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:

Athletes, Cheerleading and Tumbling, Learning the Basics, Preparation, Skill Development, Tumbling

Tumbling: “Learning the Basics”

It is very exciting to watch athletes perform and achieve great feats of athleticism that leads to victory and success. Especially for young athletes who have a dream to reach the same status. This is what drives young athletes to pursue a path for future growth – and this path is a long one!! For young, aspiring athletes to achieve success and reach the goals they dream about, they must learn from the beginning. Learning the Basics is one of the most important factors in the pursuit of success.

It is normal for an athlete to want and learn the more exciting and difficult skills early in a career. In sports, such as gymnastics and cheerleading, many students want to learn how to “flip” or perform other similar skills. Although these skills are exciting, there carries a huge risk factor that many, including coaches, do not recognize.

The Purpose of Basics

Learning the basics of tumbling skills is imparative for positive progression and safety. It is certainly a building block process. Like so many other actions in life – for example: learning to crawl before walking; learning to add and subtract before algebra, etc. If these prerequisites are not a part of the training process, failure is almost certain. Students must learn to roll (forward and backward) before learning to flip; they must learn a great cartwheel before learning an aerial, etc.

When we see students struggling with accomplishing particular skills, it may be a lack in having accomplished fundamental basics. Learning to achieve tumbling skills entails strength, flexibility, agility, and mental awareness of body in motion. All of these factors take time to achieve. Learning fundamental elements will give students the tools necessary to accomplish the more advanced and complex skills.

Tumbling skills are complex and it takes repetition and time to achieve the desired result. If the process is rushed and the student is not fully prepared – physically and emotionally, the risk factor highly increases. When injuries occur while performing tumbling skills, much of the cause may be due to the lack of preparation. For example, when a student fails on attempting a back handspring, in many cases, the student is not prepared to attempt the skill. Another common problem is the combo pass of the “round-off, back handspring”. It is common that this pass results in a failed back handspring. In many cases, it is not the back handspring that is the problem. It may be the Hurdle and/or Round-off that is poorly executed. In this event, the student will not be in a position to perform the back handspring successfully.

Results of Basic Element Training

Learning and achieving basic elements in tumbling skills will allow the athlete to progress in a positive and safe manner. In addition, it will help the athlete in obtaining the confidence needed to perform skills as they progress. In addition, this process will highly reduce the chances of a “Mental Block” (the-mental-block-nightmare). Once this occurs in an athlete, it is very difficult and timely to overcome.

Even the most successful athletes will often resort back to basic element training as part of their training regiment. As mentioned before, basic elements are the building blocks for advanced skill training. We see this in almost every sport. The stronger the foundation, the stronger and more productive the outcome.

Don’t skip steps in skill development!! Seek out true professionals who have the knowledge in training skills with the correct technique and progressions. This will greatly increase the potential in advancement and success.

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Scott Johnson
1984 Olympic Champion
1988 Olympic Team Captain

My 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:

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Coaching, Preparation, Skill Development, Training, Tumbling

The Truth About Skill Development: Learning Tumbling Skills May Take a Long Time

Many coaches have been in situations where they will see students and parents become frustrated at how long the process is to learn tumbling skills. It can be even more dramatic when the process involves fixing bad habits. We all live in a fast paced world and many times expect all things to move and progress quickly.

In the complex sport of tumbling, this is rarely the case. In fact, it is common for skill development to take months (and for some skills, years) for students to acquire skills. The same goes for fixing bad habits . Many people who are not familiar with this sport need to be educated on how skill development works and the path it takes for achievement.

In the cheer and dance industries, there are just a few specific skills that students would like to acquire for growth potential. ( tumbling-and-the-cheerleader). These may include skills such as the back and front walk-overs, front and back handsprings, aerials, and back flips.

We often have students interested in our programs specifically to learn these skills. In many cases, the request is made to learn the skills quickly. An expample would be to prepare for a try-out event. Unfortunately, the reality is that it takes consistency and time to learn the skills requested. There are no quick learning situations (at least for the majority of athletes).

I hear from many parents that they are frustrated that their child is not progressing as fast as they believe they should. So why does it take so long? There are many factors that are considered when learning tumbling skills. Not only are there physical attributes needed in development, there is also the emotional effect – which can be the biggest hurdles to accomplish. Students who have not developed a strong foundation of basic skills will struggle with learning the more advanced skills (tumbling-importance-of-building-a-strong-foundation). In this case, skill development may take much longer.

I strongly suggest to all parents that they should consider placing their child in a tumbling program consistently so they will get the training needed to learn their skills properly and safely. We often see cheerleaders and dancers who are challenged with schedules so they cannot participate in a program consistently. The result? They usually do not learn the skills they are wanting to learn or it takes an extremely long time.

Another factor which may cause skill development to take a long time to achieve may be the poor quality and/or inexperience of the coach teaching the skills. When students are wanting to learn specific skills, parents should research and seek out experienced and qualified coaches. Not only will an experienced coach train the proper technique and progressions, the student will learn in a much safer environment.

We have seen many students develop a mental block while learning skills and much is due to poor coaching resulting in an accident. Once a mental block is developed, skill progression becomes much more difficult and sometimes may come to a complete halt.

Learning tumbling skills, like many other sports, takes hard work, consistent training, and time. Patience is a key element for positive growth in skill development. The road to success can be a long one.

Scott Johnson – 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist

If you are interested in a personal training session or consultation with me, we can Skype a lesson. Private message me or email me at:

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, Skill Development, Training, Tumbling, Tumbling Technique

Tumbling Technique: Is There Right or Wrong?

The sports of gymnastics and tumbling are very complex and it can be considered an art. Skill development is highly complex, even at the most basic levels. There are many factors that are in play when developing skills. Strength, speed, aggression, and flexibility only to name a few. Body in motion is complex and one must have detailed knowledge and experience in the skills they are teaching in order to understand how to approach skill training.

A common question that is asked in almost every industry that entails tumbling skills is: “what is the correct technique?” This can be a serious issue with programs teaching these skills. As I mentioned, due to the complexity of the skills in this sport, coaches should have extensive knowledge of the skills they are teaching. To gain this knowledge, coaches need to train with qualified professionals that do have the knowledge and experience. Much like a physician – a doctor cannot diagnose an illness or injury without the knowledge they have learned in medical school.

When coaches are teaching skills they have little knowledge of or have not learned the proper technique or methods, there can be negative consequences. For one, the student may not learn the skills properly which may make if difficult for the student to learning more difficult skills. For example, if a student is not taught how to do a round-off with proper technique, they will struggle in learning a round-off back handspring. The biggest concern with teaching improper technique is the safety concerns. There are risks with skill development in the sport of tumbling . If the student is not taught the proper progressions with proper technique, the risk factors increase dramatically.

It is important to note that there may be several methods of technique that work for the same skill. Some coaches may teach a skill one way and others may teach a different way. Both methods may be correct which can develop the same positive result. It is also important to understand that technique development may vary from one student to the next depending on the the physical and mental attributes of the athlete. For example, a tall and thin student may need to learn a skill slightly different than a student who is small and stocky. This may effect the developmental stages, but the end result should remain mostly consistent.

Coaches need to be sensitive to technical issues when working with students from different programs. Although the coaches may have the proper knowledge and experience to teach the skills, different coaches may have different methods in teaching skills. This can be very confusing to the student at times. They may say, “my coach doesn’t want me to do it this way” or “my coach told me this was the wrong way to do it”. Introducing new or different methods of development can be a positive thing and may work but it needs to be explained to the student “why”.

In some cases, however, there are programs where the coaches do not have the knowledge and experience to teach tumbling skills properly. In these cases, the student will struggle in developing the skills properly and safely. Programs that do not have the coaching staff qualified to teach skills, should take actions to either outsource or hire someone who is properly qualified. There are usually programs or events that are scheduled within a region or community like clinics or seminars that are great for increasing education in needed areas. In addition, many questions on skill development and technique issues can also be found on social media.

There is certainly right and wrong ways to teach tumbling skills. If a coach is not sure of the proper technique or methods in development, they should not attempt to train the skill by guessing. I have seen many bad habits created and unnecessary injuries due to lack of knowledge. Don’t take chances and do what is best for the positive development of the athletes.

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:

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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:

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