Posted tagged ‘technique’
So, during this season, I have seen about 12-15 gymnasts fly off of the bar backward while doing tap swings during a meet or the warm-up for a meet. In 2 of those cases, an ambulance was necessary. One of these gymnasts actually landed on her belly on the low bar and was, thankfully, okay. Three to five of these girls were slowed down by their coaches as the coaches were standing in between the bars as these gymnasts were performing tap swings (two of these were ours). The rest were extremely lucky in my opinion, not to get hurt. I speak from bad experience myself with this situation as I had a gymnast break her arm many years ago when she peeled off of the bar in the back of the tap swing. It was after this experience that I made sure that I stood there whenever my gymnasts were performing tap swings.
This, to me, is one of the most obvious cases of preventable injury that we have in our sport. Let me first say that there are probably not many people who are bigger fans of the tap swing being included in the level 5 and 6 bar routines. I think that the tap swing is simply, the best part of the compulsory routines on any of the four events. Having said that, it is impossible, in my opinion, to eliminate the risk of the girls peeling off of the bar. In fact, the better and bigger the gymnast swings, the more likely it is that the result will be a severe injury when she does peel. The height of the swing is what puts them in that perilous position of “no man’s land”, halfway between landing on their feet and being able to flip over to their backs. It is NOT about technique, in my opinion, but the size of the girls’ hands in comparison to the size of the rails. I have seen plenty of girls with great shapes in the back of their swings and excellent “tapping” technique slip off just as much as (probably more than) girls with horrible technique.
For me, this is not a question of an individual gymnast’s ability level. In my experience, the odds of this happening are the same for all of the gymnasts. On any given day, it is just as likely to happen to the girl who has done 300 sets of tap swings and never “peeled” as it is for the gymnast who peels off once a month, in my opinion.
I would like to note that I am not judging any coaches as I am writing this, and I don’t think negatively of people who have not stood in between the bars during tap swings. However, I think it is time that we, as professionals who care about our gymnasts’ well-being, really start to rally around the idea of standing in between the bars for every set of tap swings that our kids do. I know that there will be coaches who argue (Bill Sands comes to mind) about the idea of rescue spotting and reaction time, etc. The way that our bar coach does it however (and the way I did it when I coached bars), diminishes that argument in the fact that he stands with his outside shoulder (in proximity to the athlete) right beside the low bar, and he stands as close to her as possible. What this does is to place him pretty much behind the gymnast. If she does peel, she is basically flying “into” the coach. Again, the idea here is not to necessarily “catch” the gymnast in mid-air (which is what the studies about reaction time are about), but to slow her down and prevent the catastrophic injury. Our gymnasts never do tap swings on a regular set of unevens without a coach standing in this position. When they are in practice, we have a bar that is set up with a mat stack behind it and two wedges stacked up against that mat stack for the girls to do their tap swings. This way, if they do peel, the elevated surface helps them to be able to land more safely.
I would really like for as many blogs and websites as possible to put this on their pages, or to at least discuss this topic. Many of these gymnasts will never compete again in the greatest sport in the world because of these injuries, and all we have to do is “stand in” on tap swings.
If it is not enough for a coach to do this because of the reasons I have already mentioned, it might help to think of the legal aspects as well. When one of these girls’ parents decides to sue because of this injury, the attorneys for this family are going to investigate what other gyms are doing. There are many gyms that already “stand in”, and therefore the attorney will want to know why this particular coach was not doing the same. The second part of this is that when they are trying to prove negligence, the effort will be to prove that the accident could have been prevented by less of a burden than what the risk would be. In other words, standing in between the bars is a very small effort in comparison to the many, many gymnasts who are injured on this skill every season.
Aside from all of the legal mumbo-jumbo though, I always try to think of it in this simple way. If this happened to one of my gymnasts and the parents or the attorney asked me why I wasn’t standing there like that other coach was, what could I possibly say?
And now for the 3rd and final part of Training a Front Handspring on floor.
THE BLOCK OFF THE HANDS: A lot of times, this action is under-appreciated and over-emphasized at the same time. I know that sounds confusing, but I will try to explain. In my opinion, in most situations, coaches try too hard to train their athletes to block a front handspring on floor (and even vault) when the athlete is not doing the things before this block to allow her to be able TO block. As stated before, if the lunge leg doesn’t do its job, the center of gravity will be too low, and the athlete must bend her arms. At this point, it is impossible to block off the floor, since the definition of blocking involves a “bounce” or “pop” type of action, and not a bending of the arms, where the energy is absorbed. So, stressing on blocking without the pre-requisites of the techniques before this action is a huge waste of time, in my opinion (doing drills for blocking while still getting the rest in order is fine — it’s the expectation of a block without this prior technique that is the problem).
It is also my opinion that this action of blocking will become semi-automatic for the gymnast that does all of the technique before the block correctly.
The “under-appreciation aspect of this action is in the fact that, a lot of times, we are so busy trying to figure out why a gymnast is having trouble with the subsequent skill out of the front handspring that we may not look at how important the block is in the success of that second skill. Many times, the failure of that second skill is due to the lack of angle out of the front handspring, because the gymnast did not block from their hands in the front handspring.
One of the drills for blocking that a lot of people use, that I am not such a big fan of is the handstand hop. I like this drill (and variations of it) for front handsprings on vault, but not so much for floor. It goes back to what I talked about earlier regarding the “kicking through” of the back leg. When performing this handstand hop, we are, in my opinion, strengthening the action of bringing the feet together way too soon. This is an action that is more natural in my experience than the other (kicking all the way through), so I personally, don’t want to do anything to make this action more dominant. I feel like the gymnast can separate this technique more successfully when doing the drill for vault, so we do it there, but not on floor. Call me paranoid, but it works for me.
One drill that I have them do for blocking involves doing the front handspring from a lunge going down to a resi, and then over-rotating to the belly on a couple of wedges. This could also be done on the floor from a hurdle. Here are some of our gymnasts doing these drills:
THE FINISH: This is another very important aspect of the front handspring, as the position of the body and the angle of the body is crucial to the success of the skill that will eventually come after the front handspring.
***A huge point about the landing of this skill is the risk to the back. I am a firm believer that the majority of back injuries in our sport comes from the landing of front handsprings and other forward rotating skills. The reality is that no matter how much work is done on these skills, gymnasts land many of them with their bodies considerably behind their feet. This landing creates a great amount of force which is focussed on the vertebra of the lower back. It is because of this fact that I believe we need to be very conservative with this skill. We should do the best we can to keep our athletes from doing this skill on the floor until we know that they are capable of doing all of the above techniques efficiently enough to rotate this skill to the point of landing their bodies in front of their feet when the feet contact the floor. It is also important to work with the athlete to get her to tighten her core, using a “bracing” system (tightening the lower abs, the glutes, etc.), so that the lower back is protected on impact.***
One of the drills that we do for this are included in this video (thanks to Tammy Biggs for another great drill):
So, there you go. The training of a front handspring. I have included a couple of videos to show the completed process. The first is a video of our level 7s performing front handspring flysprings, and the second is of Ginny, one of our level 9s at Westerns last year performing her floor routine. She does a very nice front hanspring in her second pass.
Thank you so much for your time in reading this series of articles! I hope that it helps. I look forward to any and all comments that you would like to make about any of this.
So, here is the 2nd part of Training a Front Handspring on floor:
***Please note that a lot of these drills are done with front handspring step-outs, and while the gymnast may sometimes tend to land behind her foot and create a little lower back arch (something we do other drills for as well), I believe that the real danger to the back is not necessarily in the arching of the lower back (we still try to avoid this), as much as it is in the impact of landing in this position on two feet at full speed. I would love for my gymnasts to do these drills with less lower back arch, but we are still working toward making that better with these girls through spotting of these drills, CONDITIONING, other drills that are not shown, such as flysprings, etc., and through better flexibility. Remember also, that these drills are shown to give you some ideas on how to help your athletes’ front handsprings, and that we do not just do hundreds of these on a daily basis.***
THE LEVER ACTION: This is a big key to all tumbling, as this lever is what generates rotation and results in the body finishing past vertical, leading to momentum in the direction of the tumbling pass. Many, many gymnasts struggle with their tumbling passes, because they land their front handsprings behind their feet, simply because of the lack of this lever action, or the “stopping” of the lever action before the rotation is initiated fully. There are some lever drills on my “Handstand” post. Here is one of the drills we use to try and increase the speed of this action:
The goal in this drill is for the gymnast to place her fingertips as close to the edge of the carpet square as possible and then try and get her foot to land as close to the carpet square as possible. This is done by kicking the back leg through as aggressively as possible.
THE PUSH OF THE FRONT LEG: This is definitely one of the most over-looked parts of tumbling. So many gymnasts do not really understand the importance of this “lunge” leg. All we have to do is think of this scenario, and we can get a much better understanding of the necessity of the front leg push: A gymnast kicks the back leg as hard as she can over the top of a front handspring, but does not use the “lunge” leg at all. What this leads to is a lack of rise of the center of gravity requiring the gymnast to bend her arms in the round-off or front handspring. The second problem in this scenario is the loss of forward momentum, and the resulting “circling” action of that skill. It almost changes the momentum to retreat toward where the athlete started, as a kind of “undercutting” situation.
So, we have to make sure that we are working drills toward maximizing this action of the front leg. One way to develop this push of the front leg is a drill involving jumping across the floor with the lunge leg (do both to keep a good balance in strength in the legs) while holding on to a partner’s hands. Below are some gymnasts doing some of these (this was very new for these particular gymnasts) and another drill that I have found effective:
Another drill that we have found particularly effective is doing front handspring step-outs and cartwheel step-ins from the knee. This creates a situation where the gymnast must “stand up” using the front leg to make this skill. Here are some girls doing that drill:
Watch for Part III in this series, which will cover the “Block off of the hands”, and the “Finish” of the Front Handspring on floor.
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.
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.
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.