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Archive for the ‘Bars’ Category

Mas Watanabe - Working the Strap Bar

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Tom Beach from GymSmarts caught up with Mas Watanabe for this interview to discuss working the Strap Bar. In this interview he talks about how much more can be done because of the Strap Bar. If you would like more information on Mas Watanabes’ coaching, GymSmarts carries an extensive DVD library of his training methods that are available on line.

GS: In your gym, it seems like the strap bar is full all the time. You have two strap bars and there’s almost always somebody on both strap bars.Mas Watanabe: Well, as I explain on the Working the Strap Bar DVD, the strap bar is the probably easiest and safest place to teach any skill on the bars.  Obviously you cannot do 100% of the skills on the straps but you can do most of the essential skills. I’d say that 80% of the essential skills you can teach on the strap bar. There are several reasons the strap bar is so effective, the most important one is the safety and reduces fear for the gymnast. Also there is less friction on their hands so they can do more repetitions, and the diameter is so much smaller so it fits the younger gymnasts hands so much better. You are working with young children and of course naturally they don’t have big hands so they feel so much easier for them to hang onto the bar. Even though you are strapped onto it, but still should feel the control in your fingers, in your grip. The feeling of security is extremely important. So there is no question in my mind that the strap bar is the easiest and simplest place to teach skills.GS: So you believe this is the place to start because you can take the younger gymnasts and do so much with them there.

Mas Watanabe: Right. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much more you can do on the strap bar. It doesn’t matter what they can do on the bars right now, because once the skill has been learned on the strap bar that means you have developed the movement pattern, the body positions, timing and rhythm, all the essence of the skill. Once the skill has been mastered there, then it can be repeated on the actual bar. Of course it will take a little longer to transfer it to the actual bar because it’s harder to create the momentum, harder to hold onto the bar, and of course, the mental aspects of coping with fear. You have to overcome all of that, but once the movement pattern has developed, it is much, much easier for you to transfer a skill from the strap bar to the actual bar.

GS: It’s almost like you’re comparing strap bar to the uneven bars as you would tumble track to tumbling. 

Mas Watanabe: That’s exactly right. So this two step process makes learning and reaching the final goal so much faster.

GS: Yesterday you mentioned Tracee (Talavera) when she was younger. Did she work a lot of strap bar?

Mas Watanabe: Actually we used the men’s low horizontal bar with regular grips, a high bar lowered down, because we didn’t have a strap bar then. Yeah, I did that because I realized that Tracee was very young and has small hands and that was the safest way for her to hang onto the bar. So I spent 70-80% of the time on the men’s high bar, single bar, teaching the skill there and then they may go over to uneven bar and play with those learned skills. Just to play with as much as they are able or capable of handling in terms of the fear and the momentum issue. I had them do it by themselves and I did not necessarily push the kids to do those skills in the beginning stages. So those transitions came to them pretty naturally because they did not push themselves beyond what they can handle.

GS: Their physical capacity?

Mas Watanabe: Yes. So that way they learned it pretty naturally, pretty easily.

GS: So the majority of the skills that she had, she was already doing on the men’s low bar?

Mas Watanabe: Yes, already on the low horizontal bar.

GS: If you knew about strap bar you probably would have done that.

Mas Watanabe: Oh, if we had the strap bars then we would have gotten to the harder skills much quicker and efficiently. There’s no question about it. Now these days we do use the strap bar all the time so we are quicker.

GS: The variation of skills that the gymnasts are doing, especially the younger ones, is pretty impressive.

200703mw1.jpgMas Watanabe: It is pretty amazing. If they have developed essential strengths, such as plange strength and good straddle press strength, then they can apply to the skills and they can learn or pick up the skill quite rapidly. In this plange strength exercise, a female gymnast cannot hold the position by herself, so that the coach should spot her and lifts her up to the proper handstand position while she is maintaining the hollow body.

GS: Because you’re not doing just doing giant swings but also the clear hip circles, endo and stalder shoots.

Mas Watanabe: Right. They work on most of the inbar type skills and of course, any type of giant such as forward, backward and “L” grip giant as well. So the children are able to pick up all those type of skills on   the strap bar, quite easily.

GS: So you’re looking at, if they have the proper straddle press to handstand and the plange press strength (with a spot) you can apply their body position easier on the strap bar.

Mas Watanabe: Yes, for instance, the straddle press to

handstand, that pressing part of the strength is used in the Stalder circle and it is an essential part of the body position in the skill. So if they can do the press that means their body can maintain shape and maintain that control. That is essential for the skill. Of cause, the plange press handstand strength will be for the clear hip circle to handstand. If they too can do these exercises properly, they can apply the body position and the strengths to the actual skill. It’s so much easier to do it on the skills on straps because the strap bar has such a less friction.

GS: And it’s easier to create those positions with the speed?

Mas Watanabe: Right, and of course then you’re talking about the shape of your body position and not the timing of the skill.

GS: So the timing and rhythm of the skill doesn’t change too much going from the strap bar to the actual bar and it’s just a matter of confidence and hand size.

Mas Watanabe: Right. So that’s why the strap bar isGS: Do you go any particular order when you are working on strap bar?

Mas Watanabe: I do, usually the order comes from the actual routine development. For instance at the very early stage, you do need to teach the clear hip circle because most of the kids learn back hip circle very early, at the compulsory level. So that move has already learned so going in from a back hip circle to a clear hip is a very small step. Whereas playing with the sole circle for instance, it is more complex even with the bent legs. Going around the bar backward or forward and going up toward the handstand from the toe on position. It requires a little more strength as well as good body control. So that’s why naturally we start from an easier skill to a little bit more complex skill and in order. But once they have good strength and a good handstand position, there’s not much difference between most of the in-bar type of movements. So, for example, I have a ten year old who already can do most of the skills that I mentioned, the clear hip and sole circle, forward, backward and stalder circle. Also they are doing the giants forward, backward and even the L grip giant. They can do it very safely on the strap bar which is remarkable. If you think about that ten year old, can already simulate, or actually execute, some of the skills that the level 9, 10 or elite gymnasts are doing on the bar.

GS: So right now, they’re competing as first year level 8’s and they’re already doing all those skills.

Mas Watanabe: Not all of it but some skills. So when you look at that, it is amazing what you can do with the strap bar. So you really can’t afford not to have the strap bar set up in the gym and not use that device to teach the skills because this will make the teaching process so much easier.

GS: What do you look at in terms of repetitions?

Mas Watanabe: Well, this is another advantage that you have using the strap bar. Basically you eliminated most of the hand problems because there’s no friction, your hands are not scraping every time directly onto the bar. You are just hanging onto the PVC pipe and the wrists are strapped on so you have virtually no problem with the hands and you never develop the problem with the hands. Sometimes the kids develop wrist problems because the straps actually rub into their wrists so they need to wear a very thick wristband. Sometimes even with a thick wristbands, it creates a little bit of a problem of soreness on the skin or develop a little bit of soreness in the wrists. So that it  a create a problem by overdoing it. But that would be a very, very minimal problem. It’s very seldom we have a problem actually overworking on the strap bar. They can do many, many, many repetitions. It’s unbelievable. That’s why they are able to pick up the skills so much faster because they are capable of doing maybe five, ten times the amount of repetitions they might be able on the actual bars with the grips.

GS: So as they are developing they can do more repetitions. It looked to me like the ultimate for these in-bar skills is to repeat it precisely from handstand to handstand several times in a row.

Mas Watanabe: Right. Of course, you know, you are strapped onto the bar so the variation of the skill is limited obviously. You can’t do any pirouetting, dismounts or release moves. But you can do timers for some of those skills, say for example a Tkatchev, so you can develop the exact pattern of the swinging part of the movement. So working the action using that strap bar is very, very effective. Many of the level 9, 10 and elite level gymnasts, when they learned the release move or the tap for the dismount, they do use the strap bar in the beginning stages. Once the pattern for the body movement is developed, then they can transfer very quickly from the strap bar to the regular bar and the actual skill.

GS: You’ve even talked about L grip giants on the strap bar. Do you find it that much different when they’re doing L grip than when they’re doing the regular giant?

 Mas Watanabe: I think if you really to understand the good front giants, particularly the front giant with a tapping action, it is very similar. The shoulder extension and how it should come down from the top to the bottom should be identical. The tapping action through the bottom and the lifting at the end of the swing prior to the handstand is no different other than the shape of the body in the second half. The inverted giant will have more pronounced hip pike compared to the front giant. Obviously the other major difference is the grip. So first of all, gymnasts need to have good shoulder flexibility, and also good wrist flexibility to be able to get into that support and be able to push in a handstand. So we did initially lots of drills on the floor bar, for example, kicking up to a handstand with that inverted L grip position. We made sure she can hold a in a straight position. Also, she worked many repetitions of handstand, pike down and open back to straight handstand while pressuring the bar. That type of exercise is done quite a bit as a preparation. We also worked lots of flexibility for dislocating shoulder in and out to develop greater flexibility in shoulders. So, those preparations are done prior to the inverted giant. Then teaching how to swing from the bottom of the swing, under the bar first, and then gradually develop the height of the swing. Then working on how to push the bar once the body goes above horizontal, because as they go up higher, the pressure on the bar becomes greater. So you must actually teach how to push in that position. As they come close to the handstand, the pressure increases so they need to develop the feeling gradually from the lower angle to the higher angle. As their body rises up close to the handstand, you can spot them and lighten the pressure a little bit by holding their body slightly up, so that they can develop the feeling of that pressure gradually as their swing gets bigger. It is a very natural way of teaching, very similar to the front giant so I don’t see that it’s such a drastic change from that position, from teaching giants to inverted giants.

GS: Should they do the inverted giant with the tap swing or just straight giant swing?

Mas Watanabe: I prefer a tapping action. This is a more dynamic movement and also the tapping action would teach them a few things. The tapping action itself through the bottom transfers to different movements later on. Also, tapping actually forces them to extend their shoulders more and it helps them get into the inverted support position, in an L grip. So it makes the turning of the wrist and shifts the wrist on top slightly easier. Naturally, you can do the very same thing without the pronounced tapping action, but the extension and the shift, would be a little more subtle.

GS: Great, thank you.

About Mas Watanabe 

For over 38 years Masayuki Watanabe has been at the cutting edge of both men’s and women’s gymnastics.  As a coach for may national & international champions and Olympic gymnasts, program director for USA Gymnastics, and world-wide gymnastics consultant, he is one of the most respected leaders of our sport today.  Mas Watanabe has many DVDs available from GymSmarts, on Coaching, Tumbling, Bars, Vaulting and Strength. Visit his blog at GymSmarts

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.