Archive for the ‘Vault’ category

Some Compulsory Vault Drills I use

January 3, 2015

Front Handspring Vault – Head Position?

February 18, 2010


Since so many folks are responding to Troy’s request for an intense front handspring discussion, I figured that I’d spur on the discussion a little bit.

So, here’s a topic of debate that I have had with several coaches.  What do YOU feel is the appropriate head position when first contacting the table?

In?  Slightly Out?

My position –

It should be slightly out (ears uncovered) with eyes focused on the hands.

I feel that the anatomical movements associated with “blocking” are a well-timed combination of an opening of the shoulders (shoulder flexion) coupled with a very quick, reactive “shrug” (shoulder girdle elevation).  Essentially, this allows the gymnast to “bump” or “bounce” off of the table assuming they have contacted at the appropriate angle.

Following the “block,” the opening of the shoulders will automatically move the arms beside the ears and put the head in a neutral position and in line with the rest of the body.

If the head is already “in” upon contact, the arms are already in full 180 degrees of flexion.  So, how can the athlete initiate any shoulder flexion upon contact?  Furthermore, most athletes try to “pull” the head in and end up tucking their chin to their chest and this creates an opposite reaction at the feet.  So, they end up sort of counter-rotating.

The argument that I receive usually has absolutely nothing to do with anatomy, mechanics, etc.  It’s usually this –

“Well, the judges in this state want to see the head in between the arms…etc…etc…”

So, needless to say, the kids of coaches who use this argument are usually “rolling” over the table.

So, now I’ve started the discussion – it’s your turn to chime in with your thoughts 🙂

Some Front Handsprings on Vault

February 16, 2010

I had a request to do some stuff on front handsprings on vault, and I am working on that.  In the meantime, though, I wanted to gather up some video of some of our front handsprings over the last few years, and see if we could start up a discussion about the front handspring on vault.  Take some time to watch the videos, and then post a comment about them…the differences, problems that you see, etc.  These vaults are not necessarily our very best or worst, just some random vaults that have been put on youtube.

These are right at the beginning.  You don’t have to watch the entire videos.  (And I’m not that fat anymore either…I’m so embarassed)


I would really love to have an intense conversation about this skill.  I think that there is a lot to learn about the front handspring vault for all of us.

“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.

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


April 21, 2009

Here is a spirited discussion that I have been having on vault technique at The Chalk Bucket Coaching Forum .

The discussion revolves around optimal vaulting technique during the pre-flight and initial table contact. The author of the post dislikes the USAG JO compulsory vaults because they emphasize too much of a hollow. I am in agreement that the term “hollow” is often misinterpreted and that “straight” is probably a better choice of wording. However, I disagree with his contention that gymnasts should be taught to come on with a tight arch. If you want to read the entire post, click on the link above or here .

Here are my comments…

Post #1

Go read this study by Takei et al.…omparative.pdf

Look at the diagrams between low-scoring Roche vaults (Hand double front) and high-scoring Roche vaults. The low-scoring has a big arch upon horse contact whereas the higher scoring vaults are considerably straighter.

I agree that some people over-do the idea of “straight-hollow” and end up teaching a curvilinear hollow. And, a lot of folks teach the head to be in when in fact it should be looking at the hands and slightly out on contact. The text even says that the gymnast’s eyes should be focused on the hands. So, yes, there should be an angle there.

But, to teach a big arch on contact and during the pre-flight is not optimal. The resultant vertical velocity will be better transmitted to the body with less segmentation and more rigidity. The key to a big post-flight is then trying to manipulate the angle of entry.

The reason that the Tsukahara and Yurchenko style vaults are more popular is because there is a mechanical advantage on the new table. The long table allows for the gymnast to make contact at a lower entry angle in those two vaulting styles. In contrast, it is much more difficult to contact at a low enough angle in the handspring front style of vaulting with the table as long as it is. You have to be very naturally powerful to pull this off. Most females are not that powerful and these other vaults offer better alternatives. It has little to do with training – women have different anthropometric profiles in general. Of course, there are always a few outliers like a Sacramone. But, those female athletes are few and far between.

The athlete in the picture that you have posted is actually a little high and that’s why he’s in a hard, tight arch because he’s trying to gain rotation by shortening the body. Unfortunately, he’s going to sacrifice height. If he focused on being a little straighter and trying to contact the table slightly lower, he’d have an even better post flight.

Post #2

Let me add one more clarification to my original post.

“Straight Hollow” is poorly worded by the JO Committee and I may bring this up. People naturally associate “hollow” with a curvilinear hollow. However, a straight hollow position is simply a straight position with the sternum pulled in slightly so that the thoracic spine is not in extension (i.e. arched). However, the thoracic spine should not be in extreme kyphosis (i.e. rounding) either.

So, better wording for the coaching community would be “straight.” And, that’s what I advocate. I want my athletes straight and tight with the eyes looking at the hands. So, yes, the head is out a bit.

At that point, I really emphasize board position and entry angle to achieve my desired post-flight. Do you have to arch in a handspring front? Yes, to an extent. But, I want the arch that occurs to happen through hip extension, not thoracic extension. Furthermore, I want this to occur immediately after the athlete has left the table because they will have maximized the vertical velocity due to the reaction force from the table. So, their flight path is now set and any changes in body position (arching, etc.) simply changes the inertial parameters and the resulting rotational (angular) velocity.

In coaching terms, they have now maximized their height after table contact and if they need to flip faster, this is the time to alter body position to achieve such. Furthermore, if the body is straighter coming off of the table, the rotational speed will be greater when they tuck or change position because there was greater resistance (inertia) from the initial body position. I know that I’m wording this poorly, but hopefully it makes some sense. Think of rotating and changing position in the middle of the air from a layout to a tuck versus a layout to a pike. Which is going to spin faster? Certainly, the layout to the tuck because tucking in tightly reduces the resistance to rotation to a greater extent than changing from a layout to a pike.

So, if I’m arched really hard coming onto the table, my body is already shortened and the speed of rotation when I tuck or change into whatever body position will be less than if I were straighter. Furthermore, due to the arch at contact, my center of mass is lower and therefore I will not attain as much height off of the table. My flight path will be a lower and flatter parabola.

Your continual argument of it being a tight arch versus a loose arch is irrelevant. Certainly being tighter will assist you relative to the transmission of the reaction force from the table. But, the arch alters the position of the center-of-mass regardless of whether you’re tight or loose. And, the position (angle) of the center-of-mass relative to the line of action of that reaction force is what plays an important role in flight path. The other variables of parabolic motion are take-off velocity (from the board and table) and the height of the center of mass from both the board and position on the table.

Post #3

I re-read my post a couple of times and have no idea where I explicitly stated that arching after leaving the table will generate rotation. You are correct that the flight path is set once the gymnast leaves the table. Arching after leaving the table changes the body position and could potentially increase the speed of rotation depending upon how “hard” the arch is because the body is being shortened. However, this would not be smart because of how the center-of-mass is re-positioned lower. A big, hard arch would spell disaster. To visualize this – I’m talking about an arch like in the high jump – the Fosbury Flop. The advantage to this high jump technique is that the center-of-mass actually goes beneath the bar because of the position of the body. So, it moves lower.

The big advantage to opening the hips (hip extension) is that it pre-stretches the hip flexors (eccentric action) just prior to snapping (concentric action of the hip flexors) into the desired shape (tuck, pike, etc.). This simply allows for a more forceful contraction into the desired position and this could be advantageous in terms of being able to contract into a tighter position. So, in the case of performing a handspring double front, the gymnast could get into a tighter tuck shape and possibly increase the angular velocity (rotational speed) enough to where he might have time to do more – like a half out or something more depending upon how high he got off of the table.

Post #4

I’ll add one more thing…

To those who are members of the United States Elite Coaches Association (USECA) for women’s gymnastics, Mark Young (Amy Chow’s coach) did a lecture on vaulting several years ago that was sent out on video by the USECA. It’s the lecture contained on the video titled as Vaulting #6.

In that video, he said that when he first taught Amy to do a hand front, he taught her to arch really hard and felt that it was a mistake. As he so eloquently put it (paraphrasing) – “I taught her to drive her heels hard and get her a$$ over her head.”

Later, he said that he saw the Korean men vaulting at an international competition and doing big handspring entry vaults and timers and observed their technique. They were coming on straighter and the hips would open as they left the vault (at this time, it was still the old horse). He termed this technique as the “Hollow-Hip Release” technique.

While Mark is not a biomechanist, his observation holds biomechanical validity as I’ve explained above. And, as he states in this lecture, he firmly believed that if he had taught Amy this technique, should would’ve medaled on vault at the 1996 Olympic Games because she would’ve been able to get a bigger vault. I have not watched the video for a LONG time, but I think that they were trying to get a handspring rudi.