in front of the contact leg’s hip. I also promote an upright body position and any leaning is a total body lean that is caused by the bending of the lead knee (i.e. passing through a lunge) just prior to the back leg “kick” and the body pivoting over the lead leg. Another thing about the lunge is that when the knee is extended (push-off from the lunge), that also contributes to the angular momentum that is being created.

Hopefully, all of that makes some sense and gives you something to think about.

Lastly, the hurdle is like any other skill. Spend some time teaching it. Don’t assume that gymnasts know how to hurdle.

Here is another excerpt from the same lecture given by Stacy Maloney, who used to coach Paul and Morgan Hamm, if  you are not familiar with him.

This shows how he trains his athletes to get their back leg in underneath them so that it is in a position to aid in rotation.

Again, I apologize for the poor sound quality.  I dubbed this video from someone else – from VHS to VHS and I used Dazzle software to convert it to digital format.  If you use headphones or turn up your speakers, you should be able to hear it.

Finally, here is another drill that I found recently  HERE , which was posted by Coach Bart who runs the blog and also hosts the site Gymnastics-Skills.com

A Question About Handstands

January 26, 2010

Pierre wrote this comment about handstands:

A question related to technique. I have been teaching gymnastics to adult beginners for many years and although I teach the lunge I have my students contact the ground with the shoulders in an extended position not with the arms by the ears. During the kick to handstand I have them flex the shoulders to finish in the straight body handstand. The shoulder action is similar to that seen in a cast to handstand or swing to handstand on the pbars. This approach has been quite sucessful with my beginners. comments would be appreciated.

I think this is okay for the group you are teaching.  I know that I probably did most of my handstands this way when I was younger.  The only problem with this technique is that it is not conducive to things that progress from the handstand.  In other words, front limbers, walkovers and front handsprings will be more difficult as these skills require a complete alignment of the body.  Any angles that are created in the body are potential for absorption of energy rather than transference of energy.  So, ideally, if we are thinking ahead, it is better to train the handstand with the lever action rather than the closing of the shoulders.

Thanks for the comment, Pierre, and keep them coming.

The Hurdle – Part I

January 26, 2010

I wish that I had some pictures to express what I am about to discuss, but I do not unfortunately.  To follow along, the best that I can do is have you reference a YouTube video of Cheng Fei’s Yurchenko 2 1/2 from 2005 World’s in Melbourne.  At :51 seconds in, there is a side view in slower motion.  If you stop the YouTube player, you can see much of what I describe below.  I tried to create screen shots, but the camera quality is not good enough and it’s too blurry.

The hurdle by definition is simply a transition from a run such that the athlete can maintain as much of the horizontal momentum as possible that was generated from the run into their tumbling skill(s) or vault.

When walking/running, the center of mass is constantly moving upwards and downwards. With that said, the goal is to keep the center of mass as constant as possible as any major displacement will affect the horizontal momentum that has been generated.

Despite this, I believe that there should be a bit of a vertical component to the hurdle. I like to see the hurdle go both upwards and forwards. Will you lose a little horizontal momentum? Yes. The same happens in vaulting. But, I believe it’s minimal. The reason that I feel that you must go slightly upwards is because of the back leg and where it contacts the ground.

David Kenwright, Olympic coach in Canada, and someone that I respect greatly, teaches his athletes to try and “scoot” or “shuffle” (I believe is his terminology) their initial contact leg (which is the “kicking” leg of a round-off/cartwheel) underneath of them as it initially contacts the ground. When watching the top tumblers, this definitely seems to be a trend as all of the best do it. Whether they were taught or they do it naturally, it happens.

Stacy Maloney, head coach/director at Swiss Turners in Wisconsin, is another person that I heard discussing the importance of the position of the back leg.  I have uploaded an excerpt from a lecture that he gave at the 2003 Region IV Congress (I believe…I dubbed this from another coach) where he discusses three important aspects of the RO.

Note:  I apologize for the poor sound quality.  I dubbed this video from someone else – from VHS to VHS and I used Dazzle software to convert it to digital format.  If you use headphones or turn up your speakers, you should be able to hear it.

In part II, I will look a little more at the mechanics of the hurdle and my mechanical rationale for the importance of the position of the back leg as such.

Sports Rehab to Sports Performance Teleseminar 2010!!!

January 26, 2010

For those of you who are really geeky like me, here is a link to a series of FREE teleseminars on a variety of topics related to sports performance, rehab, injuries, etc. etc.  And, the best news of all – It’s FREE!!!!

CLICK HERE for the website where you can sign up.

One interview per week, for eight weeks, starting Wednesday, January 27th. Each interview will last from 45 to 70 minutes (depending on the speaker). 8:00pm EST each Tuesday night through March 24th. If you can’t make the call, don’t worry! It will be made available for another 24 hours


Speakers include renowned physical therapists, chiropractors, strength coaches, & athletic trainers.

If you know anything about the physical therapy/rehab world, names like Craig Liebenson, D.C.; Shirley Sahrmann, Ph.D, PT; Stu McGill, Ph.D; Michael Reinold, PT, DPT; etc. are some of the most respected names both nationally and internationally and folks that will be participating in this teleseminar.

If you have any questions about who any of these folks are and what they have done, please leave your question in the comments section and I’ll respond accordingly.  With that said, if you type their names into the PubMed research database, you should find quite a few peer-reviewed journal articles by each listed.

The interviews will be made available for up to 24 hours afterwards.