Archive for the ‘Floor Exercise’ category

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.

Basics, Basics, Basics!!!—The Training of a Handstand.

January 14, 2010

One of the issues that I find the most frustrating when watching people coach in the sport is the lack of work done on the basics.  I know that there are many reasons for this.  Obviously, there are those coaches out there who are just lazy.  Most of them wouldn’t be reading a blog about gymnastics anyway, so I am not talking to them right now.  I think there is a very large group of coaches out there who really want to do the right thing when it comes to teaching basics, but just don’t have the practical experience with these basics to, in turn, trust the process enough to really spend the right amount of time on them.  In other words, these coaches are semi-trapped in the world of “If my gymnast is going to compete a hyperthingamajiggy, then I need to have them doing more hyperthingamajiggys”.  This is understandable, as that seems to be the common sense of it.  I think there is a perception in all sports that, when pursuing greatness, the best plan would be to do the thing that you want to be great at 9 gazillion times.  I would think that most of the people who will read this are aware that this is not the case, and that true success lies in the “breakdown” of these complicated skills and furthermore, the preparation along the way for these skills.

This idea is important all the way down to the simplest of actual skills.  I would like to first discuss the handstand and then proceed to other skills in the coming weeks.  I hope that this helps all of you.  I know it is rather long, but I wanted to really get into detail with my progressions for this “most important of all skills”. 

At first glance, a handstand seems to be a fairly simple skill.  But, I would argue that, even the handstand is a complex skill in terms of all of the things that need to happen to create a perfect (or as perfect as the particular body will allow) handstand, and therefore, strong skills down the road that involve the handstand (and we all know there are tons of these).  Some of the key points to a handstand:

  • It needs to be as straight as possible
  • The ears should be nearly or completely covered while still allowing the gymnast to see her hands, but not her fingertips
  • The weight should be more on the fingertips than the heel of the hand (or at least feel that way)
  • The shoulders should be extended (shrugged up)
  • There should be muscle tension throughout the body, so that, if the coach tried to push a part of the body out of line, it would be difficult to do so

So, as you can see, there is a lot to accomplish in this “simple” skill.  None of this even includes the lunge, or the lever into, or out of, the handstand.  If we add those things, you would probably agree that it is not likely that a human being could concentrate on all of these things in one attempt at a handstand.  Because of this, we need to breakdown this skill so that we can make it easier to accomplish one or two of these things at a time before moving on to other corrections in the handstand.

The way that I most always approach the handstand is by doing two to three different drills in conjunction with each other to achieve the best handstand possible.

The Lunge – – – We work on lots of lunges!  In this position:

  • The knee should be on top of the toes
  • The feet should turn out just slightly
  • The hips should be square by stressing to the gymnast that she squeezes the thigh (quadriceps) of her back leg toward the hamstring of her front leg 
  • The arms should be up and covering the ears (but, at first, I have them do the lunge with their hands on their hips to just focus on the legs)
  • The head should be neutral   
  • The ribs should be in, so that the lower back is not arched
  • The tummy should be tight  

One of the things you can do with a lunge is to do one with the front toes against a wall and then push the knee to the wall, or do the same with a stack of pit blocks.  Walking around and pushing down on the gymnasts arms or palms to see if their cores give in is a good idea, as well.  Just don’t push too hard until you know they are engaging those muscles.

The Body Tension – – – One of the first and best ways of creating better body tension in the gymnast is to have them lay down on their backs and then the coach picks up their feet.  As her feet are lifted she should learn to squeeze her bottom so that her body is straight as the coach holds her feet up at about 45 degrees.  At first, we have to teach the athlete to squeeze in this position after we have lifted her feet.  As we progress with this, she should learn to squeeze before we lift her, so that the body tension is there from the beginning.  This is a great way to get them to understand how tight they need to be in a handstand.  Another body tension drill is to have the gymnast lay across a gap of mats (two panel mats work fine), so that her shoulders are on one mat and her heels are on the other.  She then squeezes her bottom and tightens her body so that she creates a straight line over that gap.  We have to watch to make sure that she is not arching and pushing her hips up too high beyond the straight position.  There are lots of ways to accomplish this body tension, so be creative!

The handstand against a wall – – – I start these by doing what are called “wall-walkers”, and then progressing from there.  The “wall-walker” is done by having the gymnast place her back against a wall, and then bend over to place her hands on the floor.  She then walks her feet up the wall to arrive in a handstand.  At this point, she should walk her hands in a little closer to the wall to get as close to vertical as she can get without falling.  The goal here is for her to hold this position herself, and then have the coach poke and pull on her to get her to use her body tension to hold the handstand.  Ideally, only her toes and maybe her chin should touch the wall.  At this point, I always stress to the gymnast to grow as tall as she can, or as a friend of mine says “Grow another inch”.  There are lots of variations to this drill, including turning around and kicking up so that the back is against the wall, or doing a handstand under a bar so that the gymnast has to “grow” just to touch her toes against the front side of the bar to be able to balance herself there.  Again, be creative.

Bridges, bridges, and other shoulder flexibility – – – Remember that an ideal handstand is perfectly straight.  It is impossible to get a gymnast’s body into a straight line if she is not flexible in her shoulders.  The work must be done to create this shoulder flexibility, so that she has the opportunity to get her body into a straight line.  One easy way to do this is by having the gymnast do bridges and try to get her shoulders out past her hands.  I almost always have the gymnast do these with her feet on something that is at least as tall as her shoulders when she is in a bridge.  This takes the stress off of the lower back and puts it where it is supposed to be: the shoulders.  We also place a mat or block or something out in front of the gymnast’s chest, so that she can push up against that to stretch the shoulders.  As she becomes more accomplished at this, we move it a little further away. 

Build strength in the right places – – – I am a big believer in the fact that a gymnast can build plenty of strength just by doing a handstand and repeating it.  The potential problem with this, though, is that the gymnast can build strength in the wrong places if this handstand is repeated over and over in the wrong position.  I am reminded of one of the favorite quotes of myself and several coaches I have great respect for, “Practice does not make perfect…Practice makes permanent.”  If a gymnast repeats something over and over again, she will become incredible at WHATEVER she is practicing.  If she is practicing a bad handstand, and does it a trillion times, she will be able to hold the nastiest handstand for longer than anyone else (and we have all had this gymnast).  I am sure that you would agree that getting this gymnast to fix this problem after that much repetition is one of the most difficult things possible.  It is because she has developed strength in the wrong places for a correct handstand.  So, every time that a gymnast is doing a handstand, I am thinking to myself, “What strength is she creating right now?  Should I slow her down and have her do the handstand with a spot or against a wall, etc. to make sure she is getting the proper strength work from that handstand?”  This helps me to be more diligent about the correct strength training for the handstand.

The single leg handstand – – – This is my favorite drill for a handstand, because I think it is the most effective for getting the gymnast in the right position on her fingertips.  I have the gymnasts, when doing handstands from a lunge, do these almost exclusively when they are not doing them with a spot.  If a gymnast can “lever” up to a split (a small split) handstand, and hold that, then bringing the legs together and holding that is much easier.  My goal with these is to have the gymnast get the back leg to go up to just a little bit past vertical, and then try to balance that.  We work really hard at maintaining square hips all the way through the skill, by squeezing the same muscles as we did during the lunge.  This drill is important also, in the fact that there are too many times that gymnasts try to put their feet together too soon, and therefore never achieve vertical.  Doing the split handstand helps to guarantee that they will get the back leg through vertical first.  I continue to do these all the way up through our system (as a warm-up), including with my level 9s and 10s.  In my opinion, it makes no sense to proceed to handstands with feet together until they can master this, and hold it for 3-5 seconds nearly every time they attempt it.  After they have this mastered, I will have them still hold the split handstand for 1-2 seconds before bringing the feet together in the handstand.  I have used these progressions in the past for balance beam as well.  I’m sure that we have all felt the misery of trying to get a gymnast to get all the way up to handstand on the beam.  It is probably a little naive’ to think that they will do that if they haven’t even learned to get all the way to vertical with a split handstand first.  We must remember, I think, that bringing the feet together is, in essence, the end of the progress toward vertical.  Once they bring their feet together, they are not likely to go any higher toward complete vertical.  At that point, it is what it is.

Later on…After working these drills for a while, when moving on to doing handstands with feet together, I have another technique I use to help them learn to get their weight on their fingertips.  It involves having them get into a habit of making the handstand fall the opposite direction than the turn prior to it, if the handstand is not held for at least 5 seconds.  In other words, if a gymnast kicks up and closes her feet together and then comes back down to a lunge before holding the handstand for 5 seconds, I make sure that she understands that the next one must go over to a roll or bridge, and vice-versa.  If she continues to train with this mentality, she will eventually “find” her balance point, and have more success with holding this handstand.

This is a drill I have been doing with our level 5 gymnasts:

So, these are my ideas for training a handstand.  Please let me know what you do to help your gymnasts with this skill, or ask any questions about anything that I have written.  I promise you that all I am doing is relaying things that I have learned along the way from coaches that were kind enough to share their experience with me.  I hope to pass on that tradition through this blog.  Thank you for your time in reading this.   


Training with Other Programs

January 5, 2010

This post is in answer to Julie Pickering’s comment below: 

I am a gym owner not a coach. How do you get parents of low level gymnast, say level 4 and 5, that tumbling is a progression? I have a gymnast whos mom takes her to a cheer facility to progress her tumbling. It aggravates me and the coaches. Also in the town we live in most people want to do tumbling at the cheer gym because they are quick to teach a bhs etc. How do you get parents to understand this besides saying it is a safety factor. It really hurts my tumbling classes.

The best way for me to answer this, I think, is to simply tell you what we do and why, and hope that helps you with your situation.

In our gym, the team kids and their parents are told and given literature from the very beginning, that they are not to train or even perform gymnastics outside of our supervision without first gaining our permission.  This includes summer camps, talent shows, and sports performance enhancement specialists.  We inform them of this through the rules that we give out at our annual parent meeting.  The parents are told that failure to follow these rules could result in dismissal from our team program.

The explanation that we give to parents has a few points to it:

  1. All coaches teach a little differently, and this can be confusing to your child.  It is not necessarily about what is wrong or right in terms of this coaching, but more about keeping things simple for the athlete.  To insure that your child has the best possible chance to succeed, it is better to have information coming to her in a consistent manner.
  2. There are, unfortunately, coaches in our sport who take shortcuts, and while this may be appealing in the short-term, it is detrimental to the athlete’s career in the sport.  We have a very specific, proven approach to helping children reach their goals in this sport through a patient, progressive system of coaching.  While this system may be slower than some, it is, in our experienced opinions, better for the long-term career of the athlete.  We have often used the explanation that we don’t want the gymnast to hit a “wall” with her skills, because the foundation was not built the way it should have been.  If the basics are learned correctly and the proper progressions are followed, then learning a double back someday can be just as easy as it was for the athlete to learn her cartwheel.  If this approach is not followed, it is our opinion that the athlete may hit this “wall” earlier than they might have and could find herself stagnating in her skill acquirement.  This can be a very frustrating thing for the athlete, and something that we work hard to help her avoid.
  3. The parents need to make a decision about who they trust to train their child in the sport, and then, by example, teach their child to trust those coaches.  Taking their child to another gym to learn a skill is, in effect, telling their child that they do not completely trust the methodology of the staff that they have chosen.  This is one of the worst things that can happen in the development of the athlete.

Unfortunately, many times, this situation can be the determining factor in whether a child stays with our program or not.  We believe in our system enough that we know that it is what is best for the athlete who really wants to be successful in the sport.  We also know that our program is not for every child, and that this is why there are many programs in our community.  We never hold hard feelings toward any parent or especially the athlete if they decide that they would rather be a part of another program.  This is why we stick to our standards so strictly.  It is what makes our program what it is. 

I hope this helps you, Julie, and anyone else who might be going through something similar.  As I have said before, these are just my opinions.  It is what works for us.  I am still interested in hearing other’s opinions on this and any subject.  Thanks all.  And thank you very much, Julie, for the question. 

Cause and Effect-Standing Tuck Full

January 4, 2010

In my opinion, the same general rules apply for a standing tuck full as apply to a standing back tuck with a 1/2.  So, to find out more about the cause and effect of that skill, be sure to read the article written on it.

I will remind everyone about Paul E.’s comment about strength, before I go on.  None of what I am going to write about now will matter if your athlete is not physically capable of doing such a skill.  I am going to address the technical aspects of the skill itself, however.

To answer the concerns of Debbie S., I think the main reason that athletes are a little “out of control” on the landing of the tuck with a full, is the same as under-rotating the tuck with a 1/2.  A lot of times, in my experience, the athletes that attempt this skill are fairly adept at the standing back tuck part.  Athletes at this level are also usually talented enough that twisting should be a fairly “effortless” movement.  For me though, I think that these athletes are usually almost automatic with the rotation of a tuck, but may sometimes “build-up” in their mind the challenge of adding a full twist to this tuck.    What this leads to, I believe, is that the athlete will try to twist earlier or more aggressively, because of her idea of how hard this skill is going to be.  The earlier the athlete twists, the later the twist will finish, which means that they are twisting when they land, sometimes causing this “out of control” scenario.  The science of this is that the closer an athlete can be to upside down when they actually initiate twisting, the less gravitational force she has to fight with the sides of her body, making the twist much quicker, thus being able to finish the twist earlier.  Obviously, when doing a standing tuck full, there is not a lot of time in the air (usually less than a second), so delaying the twist is difficult to do.  But, in my opinion, if the athlete can at least put her focus more on the flip, and therefore be more confident with the twist, then the likelihood of the twist being in the right place becomes greater. 

To help with the confidence of this twist, I think doing them off of a tumble-trak or springboard, or down to a resi or into the pit are all good ways of helping the athlete to worry less about the twist and more about doing the skill correctly.  Two ways that I can think of to have the athlete “check” herself:

  • Have the athlete do a standing tuck full on the trampoline, rebound straight up and down out of it and then “stick”.  This will insure that she is rotating the exact right amount and doing the twist in that “weightless area” of her flip.
  • Have the athlete work on sticking the skill off of the tumble trak to a level (with the t-trak) mat.  She can evaluate herself by whether she is falling one direction or the other.  What she will find, if she is not getting that ideal combination of flip and twist, is that her “twisting side” shoulder will continue to pull backward as she is landing.  This should help to alert her to be even more confident with her twisting and create an even better flip to make the twisting much more “effortless”, and therefore, hopefully, more “in control”.

As to the fear issue…well obviously, much has been written on this subject, and I am sure that all of us could add countless stories of fear issues with athletes.  So, for this particular issue, let’s assume that the athlete is not one of the irrationally afraid varieties of athletes, and assume that she is just afraid of this particular skill.  In that case, I always believe (or try to make myself remember, at least) that fear is a warning signal.  It, more often than not, is a tell-tale sign that something is not exactly right.  Now, in my experience, this warning signal is unique to the athlete.  Some athletes, who I would call “comfort athletes” (usually of the perfectionist type), are extremely sensitive to even the slightest variance in technique and therefore, will become a little fearful in these situations.  Again, I am not necessarily talking about the normally frightened athlete, but the one that is more aware of her mechanics than other athletes.  Another athlete may “chuck” a skill that has no possible chance of being made, because she is not as “in-tune” with her body’s actions in a particular skill.

In the “comfort athlete” zone all the way up through the “chucker” zone, the athlete who demonstrates fear, should be allowed (and even urged) to continue with the progressions that have led them up to this point of attempting this skill on the floor.  In my opinion, this is where the athlete will figure out the problems in the skill and through more work, the solution.

Again, these are just my opinions.  We are extremely interested in knowing all of yours, so please comment if you have other ideas.  Hope this helps you Debbie, and all, and thank you for the question.  Keep them coming, guys!

Question about Tumbling Training

January 1, 2010

Julie Pickering has asked the following:

I am a gym owner not a coach. How do you get parents of low level gymnast, say level 4 and 5, that tumbling is a progression? I have a gymnast whos mom takes her to a cheer facility to progress her tumbling. It aggravates me and the coaches. Also in the town we live in most people want to do tumbling at the cheer gym because they are quick to teach a bhs etc. How do you get parents to understand this besides saying it is a safety factor. It really hurts my tumbling classes.

This is an excellent question!  Thanks for commenting, Julie.  Once again, I will give this to all of you first, and then add my comments a few days later.  I am really interested in your responses, as I am sure that Julie is as well.  Thanks all.

Another Thought on a Standing Back Tuck with a 1/2

December 30, 2009

Paul E. has responded to our Standing Back Tuck with a 1/2 dilemma with this comment.  I, personally, think this is dead-on.

Troy, I was thinking about one more thing that would hinder someone from this skill. This skill is commonly being taught to cheerleaders who have not had 10 years of gymnastics training before they try this skill. My point in this is not in the technique being used but in the athletes core strength. Usually at around 14 my boys decide to try these skills just playing around, as we have no event to use them on. I would have to say that 100 percent of the boys who have tried them learned them that day. They perform them really with no technique to speak of, but I think they are making them because of two things. First as you mentioned before they have a very strong understanding of a standing back, and secondly their core is strong, which helps them pull their knees through the twist. So to add to what you mentioned earlier, build the core muscles and I think you will get some great results.

I have to agree, as we don’t really use this skill much either, but when we do, it is usually with a gymnast that has already been doing standing back tucks and tumbling with multiple twisting for several years, and the results are similar to what Paul has mentioned.  Great point, Paul, and thanks for commenting!