Aerial Cartwheel, Dance, Gymnastics, Tumbling

Learning The Aerial Cartwheel

Introduction to Learning the Aerial Cartwheel

The aerial cartwheel has been a common skill for decades in the sport of gymnastics. Today, it is regarded as an elementary skill in most gymnastics programs. However, the aerial cartwheel is far from an “easy” skill to acquire correctly.

Now that the Dance industry has put a large emphasis on acro skills, the Aerial Cartwheel is a “must have” skill in many dance company programs. In fact, most of my Private One-on-One lessons are with Company dancers that need to learn their Aerials. Many dance studios do not have an acro program so students need to outsource their acro training. Even those that do have an acro class, many do not have a highly qualified coach to teach the skill properly and safely.

It is important to note that the Aerial Cartwheel is a complex skill that carries a decent amount of risks. Not only can the skill be mechanically difficult, but the mental aspect can also weigh heavy as well. As with any new skill, confidence plays a large role in how quickly the student can acquire the skill without assistance and risk. This is why it is important to follow proper progressions and build upon an existing skill base: Tumbling: Learning the Basics. In this post, I will discuss the pre-requisites needed, skill dynamics, drills, and proper spotting techniques.

Pre-Requisites to Learning the Aerial Cartwheel

As with all tumbling/acro skills, success depends on the amount of basic element training the student has accomplished. I have mentioned in many previous posts, how important it is to have a strong foundation (Tumbling: Importance of Building a Strong Foundation) for students to build upon. The stronger the foundation, the better the chances of success in learning higher level skills.

Prior to learning the Aeriel, the student must have:

  1. A technically proper and aggressive Cartwheel

2. A technically proper and aggressive Hurdle Step and Lunge position.

3. Flexibility, quickness, and strength also play important roles.

I often ask my students “what is an Aerial Cartwheel”. The answer I give them is: “It Is a Cartwheel – without hands.” In essence, the better the cartwheel, the easier it is to learn the aerial. If the cartwheel is weak or technically incorrect, the aerial will most likely not be accomplished.

Note: The Aerial Cartwheel is performed from several different methods: Standing, from a Hurdle, from a Sache, etc. In this post, I will discuss training methods that incorporate each method.

Training Development

Drill #1:

I begin to teach the aerial by working static cartwheel drills. The cartwheel process, for the purpose of progressing to an aerial, is somewhat different than the normal cartwheel process. In this drill, I have the student begin in a proper lunge position.

I discuss the arm and leg position within the lunge, outlining the “line” position and how it should maintain while performing the skill (such as a “seesaw”). Upon completion of the cartwheel, the lead leg should land very close to the second hand placement on the floor. This action trains the student how the lead leg should prepare for landing the aerial – directly under the hips upon completion.

Always have the student begin the skill in a lunge position with the torso and hips facing forward. A common error is when the student begins by facing sideways (even slightly). This position will make it more difficult for the student to land the aerial effectively. As the student becomes effective with this drill, have the student perform it with kicking the back (lead) leg with as much speed and aggression as possible. The lead leg should get as high as possible – as outlined above to maintain the straight line position. The higher the leg can get, the less distance it has to land at completion of the skill. The optimal position of the legs while suspended vertically during the skill is a complete split (180 degrees).

Drill #2

The next drill in this sequence is to move the student to an elevated surface to work on the same drill. I like to use a folded up panel mat, but any firm surface such as an air floor or firm mattress can be used. The purpose of the elevated surface is to allow the student to drive the lead leg further before the hands make contact with the floor.

I often draw an “X” on the mat where the hands should be placed and another “X” where the lead foot should land. Note: an Aerial should not travel forward very much. thus, the first hand should be placed down slightly in front of the first foot – while maintaining the “strait line” of the leg and arm.

At this point, I will step in and spot the student on an aerial. It is important to reinforce to the student that they are simply doing a fast cartwheel and the spot is a slight lift. This will give the student the feeling of what an aerial actually feels like. I do not have the student focus on any arm positioning at this time. So, the student is simply doing a cartwheel with a spot to lift them up slightly.


When spotting the Aerial Cartwheel, the instructor must be spotting the skill on the side of the lunge leg. For example, for Right dominate tumblers, spot should be on the right side. For Left dominate tumblers, spot should be on the left side.

*It is imperative that the coach is well trained and experienced in spotting this skill!! Why it is Important to Spot Skills

Drill #3:

The next step in this progression is to have the student perform the aerial drill from a run and hurdle step. The panel mat will be used again but will be turned sideways for the lead foot to be placed at the finish of the hurdle step.

It is important to determine the starting point of the run so the hurdle is performed in the correct spot. The run can be from one up to 4 steps prior to the hurdle. For the student just learning, two steps may be easier for the control. As the student becomes more comfortable with the action, the steps can increase to 3 or 4. However, this approach needs to be smooth and controlled. The run should not be too fast. (Note: the aerial should not be performed with much forward momentum).

Note: It is critical that the “Hurdle Step” is done correctly in order for the student to be in the proper position to execute the skill proficiently (The Hurdle Step – The Key Ingredient).

The “Chicken Wing” position:

When I first introduce this skill, I will have the student perform with the arms tucked in – fist to chest (chicken wing) position.

This is the Aerial using the “Chicken Wing” motion

Although this is not the position that aerials should be performed ultimately, I teach it in this manner as this position allows the skill to rotate quicker. Once the student has learned the skill and become confident without spotting, I correct this arm position to swing the arms to the side of the body while performing the skill:

Video of the Aerial with the Arm Swing

Progressing the Skill:

Through consistent repetition, the student will begin to feel more comfortable and confident. The coach should continue to assist with a spot throughout this process and gradually lighten up the assistance as the skill progresses. As with most skills, overcoming the “fear” of performing the skill without a spot may take some time. Patience is the key to building strong confidence, which is required to perform solo.

Once the student is able to perform the skill without a spot, using the tools of the panel mat and landing mat, it is time to transition to the floor. The coach should assist with a spot during this transition until the student is confident enough to attempt without a spot. Again, patience is the key and this process may take some time.


The Aerial Cartwheel does come with a certain amount of risks. If the skill is not performed accurately, the student has the risk of landing low thus putting excess pressure on the landing foot and leg. It is common for a student to experience an ankle injury performing this skill if not performed well. It is never a good idea to force a student to attempt this, or any skill, unless they are both physically and mentally prepared to do so. Always remember, once a student experiences an accident resulting in an injury, even if minor, the confidence level tanks and it may take a long time to gain that confidence back.

This training tutorial is my opinion based on the experiences I have had over the many years of teaching this skill. There are other methods that may be effective. As I have mentioned in previous posts, every athlete is different and what may work great for one may not work great for all.

Scott Johnson
1984 Olympic Gold Medalist 1988 Olympic Team Captain

My Beginner Tumbling Training Guide is available and ready for all to use. This is a great training aid for any and all programs who offer tumbling training. If you would like to order your copy, follow this link:

Cheerleading and Tumbling, Gymnastics, Mental Training, Preparation, Skill Development, Tumbling

Eliminating Fears in Young Students

When young children are learning something new, it is very common they may have some apprehension. In some cases, they may be terrified. This is a natural occurance and a situation that should be dealt with delicately.

Learning gymnastics and tumbling skills are certainly exciting for most students who participate. However, there are elements that can be scary, especially for young children. Many of the skills require the student to go upside down, and for some, this can be a very scary experience.

Even skills as basic as the forward and back roll can be challenging for some students. So how does a coach deal with these situations? There may be certain tools in the gym that can be used to help the student become more comfortable. These may include a wedge mat, panel mats, or other items that assist the athlete in motion. In addition, the coach should be active in spotting the student to help them with confidence and reduce the fear emotion.

Most importantly, the child should never be forced to do a skill they are terrified of performing. I have seen students who just cannot duck their head under for the forward roll or feel comfortable with flipping backward on a back roll. Since these are unnatural motions, some have developed such an extreme fear that it prevents them of accomplishing the skill – at least for an extended period of time.

Through consistent drill training, students usually gain the confidence needed to accomplish the desired skill. Drills as simple as the rock n’ roll and the ” donkey kicks” on floor help students in understanding tumbling motions. These baby steps are beneficial in development.

For the safety, enjoyment, and productive development of teaching gymnastics and tumbling skills, approach the training in a positive and stress free environment. You could be training a future champion!!


My new Beginner Tumbling Training Guide is published and ready for all to use. This is a great training aid for any and all programs who offer tumbling training. If you would like to order your copy, follow this link:


In addition, if you would like a personal training session or consultation with me, we can Skype a lesson. Email me at:

The Best athletic wear for recreational gymnastics and tumbling!!

Benefits, Gymnastics, Skill Development, Sports, Training, Tumbling

How Can Gymnastics Benefit Your Child?

It is very important to keep children active and get involved with some type of physical activity. Especially in this modern age where technology has taken control and children get glued to their computers and mobile devices. In addition, the majority of public school systems have little to offer in terms of Physical Education and intramural sports – where many schools only offer PE classes as an option in the school curriculum.

However, when searching which activities are best to get your young child involved with, there are many choices. I believe Gymnastics is a great place to start!! There are many benefits in learning gymnastics as a young athlete.

All sports have their own physical attributes which need to be accomplished in order to be successful. For example, in sports such as basketball, track and field, and soccer, just to name a few, athletes need to be proficient in running and jumping as well as throwing and spinning. Dancers need to be flexible and learn complete body control and coordination.

The sport of gymnastics teaches most physical attributes that all sports require in order to be successful. Gymnastics entails training in flexibility, strength, agility, and coordination. It is important the students learn to run and jump effectively. Through consistent training, students will increase physical coordination and agility. The sport of gymnastics and tumbling entails training that enhance development in all parts of the body.

Skill development in gymnastics is typically a slow process due to the complexity of the skills involved. However, through time, students will learn and progress to higher level skills. It is through this development that students develop physical and emotional attributes that will be beneficial in other sports they may pursue.

Only a small percentage of students who participate in gymnastics at an early age will reach the highest level of competition. For students who participate in gymnastics at an early age and progress through several skill levels, they will have developed many physical and mental attributes that will help them become successful in another sport.

Not only is gymnastics and tumbling beneficial to students, it is a fun experience for most who participate. Give it a try – it could be a great experience!!

My new Beginner Tumbling Training Guide is published and ready for all to use. This is a great training aid for any and all programs who offer tumbling training. If you would like to order your copy, follow this link:

These neoprene wrist supports are the best for gymnasts and cheerleaders experiencing wrist pain. The neoprene provides support and warmth to the joint to help relieve pain discomfort.

This is the best syle of leotards for recreational gymnastics. Get yours today!!

Coaching, Confidence, Gymnastics, Preparation, Skill Development, Tumbling

Skill Development: Why Can’t I Get It?

There is no doubt that gymnastics and tumbling skills are difficult to achieve. Those that are familiar with the sport, understand the dynamics and the time it takes to achieve skills. It is a sport where it may take months and even years for a student to achieve a particular skill. But why can’t a student achieve a skill that they have been working on for so long? There may be many reasons but the most common are fear factors or technical errors. Both of which can be fixed and overcome.

It is essential that students build a strong foundation of basic elements when they start their tumbling training. Skills build upon one another as the sport progresses so having good technique with basic skills will allow faster and more positive progression. 

For example, if a student has a great round-off, connecting a back handspring will be easier to accomplish. However, if the round-off is done poorly, the student would not be in a position to connect a successful back handspring. In fact, it is very common that when you see a student bust on a round-off,  back handspring, it is not the back handspring that is the problem – it is the round-off.

When a student is struggling with achieving a skill, the coach needs to determine “why”. If it is a fear problem, the coach should take the time to continue drill training and spotting to help the student gain confidence. This should eliminate the fear over time.  If the student is forced to attempt the skill when they are terrified, there is a good chance of an accident – and this would certainly increase the fear and prolong the accomplishment.

With more complex and difficult skills such as the back full twist or double full twist, the problem becomes more common in students struggling to achieve them.  The most common problem here is the lack of proper technique.  It becomes very frustrating for the student when they are not able to get the skill.

When learning these types of skills, there are prerequisites that need to be accomplished first – and accomplished correctly.  To learn a back full twist, the student must first learn a proper back layout -which is not an easy skill to accomplish properly. To learn a good back layout, the student must have a great round-off and back handspring.

If these prerequisites are not accomplished with good technique,  the student may never learn their desired skill.  I’ve worked with many students who fall into this category and the last thing they want to do is take a step back and work to perfect the basics. However, this is what must be done if they are going to learn the more difficult skills.

The bottom line in this scenario is that steps should not be skipped in skill development. Why can’t they get it?  More than likely, too many steps were skipped early in their development.

Scott Johnson – 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist

My training manuals: “Beginner Tumbling Training” and “The Round-Off and Back Handspring”.  These are useful tools in training for all and any athletes needing to learn proper technique and safety. Great for gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, martial arts, and more.

Cheerleading and Tumbling, Gymnastics, Skill Development, Tumbling, Twisting

Preparing the Athlete on Advanced Movement: The Twisting Element


Cheer Full

In sports that entail acrobatic skills such as gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, diving, ski jumping, and more, the ultimate objective for the athletes is to learn skills that have both flipping and twisting elements. These skills are highly advanced and requires that the athlete has learned basic skills with great technique. In this discussion, I will take you through my thoughts on the development stages of learning to twist in tumbling skills.

As the students progress through the developmental stages of learning to tumble forward and backward, the next step is to learn how to incorporate twisting movements. These skills are much more complex and requires that the athletes have proper technique in their developmental skills in order to accomplish these twisting elements.

Shadow twisting

Body positioning and control is critical in allowing the athlete to twist while the body is in a forward or backward flipping motion. For example, to spin a pencil on its end is an easy task as the pencil is a solid, straight object. However, it is impossible to spin a shoe string as there is no solid control of the object. The same with our bodies, if the student has loose and limp body movements, it will be very challenging or impossible to twist. This is the reason why body position and body tightness is a major focus in training all skills.

I consider the cartwheel to be the initial movement learned that relates to twisting skills. A critical key to acknowledge, which is commonly overlooked, is to determine which direction the student needs to perform the skill. Why? because this is the direction that should be consistent throughout the entire lifetime of progressive skill development. So how do we determine which direction to go? It is irrelevant if the student is right hand or left hand dominate.

Cartwheel.jpgI have always believed that what ever feels most natural for the athlete is the direction they should pursue. In fact, a majority of athletes twist in the opposite direction of their dominate hand – it is more natural. Let me explain: when a right-handed person throws or kicks a ball, the body actually moves and turns to the left while performing the action. Thus, for many people, it is natural for the body to turn in this direction.

However, this rule does not apply to every athlete. When I have a beginner student learning a cartwheel for the first time, I will ask them to spin around. The direction of their spin is a good indication of what direction may come natural for them. So I have the student try this direction first. If they struggle, I have them try the other way. Trial and error seems to work best to figure out which way to go. And once it is determined, that way should stay permanent.

Once the athlete determines the direction of the cartwheel, either left or right, it is critical that all progressive skills follow the same direction. If the student is what we call a “righty” this means the right leg will lead in all skills. This includes lunge to handstands, round-offs, front walk-overs, front handsprings, etc. I have seen, on several occasions, an athlete perform their round-off with one leg leading, however, perform a front walkover and front handspring with the other leg. This will create a challenge for the student to connect tumbling elements.

Round-off anim

The round-off is the next progressive skill to learn following the cartwheel. This is a very complex element to learn and there is much discussion among coaches on the challenges of learning this skill properly. This skill must be accomplished correctly with great technique in order for the student to connect additional skills – like the back handspring. An entire post can be dedicated to this one skill.

What is the purpose of the round-off? It is the skill used to turn forward momentum into backward momentum. It is a twisting element where the body generates a half turn while in an upside down position. Some athletes catch on to this transition quickly, but others may take longer to accomplish.

It is important to recognize that whatever direction the round-off is initiated, either right or left, this is the direction the athlete needs to twist in their connected elements. When the round-off is completed, the movement of the body continues in that same direction which creates a natural smooth transition. For example, let’s look at the cartwheel on the balance beam. If the student is leading the cartwheel with the left leg, the skill will end with the left leg behind the right leg. In this position, the hips are turned slightly to the left creating a left twisting motion.

I have seen many athletes perform their round-offs in one direction and twist in another direction. Although this is not a factor that will create a barrier to excel in tumbling elements, it does have its challenges. For example, it is certainly a challenge and more difficult to learn a round-off to an Arabian front flip or a back full. Performing a back handspring in-between the skills would eliminate this transitional challenge.

drawing back full

As I mentioned earlier, in order for the body to perform a twisting motion, the body must be tight and straight. For back tumbling, this requires the athlete to have great technique in the back layout in order for the body to be able to twist. In order for this to occur, the athlete must have great technique in the round-off and back handspring. These elements set up the layout and twisting skills.

Back arch flip animThe most common problem that prevents the athlete from twisting is the arched position. If the athlete has an arched position in their layout, the twisting motion is very difficult to achieve. The body must remain in a tight and straight position for the twist to be effective.  This scenario goes back to the initial fundamental training for the athlete (Tumbling: Importance of Building a Strong Foundation).  With proper training and drills, the students have a greater chance to learn the body control needed to accomplish these skills.

We stress how important it is for the athletes to learn proper technique in all skills – starting from the most basic elements.  Since all skills in tumbling are generally related and tend to build upon another, the better the technique, the greater chance the athlete will succeed in learning the more advanced twisting tumbling skills.

ski jumper twisting

I am in the process of publishing my first training manual: “Beginner Tumbling Training”.  This will be a useful tool in training for all and any needing to learn proper technique and safety. Great for gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, martial arts, and more. I will keep you posted on that progress.

In addition, if you would like a personal training session or consultation with me, we can Skype a lesson. Private message me or email me at: