Tony Gehman - Advanced Tumbling Skills: Back Twisting

Tony Gehman - Back TwistingIntroduction - The main prerequisite for advanced backward tumbling, is the ability to develop horizontal momentum across the floor-ex area.  This may be achieved through a well executed series of consecutive back handsprings or bounding whip-backs.  Next the gymnast must demonstrate the ability to perform a round-off, back handspring, backlayout approximately head height or higher, with a straight body position.  The chest should be contracted and the hips are straight.  This is the core somersault for twisting and multiple flipping.  It is important to develop specific gymnastics conditioning in order to perform higher level tumbling skills.  It is helpful if the trampoline is used in the early stages of flipping to help ensure proper body position, awareness and vertical takeoff.

Twisting - When learning to perform twisting somersaults, there is a tendency to twist “too soon”.  The goal is to go as high as possible, and then execute twist.  For this reason, we will purposely use lead ups that first encourage the gymnast to complete the takeoff and then perform the twist.


 1.  Perform a ¾ layout to a stack of mats approximately chest height, to the stomach.

Note: The coach may choose to safety spot depending on the level of the gymnasts.  During the takeoff it is important that the gymnast finishes the “snap   down phase” with the chest in (the shoulder blades are apart), the hips under, and the shoulders lifting to complete elevation (touching the ears).  The feet      should be a little behind the hips during the takeoff to ensure a high somersault.

2.  Perform a ¾ layout to the stomach and roll to the back in the desired twisting direction. It is now that we practice what the arms will be doing during the twist. 

There are two methods that I prefer: 

1.       For a left twist, the left arm will be pulled 90 deg. to the side.         

2.       For the same direction the left arm may be bent all the way into the body completely flexed.

Tony Gehman - Back TwistingTwist direction:  Most gymnasts have a dominant direction in which they twist.  We put them through several drills to help determine this direction. 

Have them jump and turn to the maximum of their ability. For instance, 1 ½ or 2/1.  Observe both ways (right/left) and see which one they favor.  This can be done on the floor or trampoline.  Next have them perform a standing back handspring followed by a jump half turn and then a full turn, both directions and see which way they favor.  As you take them through the progressions for flipping with twists, see that the direction they are going, is consistent with the way they favored during the tests. Once the dominant direction has been determined, they should twist forward and backward the same way.

3.  Perform a ¾ layout with a ½ turn after vertical.  “See the mat, then twist”

Note:  They must not twist before the feet pass thru vertical in the beginning because they may stop rotation and possibly land on their head. It is recommended that you safety spot at first to ensure complete rotation.

Tramp drill:  Perform a ¾ layout to the stomach onto an 8″ mat placed on the trampoline.  Follow the steps above for the ½ twist.

4.  Remove the stack mats and perform a layout, land followed by a jump ½ turn.  It is good to see the floor prior to landing.

5.  Next, have her do a layout followed by a ½ twist after the vertical.  This should be done onto soft mats with a spot or into an in-ground pit.

6.  Gradually allow the gymnast to twist before the vertical but encourage her to bring the body at least to 10:00 and finish by 12:00.  It is sometimes necessary to go back to the stack mats and develop the twist just prior to vertical.  Note:  It is essential to master this layout ½ twist between 10 and 12:00 before proceeding on to the full twist.

7.  Once proficiency has been demonstrated then you can have her perform a layout ½ to a stuck landing followed by an immediate jump ½ turn.  If she is over rotating the layout ½ she should not go on to the next step.  She should be able to complete the twist 8″ above the level floor to show she is high enough for additional ½ twist.

8.  Next she should be ready to execute a layout with a 1/1 twist.  A soft landing is recommended at first to protect the knees and ankles due to the potential for an incomplete twist or flip.  If you do not have a safety pit, I would recommend a spot onto a soft 8 “mat. The spotter in this case, will stand on the same side as the direction of the twist.  The coach should follow the hips on the way up and catch her as she is landing. Twisting is better learned if the landing surface is the same or slightly higher than the takeoff surface.  This will encourage the gymnast to go up rather than down during the takeoff.

Note:  During the takeoff for the twist, the shoulders should be lifting to the ears, the shoulder blades should be apart and the hips should be lifting upward.  It is helpful if the arms are somewhat overhead and slightly curved.  

The gymnast should “appear” to rise above horizontal and then wrap the twist.  The body should twist as one unit with the feet, hips, and shoulders all twisting together.  If the snapdown is not completed and the somersault is not completely set, then the body will tend to twist in separate segments rather than together.  This will also cause the legs to tend to separate. It will be wise to keep reviewing the layout ½ a as warm up for the full twist until the full is mastered.  This will help the gymnast to resist the tendency to twist too much during the takeoff.  The goal is to go as high as possible, execute a dynamic full twist and then open completely for the landing. The arms should be lifted in the rounded position on the takeoff and then wrapped quickly into the body.  I recommend that the arms form an X across the chest or be tucked in tightly side by side.

The gymnast should be encouraged to watch the other end of the floor on the way up, twist and then look for the floor prior to landing. 

9.  Once proficiency has been demonstrated repeatedly on the full, we may proceed on to the 1 ½.  Have the gymnast execute a layout full with a stuck landing, followed by a jump ½ turn. When the gymnast shows awareness for this progression, have her execute a back layout with a 1 ½ into the safety pit or onto soft mats with a safety spot.  The spotter should stand on the left side, for a right twist.  In other words, the gymnast should be twisting away from you and you are simply assisting the ending of the skill.

10.  The same process should be followed for each additional ½ twist.

I recommend highly, that the gymnasts use the trampoline with a qualified instructor or a tumble trak in order to increase awareness for multiple twisting and flipping skills.

For more information on Tony Gehman vist GymSmarts or purchase his DVD Advanced Tumbling 3 disk set.

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