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Dan Connelly › Strap Bar

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

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GymSmarts caught up with Dan Connelly for this interview to discuss portions of his Swing like a Champion DVD.  This interview covers the use of the strap bar in developing strong swing fundamentals.  The DVD itself covers all he important elements of swing forward and backward and teaching giants in both directions.

How to Use the Strap Bar Effectively

  GymSmarts:          Dan, can you explain to me what a strap bar is?

Dan Connelly:  A strap bar is a men’s high bar that is used with wrist straps which prevent the hands from letting go of the bar. The bar normally has a PVC pipe fitted over the bar so it can rotate with the gymnast’s hands.  The bar is kept really smooth and shiny so the PVC or the gymnast’s hands can rotate freely around the bar.  Straps are used around the gymnast’s wrists and the bar securing the gymnast to the bar so the gymnasts does not have to worry about flying off the bar. 

GymSmarts:          What’s the main reason for using a strap bar?

Dan Connelly:  The main purpose of the strap bar is to help you learn skills without the fear of losing your grip and flying off the bar.  This allows you to do many more repetitions, and in turn you are able to focus much more on the body positions without any fear of having to re grasp the bar or worry about coming off. 

GymSmarts:   When do you start a gymnast on the strap bar?

Dan Connelly:  I think as soon as the gymnast gets the concept of the tapping action on the regular bar and has a strong enough grip to hold on there, you can start putting the gymnast on the strap bar. 

GymSmarts:          Since you are starting them pretty much right away on the strap bar, what do you typically start having them do?

Dan Connelly:  I Just start them swinging back and forth doing the tap.  I have them trying to learn to do the tapping action in each direction.  I just letting them develop the swing and the strength to create the swing without any real help from the coach. 

GymSmarts:  So when you are first starting out with them and you are letting them swing back and forth do you do anything to develop the tap swing there or do you do that on the regular bar?

Dan Connelly:  I think you can probably go through the same kinds of things on both the strap bar and the regular bar.  I push them up in the ribcage in the back and let them learn that its really a very natural kind of action.  I don’t really do a lot of pushing to accelerate the swing on the strap bar.  I just kind of let them do it by trial and error and help them correct positions more than else. 

GymSmarts:  Do you care about form?

Dan Connelly:  Absolutely, because if they are bending their legs, if their legs are going apart widely then it really changes all the mechanics of the swing. 

GymSmarts:  Interesting.  In the beginning do you care about them bending their legs?

Dan Connelly:  I think bending the knees is a bad idea.  However in the very beginning, it probably will be easier to create more swing if they use their knees to kick with rather than their toes because it takes a lot more strength to kick your toes than your knees.  So, if they start by bending their knees I would still emphasize that they keep their leg straight once they get a little bit of swing going. 

GymSmarts:  So in general you’re real conscious about the position and having them build the swing by themselves?

Dan Connelly:  Yes. 

GymSmarts:   Do you teach the tap one direction at a time, or do you try and get them to do both directions when they’re starting to learn?

Dan Connelly:  Most of the time I start with a back giant tap and just let the other direction happen as naturally as possible and then once they are proficient at the back giant tap then I emphasize the front giant tap. 

GymSmarts:  What other kinds of drills do you do on the strap bar?

Dan Connelly:  As they get more proficient at swinging what I like to get have them do is really focus on just swinging as high on each end of the swing as they can, all the way up to and including a hand stand on each end.  In order to prevent them from going over the bar, I emphasize the shoulder position be completely opened on both end of the swing.  I think that position carries over to all the pivoting moves like blind changes and pirouettes and every other turn that you do being on top of the bar.  I really want them to have their shoulders wide open and not just close their shoulders up to get around the bar just so that they feel like they have done a giant. 

GymSmarts:  So you’re making sure that their shoulders are open.  Are you pushing them to make them go over the top?

Dan Connelly:  No I don’t.  I don’t push them go over the top hardly ever.  Maybe at some point they get real bored and want to know that they can get around the bar and may be just for that purpose, just so that they can have a little bit of fun I might push them over the bar one time so that they know that they can actually do a giant.  But for me the purpose of the strap bar is strictly to refine the tapping action and keep the shoulders and open and learn how to keep the shoulders open on the back giant on the way up.  Almost everybody relaxes their shoulders and closes the angle up to shorten the length of the body to take them over the bar.  I think with the straps since you don’t have to worry about what’s going happen when you swing down, in terms of holding on, you can really emphasize pressing your shoulders open against the bar as you rise above the horizontal axis of the bar. 

GymSmarts:  Does that take a lot of strength on the shoulders?

Dan Connelly:  I don’t think it takes that much strength.  I think it’s more awareness than it is real strength.  It does take a certain amount of strength but anybody that can do a handstand on the floor or even against the wall has enough strength to keep their shoulders open. 

GymSmarts:  What is a tick tock?

Dan Connelly:  The tick tocks is when you go from a handstand, say in a, back giant direction, to a handstand and not go over the bar and then go in front giant direction and up rise back to a handstand.  Just keep going back and forth from handstand to handstand without going over the top. The trick is to prevent them from going over the bar and to emphasize not doing a full giant.  What actually happens is in order to do that, they really have to relax through the bottom and they really have to keep their shoulders fully extended out.  Occasionally their the swing will become so comfortable and so smooth that they will go over any way but then they can stop the swing and do the tick tock again after that. 

GymSmarts:  So that’s the ultimate swing to you?

Dan Connelly:  To me that the swing maxed out.  To me it’s all about what you are going to do with the giant in terms of turning later.  In order to do all your turns completely on the top of the bar the shoulders have to be open.  So rather than allow the kids to get into the habit of closing the shoulders up and going over the bar, which as you know, going over the bar is always the ultimate goal for the kids because they want to be able to say they did a giant.  So its really easy for them to just close their shoulders up and go over and the more they do that the more they get into the habit of closing their shoulders up when they go to do a blind change, pivot changes, the Healy, the Higgins or anything else that requires a turn on the top.  They have to open the shoulders back up before they can make the turn if they are going to be on the top.  So rather than go through all that, to me, you learn the giant with the shoulders open.  You can always close them up later once you can swing with them open.  It’s easy to change that, it’s just not easy to go back to the other direction. 

GymSmarts:    How do you transfer the skills from the strap part to the regular bar, or are you working simultaneously between the strap bar and traditional bar?

Dan Connelly:  I use the strap bar in conjunction with the regular bar.  I still believe that the gymnast needs to go through the proper progressions to learn the giant on the regular bar.  So I definitely do not believe that you just learn the giant on the strap bar and then the coach pushes the gymnast around on the regular bar.  The mechanics and technique are aided by the strap bar but there is no substitute for the proper progression on the regular bar. 

GymSmarts:  Do you do any other skills on the strap other than the giant?

Dan Connelly:  Yes, we do free hip, stalters, endo shoots and other kind of giants, germans, inverted giants, and eagle giants. 

GymSmarts:  Is there more than one way to put your hands through the straps?

Dan Connelly:  Yes, if you are working with an over grip, there are two ways toput on the straps.  First of all the straps are made out of climbing straps.  You can get them at mountain climbing stores, REI or places like that.  They are hollow inside made out of cotton and they are one inch strapping.  I cut them in a certain length and then I have them sewn with one turn in them so that when you put them on top of the bar the part that you actually put your hand through is not twisted.  You can put your hand through going away from you, and then turn your hand to the left, if we are talking about the right hand.  To put your hand in forward, lay your wrist on the strap and turn your hand to the left and then grab the bar.  That’s probably the most secure way to have the strap on because it has a turn in it.  However, sometimes, kids have bigger wrist so there aren’t enough straps with different sizes available.  So for those kids, you can pick and bring your hand back further with the strap coming back towards you and go up towards the ceiling and then reach to the left and grab the bar.  That’s still going to be secure and you’re still not going to come out of it.  You have to make sure you are using  the right size strap. 

GymSmarts:  So you just want to have it just snug enough so the hand can be free but not come off?

Dan Connelly:  Right. 

GymSmarts:  So either way the, the strap on the bar is going to be on the outside part of your hand its not going to be between your hands?

Dan Connelly:  Well, for the over grip the straps can be on the outside part of your hand.  For the under grip its going to be on the inside part of your hand. 

GymSmarts:  OK, I’m confused.

Dan Connelly:  In both cases the strap is going to be on the pinky side of your hand. 

GymSmarts:  Great, that’s clearer to me.  So you have several different size straps?

Dan Connelly:  Yes.  I like to have four to six different sizes. 

GymSmarts:   At one point we had talked about not using PVC around the bar and it gives the gymnast a more realistic feeling for shifting their wrists.  Do you still feel that way?

Dan Connelly:  I don’t feel as strong about that as before.  Some people use a cotton glove in place of the PVC. 

GymSmarts:  Does that seem to help the gymnast feel the wrist shift?

Dan Connelly:  Exactly. 

GymSmarts:  Do they put their grips on over the glove?

Dan Connelly:  They don’t wear any grips but they wear wristbands because the straps eat into the wrist. 

GymSmarts:  What do you do so that the straps don’t tear into their wrists?

Dan Connelly:  That part can be painful.  I have the kids wear wristbands to help with that problem.  But if you are wear the cotton gloves then you normally don’t even need to wear wristbands, just put those strap over, over the cotton glove. 

GymSmarts:  Have you seen any problems with the glove getting stuck on the bar?

Dan Connelly:  No, I haven’t seen any problems with that but the most important thing is that the bar be completely chalk free, it can’t have any chalk on it at all, has to be shiny and smooth. 

GymSmarts:  So overall, even with the small bit of potential pain in the gymnast’s wrists, you feel that the strap bar is an extremely effective tool for developing swing?

Dan Connelly:  I think that the strap bar is an extremely effective tool for developing good and efficient swing technique.  In addition it makes it so the gymnast can do many more repetitions without worrying about coming off the bar, or creating excessive wear on their hands.  

About Dan Connelly


Dan has coached fundamentals for over 30 years.  He has developed several athletes from early in their development to Champions (Mitch Gaylor & Charles Lakes, both Olympians).  He was one of the early coaches for the Boys National Age Group Development Program.  At the University level he has coached Uneven Bar Champions, and is currently in his 8th season as Head Women’s Gymnastics Coach at Bowling Green University, Ohio.  More information on bars and basic swing is available through GymSmarts and Dan’s DVD Swing Like a Champion.

Learn more about the Strap bar from Mas Watanabe’s DVD Working the Strap Bar.