How to do a Back Handspring
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Introduction to Back Handsprings
There are six steps to completing a perfect back handspring. Because back handsprings are associated with cheerleading and they look amazing to perform, they are often self taught, done incorrectly and performed dangerously. It's common practice for coaches to throw kids into back handsprings long before they are actually ready because the kids want to do one, the coach needs a flip in the routine, lack of experience or just plain laziness. Whatever the reason, this is a common sense approach to learning a back handspring.
CAUTION: If you are an untrained coach, parent, friend or interested onlooker who has never spotted a back handspring, DO NOT attempt to spot or teach a back handspring without proper training.
Proper Body Mechanics
Your first priority should be safety with all gymnastics and tumbling skills so it's critical that your team is capable of performing all of the elements necessary to complete a back handspring.
In preparing to learn a back handspring, athletes should have enough strength to hold themselves upside down with a flat back while pushing tall through their shoulders. They should not have an arch in their back or shoulders when simply holding a handstand.
- Lunge kick to handstand against a cheese wedge. Hold with perfect shape.
- Lunge kick to handstand with partner, push through shoulders, relax, push, relax push. This will begin to initiate the "block" necessary to snap to "C" shape.
- From standing in perfect hollow with arms at crown, fall forward to partner (partner will grasp arms), hold perfect shape keeping hips tucked under and body tight.
- Handstand with face to wall.
- Lunge kick to handstand, hop hands while in handstand - maintain perfect shape.
Hollow "C" Shape
A perfect "hollow" is often mistaken for a rounded "canoe" shape in the body. Hollow body is technically mean to be a straight line from the armpit to the toe. Hollow is in the center of the chest (clavicle) as though someone punched you hard. Chin is neutral - the same distance as if you put a grapefruit between your chin and your chest. Eyes should be looking toward your toes.
Back HandspringClick thumbnail to view full-size
"Where your head goes, your body goes." ~me
Six Steps to Flip Flops
There are six basic steps which are recognized as the appropriate steps required for an athlete to learn a back handspring. Breaking down the back handspring into pieces can make the difference between a successful, clean and safe skill and a failure or injury for the athlete.
Definition of a Back Handspring: Starting on your feet, sit back, swing your arms forward upward to crown past your ears, push aggressively out of your legs while swinging and moving your body backward into a hard-arch position, pass quickly through hard arch, legs move rapidly over the top. As soon as hands contact the floor, block through shoulders immediately upon contact. Snap down, immediately push and block forward and up to crown and a high "C" shape.
Sitting Back: Sitting back is the beginning of the back handspring. Since a back handspring is meant to go backwards, the sit back should be leaning back and in motion. Shoulders should be behind the hips, hips behind the knees, knees behind the feet - all in a straight line. Remember that the sit should not be a low squat. If you squat down you have to stand back up and that will waste precious energy that you need to maintain shape, be powerful and speed up. Bending your knees more than 90 degrees is unnecessary.
Sit Back Drills:
- Fall flat to your back onto large soft mat.
- Lean back, bend your knees and jump to your back to hollow with arms at crown.
- Lean back jump to hollow then pull to immediate candlestick.
- Lean back and jump to hollow against a cheese wedge standing against a wall.
- With the appropriate sized rollie behind athlete (rollie should come up to their bottom), fall backwards to handstand over a rollie maintaining a perfect hollow shape onto appropriate mat then immediately fall to pushup position - hold shape without collapsing.
- Swing and Jump: Immediately following the sit back, arms should should swing forward and up to crown while at the same time pushing aggressively through legs. This is the most important part of the back handspring because it's the mechanism that forces the athlete to turn upside down. Failing at this point in the back handspring can lead to big mistakes and severe injuries.
Important Things to Remember
- The jump should be with power and energy. A back handspring is not meant to be graceful but is graceful by default when performed correctly. It's a transitional skill which requires an increase in speed in order to add more skills.
- Refrain from the "buckle" or "under-cut". By definition this means that the athlete failed to sit back and allowed their knees to come forward over their feet immediately upon take off. What resulted was a back handspring that did not travel backwards but went straight up and down or looked more like a circus loop. Sound familiar?
- When jumping, push all the way through the toe until the legs are straight and locked. This can be broken down by using a rollie and having the athlete jump only to hard-arch and stopping to feel the straight leg position.
Drills for Skills
- Arms at crown - shrug shoulders as though to say, "I don't know" with over exaggeration in the shoulders.
- Fall forward against cheese wedge and block off wall.
- On tumble track in push-up position - head neutral - eyes looking toward toes. Small blocks to move body down tumble track forward and backward while maintaining perfect shape. Beginners will want to bend arms to bounce.
- Kick to handstand on floor, immediately hop hands to block up to panel mat. Start small by unfolding mat so that athlete can maintain perfect shape. Make sure mat is secured against surface and doesn't slide.
- Handstand walks in all directions - sideways too!
- On springboard or tumble track - handstand blocks in one place. Beginners will need a partner. Advanced kiddos can do this as a contest to see how many they can do in a row without stopping.
- Hard-arch: Once the athlete swings and explodes from their feet, they immediately go to a hard-arch position. Hands should travel backward from where the feet start a minimum of at least the length of their feet to their torso - back handsprings should be long in the beginning. The athlete should not be arched in the lower back because the feet will be too low to obtain the necessary snap required for a good high "C".
- Block Through Shoulders: When an athlete can block correctly they will maintain correct body shape, continue into the snap and speed up the back handspring. Blocking is the ability to shrug the shoulders when the hands contact the surface which the athlete is tumbling on. It's a common misconception that athletes can block a skill as soon as they learn it. Learning to block takes a great deal of strength, body awareness and repetition. It's unreasonable to assume, require or believe that your beginners will be blocking back handsprings if they are unable to:
- Hold a tight tall handstand alone.
- Pirouette correctly without losing shape.
- Kick to handstand and bounce on their hands without losing shape.
- Shrug their shoulders.
- Snap Down: Snapping down is when a gymnast turns right-side up again. It's often the phase when body parts get lost and things are left behind because you are momentarily suspended in the air and must rely totally on momentum and effort to get to the next stage of the flip flop. The snap down requires abdominal strength, power in the glutes, pull from the shins and a forceful push from the shoulders, arms and upper body. It's a very fast and simultaneous exchange of motion where the upper body lifts and the lower body scoops under.
- High "C": The completion of the back handspring should always be to land with arms up in a high, hollow "C" shape. It seems to be grossly under-trained and forgotten that if athletes ever intend on adding additional tumbling skills, it is mandatory that their arms be at crown (next to their ears) at the end of the back handspring. What you train correctly now will save you months of correcting later.
Back Handspring At Last
There are many drills which can help teach a back handspring. If you rush the process, it is likely that the athlete will suffer from bad form, incorrect technique or injury. Learning to tumble is not a fast process for most people but it can be learned at a steady pace with the correct drills and training. Take the time to ensure you have the necessary pieces to perform a perfect back handspring.
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