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Caving Arms on Handspring


Hi, my daughter has made a competitive cheerleading squad which requires her to do a standing back handspring. We have your video and have been doing the exercises regularly along with handstand push ups on the walls and handstand front rolls. Still each time she goes to throw it she ends up on her elbows and knees looking like a frog. There are occasions where she does undercut it but for the most part she is stretching it to be the length of her body. She can do the back walkovers beautifully, has a roundoff, but these arms just keep caving in. Are there any other exercises to strengthen her arms besides handstands? Help please.

If your daughter is doing well-formed handstand push-ups... the problem is NOT strength.

Most likely she's collapsing in the SHOULDERS because the arms are remaining in FRONT of the head rather than straight above it or behind it when she's reaching in the handspring for the handstand position. Without actually seeing her it's very difficult to offer an accurate solution... but that's my best guess.

My good tumblers can consistently do 10 handstand pushups (bending the elbows so that the head goes 1/2 way to the floor) with the hands so close together that the thumbs almost touch. There is NO angle in the shoulders... i.e.: there is a straight line from wrist to ankle. Make sure she can do that many pushups in good form AND step back out of the handstand without collapsing. If she can't do that she's not strong enough to do her handspring alone. If she is...there's no doubt about her strength and it's ALL an error in arm/head position.

1) check to see her arm position BEFORE she starts the handspring... when she's standing still... about to begin... are her arms straight out in front... down by her thighs or up over her head. My guess is they are out in front.

Out in front is a "Stylistic variation" that reinforces an angle in the shoulder which ultimately results in poorly formed handsprings. Start there... & make sure she reaches STRAIGHT up overhead before EVERY handspring... and then she can swing them down, through the 'straight out' position.. and then up again as she's springing. By allowing students to have the hands in front (allegedly for ? balance? similar to the old "marine squat" calisthenics) the tumblers are developing habits of improper head and arm position.

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2) Have her SPOTTED in the handspring... but make the spotter STOP her in a HANDSTAND position. So... she starts in a gymnastic stand... lean/sit/(arm swing) legs push & she'll spring backwards... to a HANDSTAND.... STOP!!!!
and stay there...

Analyze the handstand.
Is it in PERFECT form... or did she stick her head out like a turtle (another mistake caused by the arms reaching in front of the nose rather than above/behind the head.) Does the handstand look STRONG... or weak?

THEN.... make her SPLIT and step out of the handstand RATHER than snapping down & rebounding.

So here's the routine: AGAIN: have her SLOW DOWN the standing handspring... be SPOTTED through the "back spring to handstand"... HOLD the handstand position STRAIGHT and TIGHT for two seconds.. .then STEP out (completely finishing in the step out (through lunge position.) and back to a gymnastic stand.

REPEAT that correctly 14 times VERY slowly...allowing for ZERO error tolerance.
Speed it up to 1/2 speed 12 times. (& if there is a SINGLE error... repeat the first 14.)
Move it to 3/4 speed with a light spot... still stepping out... repeat 12 times
graduate to FULL speed 10 times... WITH a spot...allowing ZERO error tolerance... and going BACK to the first set if there is even ONE body part out of alignment.(yes you still do body length plus arms... marked on the floor!)

ONLY after she's consistently repeated the full speed handspring... with spot... 10 times... without error should you remove the spot.

You'll probably need to go through that ENTIRE routine 2x per week for 3 weeks before she has a consistent handspring by herself.

My recommendation is to HIRE a spotter.... for a 1/2 hour of private handspring lessons and have the spotter follow this EXACT routine... hand the spotter my email if necessary. If the spotter doesn't know how to have her spring to a handstand and stop...followed by a step-out to a gymnastic stand (arms overhead body straight and tight)... then you have the wrong spotter.

The only other likely error is an incomplete leg-push followed by a 'pike' or 'tuck' in the hips.
Again.. you'll see that in the spring back to handstand exercises above... the LEGS must be completely STRAIGHT before they leave the floor!

I'll be having tumbling/cheerleading camps this summer in Savannah.
Write back and let me know about your results.


Coach Wayne is the Head Coach for the Savannah College of Art and Design Cheerleading team and Executive Coach of Olympic Gymnast Zuzana Sekerova. His articles, videos and books have been used by students and instructors world wide since 1991. Coach Wayne is available for in-gym instructor training and performance tumbling clinics throughout the year. For booking information, coaches/owners should call 912.398.8082. Students and parents should request coaches/owners to contact Coach Wayne.



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