Front Tumbling, Skill Development, Training, Tumbling

The Difference Between Forward and Backward Tumbling Skills: The Dynamics of Front Tumbling

dancer back walkover

The most common and most performed tumbling skills in sports that entail tumbling as part of their structure is back tumbling. This includes back handsprings and the many varieties of backward somersaults. Although front tumbling has grown as a major element in the gymnastics industry, it is not used as often in the cheer and dance industries. Front tumbling has an entirely different dynamic than back tumbling – and it is considered by many to be more difficult. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on the dynamics, training, and development of front tumbling skills.

coach spotting dancer

Just as in back tumbling skills, front tumbling skills also build from a foundation of basic elements. Developing great technique in the basic elements of front tumbling, such as the forward rolls, handstands, front limbers and walkovers, will allow the students to progress more easily to the more difficult skills (Basics of Tumbling – From the Beginning).

One major difference between front and back tumbling is the emotional factors involved in each. For most athletes, front tumbling does not carry the same fear factor as back tumbling. Since we are accustomed to move in a forward motion throughout almost every activity, it is more natural and comfortable to move in this direction.

I have trained and worked with many athletes who are simply afraid to go backwards. Even through basic development, going backward is “scary” for many. It is rare to find an athlete with a mental block of tumbling forward, but very common in back tumbling. There is certainly a higher risk factor in back tumbling and, if not developed in a safe and experienced environment, accidents and injury can occur (Confidence and the Mental Block). This is, in most cases, the reason why mental blocks are created.

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Even though front tumbling may be less scary and have a lower risk factor, it is more difficult to perform correctly. For example, a standing back handspring and back truck are fundamental skills for the developed athlete. However, standing front handsprings and front tucks are very difficult and rarely performed. Most front tumbling skills, with the exception of the front limbers and walk-overs, require a certain amount of momentum in performing the skill.  Front handsprings, front aerials, and front somersaults all are typically performed with a run, hurdle prior to the skill.

Why is front tumbling so much more difficult? In my opinion, it is technically more complex and requires stronger body control and effort to accomplish. It may not be as scary, but it is more difficult to learn correctly.  For the skills to be performed correctly, the athletes must have acquired the correct body and arm positioning to progress though the skills.  In addition to strength and aggression, flexibility also plays a major role in several of the front tumbling elements.  For example, the front limbers, walk-overs, and front aerials require a great deal flexibility in the back and shoulders.

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Many athletes are simply born with this trait, but many others must work years to develop the type of flexibility required in these skills (Flexibility: A Benefit to Success).  I myself struggled with flexibility as it did not come naturally.  It took me many years to learn the splits and my back flexibility was never great.  In fact, I performed a back walk-over in a floor routine at one time and my coach told me to never do it again.  I guess it wasn’t that great!!

Front tumbling consists mostly of front walkovers, front handsprings (landing on two feet or step-out), and front somersaults of different varieties. Each industry has its own specific needs and requirements. In the gymnastics industry, the students must learn to develop the front handsprings landing on two feet. It is a required element in the compulsory routine and is necessary for connecting front somersault skills. However, in the cheer and dance industries, the front handspring is most commonly seen with a step-out.

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Much of this industry difference is due to the surface used in the training and performance process. In the gymnastics and all-star cheer industry, the athletes train and perform on a spring floor. In the dance programs and cheer community and school programs, the athletes perform on a non-spring floor. The differences are almost like night and day with the two floor types.

 

In the cheer and dance industries, the most common front tumbling skill is the front handspring step-out or front walk-over. Not only is this a progressive skill that leads to combination passes, it is also not as physically demanding on the body upon landing. It is also more conducive for tumbling on a non-spring floor or a wood or marley floor. The front handspring step-out is a great skill to use for combination passes. The athlete can proceed to connect other skills such as multiple front handsprings, round-offs, etc.

The well-rounded tumbler will have acquired both front and back tumbling skills. Both require their own set of training drills. These drills and elements should be a part of the training curriculum, especially at the beginner levels. As in all skill development, if the basics are learned correctly, the athlete will have a much greater chance of succeeding in progressing through the more advanced skills.

 

Coaching, Dance, Safety, Training, Tumbling

Acquiring Tumbling Skills in the Dance Industry: Tumbling and the Dancer

dancer handstand

We have mentioned many times of how the sport of tumbling has become a requirement in sports. Of course, tumbling is a major part of gymnastics and cheerleading, but the requirements in Dance is growing rapidly. Each sports discipline has its own specific requirements for tumbling exercises. The skills that are popular in each sport varies. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts on how the sport of tumbling is incorporated in the dance industry.

There are several different types of dance disciplines that the dancer can participate in: jazz, lyrical, ballet, and more, but one discipline that is not seen as often is Acro. In the acro discipline, students combine tumbling skills into the dance choreography. These skills can range from very basic tumbling movements to more complex and advanced skills. The more advanced the dance student, the more advanced the tumbling elements. One of the biggest challenges for many dancers and dance programs needing to incorporate tumbling skills is proper training and development of these skills.

All disciplines of dance are very complex and students must commit many hours each week to develop the skills required in dance elements. In addition, many dancers on Company participate in several dance disciplines. Similar to gymnastics where the athletes participate in all the events, dancers may participate in Jazz, Lyrical, Ballet, Hip Hop, and more. This leaves little time for training the necessary tumbling skills the students would like to learn. The problem many dancers are faced with is that acquiring tumbling skills also takes many hours of consistent training to develop the skills (Tumbling: Importance of Building a Strong Foundation).

dancer back walkover

In the dance industry, the tumbling skills that are most popular are the front and back walkovers, front handsprings, aerial cartwheels, front aerials, and back handsprings. There are other skills that are seen but these are usually the major focus. The aerials and handsprings are considered the more advanced skills. These skills have a higher risk factor and takes, in most cases, years to accomplish.

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Not only are tumbling skills required in the discipline of Acro, many of the other disciplines of dance are incorporating tumbling elements within their choreography. It seems the popularity of performing these tumbling skills is growing in the dance industry. This requires a higher demand of training to learn the skills that the students need to incorporate in their training schedule. Finding the time to train these skills is a big challenge for the students and program. In addition, most dance studio’s are also challenged with finding experienced tumbling instructors to train the students.

Since tumbling is not the primary objective in the dance industry, most dance studio’s have a challenge in hiring a full-time tumbling instructor for their program. This makes it difficult in finding a qualified instructor to commit to working with the program for the little hours allowed for this training. I am often asked by local dance programs to assist with training their students on a weekly basis. However, since my full time position is running my own gymnastics and tumbling programs, I simply to not have the time to accommodate them. This is the same scenario for many of the gymnastics and tumbling instructors in local communities.

coach spotting dancer      For those dance programs who are challenged with acquiring a tumbling instructor, there are several options they can explore. One option is to bring in an instructor periodically to do tumbling clinics for the students. There are many tumbling coaches throughout most communities that are employed at local gymnastics programs that would love to assist in this area. Another option is to have the dancers either join a weekly tumbling class at a gymnastics gym or explore one-on-one private lessons.

The most important reason to seek out professional and experienced tumbling coaches is due to the risks involved with learning tumbling skills. An experienced tumbling coach knows the proper technique of the skills and the particular drills used to assist the athlete with learning the skills in a non-threatening or dangerous manner (The Technique Controversy).

In addition to learning the skills properly, spotting the skills is essential to help the athlete gain confidence and protection from injury. This is especially important in learning the aerials and back handsprings (The Art of Spotting). Many times when athletes attempt these skills without an experienced spotter, while still in the developmental stages of learning the skill, accidents may occur. The result could create such a fear, the athlete may get a serious “mental block”. When this occurs, it may take a long time to overcome – and some athletes will never overcome the block. This scenario needs to be recognized so it can be prevented.

dancer handstand 2

One big difference the dance industry has compared to the other sports that incorporate tumbling, is that the dancers need to perform their skills on a wood or Marley surface. No matting is allowed. This certainly creates a higher risk to the dancer and intensifies the fear factor. This landing surface is much harder than the typical tumbling mats used in other industries. Not only is it a much harder surface, it can also be a slippery surface. It is needed for dancers to spin and pirouette, but creates a challenge for tumbling skills. This is another reason why the dancer needs to have their tumbling skills perfected prior to attempting on this type of surface.

We are getting an increased number of dance students either join our tumbling classes or taking private training lessons. Due to this increase in dance participants, we have started offering monthly Aerial clinics. These have been so popular that we usually reach capacity. The most common statement I hear from the dance parents is that their dance studio does not have the proper instruction to teach tumbling skills. Many dance programs that offer an acro class has an instructor but they lack the knowledge and experience in technique and spotting of the skills.

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It is exciting to see tumbling skills incorporated in dance choreography. Many of the skills like the walkovers and aerials are elegant in their presentation and fits well within the dance routines. Let’s ensure the students learn these skills properly and safely. Through good technique, tumbling skills add a positive dynamic to the program. However, if the skills are performed poorly with bad technique, it will certainly have a negative effect in the presentation.

Please let me know what you think on this subject. Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

If you would like me put on a special clinic for your program, please contact me at the information below. 

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at:  scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com       http://www.scottjohnsonstga.com

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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.

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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: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

Coaching, Program Development, Skill Development, Training, Tumbling

Basics of Tumbling – From the Beginning

cartwheel on beach

Tumbling is seen and used in many activities in our society. Not only is it a competitive sport on its own but it is required as part of many other sports. It is needed in gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, martial arts, parkour, and others. It is, for most students, the most difficult of all activities to achieve. As with learning any type of activity, it is important to learn from the beginning. In this discussion, I will share my thoughts and experience in training the Basics of Tumbling.

The sport of tumbling is beneficial in many ways for enhancing performance in many activities. Not only is it the foundation in the sport of gymnastics, but it creates over-all physical development that will benefit the athlete in many areas. It teaches the athlete to be flexible, strong in all areas of the body, fast and physically explosive, coordination of motion, and much more. All these attributes are important for the success in most physical activities and sports.

As mentioned earlier, tumbling is one of the most difficult activities to learn. It is very complex and detailed. In addition, there is a certain amount of risks involved that must be acknowledged in skill development. Here, I will discuss the initial steps to consider in tumbling skill development.

As with most sports and activities, tumbling is a progressive sport meaning that each skill learned is a building block to learning the next skill. If the initial skills learned are not learned properly, the student will struggle with learning additional more advanced skills. The 3 major elements of tumbling are learning movements going forward, backward, and twisting. In this discussion, I will focus on the forward and backward tumbling elements. The twisting elements will be discussed in a following post.

Forward Tumbling;

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It is important to begin the development of tumbling skills from the most basic of elements. In forward tumbling, this starts with the forward roll. This fundamental skill is the beginnings of teaching the student to flip the body in a forward motion. Even this basic skill has a technique value that must be considered for accomplishment and safety. The forward roll may seem very simple and it is for many students. However, I have seen students struggle with this most basic element. Even this skill may need the assistance of a coach to spot the athlete to prevent any stress or injury to the neck or head.

 

straddle forward rolls

A variation of the forward roll is the straddle forward roll. This skill is very similar but more challenging as it entails more flexibility and strength. The bigger the straddle position, the easier it is for the student to push the bottom up for the roll. For this reason, a good stretching program should be the start of each training session. Again, this skill will, for most athletes, require a spot from a qualified coach.

With the successful development of these skills the student should be ready to learn the more aggressive front tumbling skills such as handstand, front limbers, walk-overs, front-handsprings and front flips – in that order. There are many drills in teaching each of these elements which will be discussed in future posts.

Note: The Bridge and Handstand are very important elements for both forward and backward tumbling that must be incorporated in each training session. Before these more advanced skills are trained, the student must have experience in these elements as many tumbling skills have these positions incorporated within the skill.

Backward Tumbling:

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Backward tumbling is more popular in this sport and one that is used most often in related sports. It also carries a higher risk factor which needs to be recognized. The initial fundamental skill to teach is the backward roll. This skill carries a higher risk factor than the forward roll. The back roll teaches the student the sensation of going backwards which is an unnatural motion in general movement.

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There are several methods used to teach this skill and both should require the coach to spot initially. Since there is body weight forced on the neck and head in performing this skill, the risk for an injury is common. All students learning this skill for the first time should have a coaches assistance. The coach needs to spot the skill by holding onto the hips and lift up as the student rolls back. This takes pressure off the neck. The two basic tools used to teach this skill is the wedge mat or two panel mats placed in a “V” position (this latter method is great for preschoolers and young ones).

The progressive skills following the backward rolls are generally: Back extension rolls, back limbers and walk-overs, back handsprings, back flips and it’s variations. These more advanced skills may take years for a student to develop. Not only is the technique in these skills more complicated, there is a strong emotional factor to consider. Due to the risk factors involved, students need to acquire a strong sense of confidence and mental strength.

The forward and backward rolls are not only fundamental requirements, but it teaches the student the awareness if flipping forward and backward which they will learn in future development. When the students acquire a strong foundation of basic elements, the time it takes to learn the more advanced skills may be faster than a student who skips these fundamental steps.

 

scott spotting bhsp

It is common to have students who have not learned these basic elements struggle with learning the more advanced skills that their sport requires. Cheerleaders and dancers, for example, reach a level in their sport that require such skills. These may be the back walkovers, round-offs, aerials, and front and back handsprings. Without the development of basic training in tumbling skills, the athlete will more than likely struggle in their tumbling development.

As with any activity that is built upon progressive development, it is important to not skip steps along the way. Just as in our education system, students start off learning the basic methods of math such as adding and subtracting. Once this is understood, the student can progress to algebra, geometry, and more. It would be impossible for most students to be place and succeed in an algebra class without having the knowledge of simple math skills. The same applies to tumbling and other activities.

 

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Many tumbling coaches, including myself, are happy to assist these programs. I have attended many cheer and dance programs doing clinics and classes for their athletes. I respect the owners and head coaches of these program to seek out experts in this field to help their programs. Those programs who attempt to teach tumbling skills without the proper knowledge and experienced are putting their athletes in danger. The results will more than likely be negative and the program will suffer its consequences.

Program owners and coaches who need to have their athletes trained to perform tumbling skills need to understand the importance of proper development and technique. Especially for those programs where tumbling is not a regular part of their program.  Tumbling can be a fun and exciting part of any activity, but it needs to be introduced and trained in a manner that is positive and safe for the athlete.  Let’s make it a great experience!!

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I would love to hear your comments on this post and get your thoughts.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

For clinics, seminars, or special events, please contact me at: scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com             http://www.scottjohnsonstga.com

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