Posted tagged ‘hurdle’

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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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

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.