Shea on Back Handsprings

Shea Crawford is the Tumbling Director at Midwest Cheer Elite, which has several locations, originating in Ohio.

The back handspring is such an important skill in cheerleading.  It’s used in standing and running tumbling.  There are multiple variations and connections prior to or following the back handspring throughout levels.  This being said the development of a solid back handspring is crucial.

As a prerequisite I like to see a solid back walkover.  This isn’t always a requirement but especially when dealing with younger athletes the back walkover is a progression for athletes going backwards and inverting to placing body weight on their hands.  This also shows upper back flexibility as well as core strength.  Often times males who start cheerleading late may struggle with the backwalkover so although it’s not a necessary prerequisite to learn a back handspring I still encourage those athletes to work on those skills to help strengthen their back handspring over time.

Sean and David covered many important pieces as well as drills that I use daily! I like to break the back handspring into pieces.  Sit, swing, jump is repeated constantly. Athletic stance is the starting position followed by arms leading the way for the legs to JUMP into handstand shape.  Once in the solid handstand position a solid block will lead athletes to their feet.

Leading with arms before the jump is so important.  Something I hear Debbie Love say often in regards to this is to think about diving into the water, you lead with your hands to protect your head.  This really helps kids understand the importance of a proper arm swing.

Sean on Back Handsprings

Sean Guzman is a Team Coach and Tumbling Coach at Top Gun in Florida.

Being one of the most basic fundamental tumbling movements, back handsprings are also one of the most difficult skills to master. Flexibility, strength, precision, timing, are all some of the key factors when performing a back handspring. Lack of shoulder flexibility and mobility, weak core, along with a lack of proper understanding of each position all make up some of the issues seen on many of our athletes while performing a back handspring. Knowing that this skill is crucial in the progression of an athlete, our attention as tumbling coaches should be to help athletes understand the importance of perfection before progression.

Athletes in our sport for many years have been plagued with issues such as, “head being out”, low back pain, and a lack of “power” when throwing a back handspring improperly. By making sure our athletes are being programmed from the start, to have both physical capability, and a strong understanding of each position, we avoid many issues in the future. We are also giving the athlete the best possible tools for their tumbling career. Back handsprings are one of the most basic skills our athletes perform, however they are technically one of the most difficult to master.

In competitive cheerleading, we see a trend in athletes progressing through this beginning stage very quickly achieving their goal of throwing the back handspring within weeks, not realizing the amount of technical issues they have. As time goes on, and skills get more difficult, those technical issues from the back handspring carry over causing the athlete to become stagnant in the higher levels. Pacing the athlete, and spending time on flexibility, strength, and speed will ensure safety and technical understanding of the skill for the athlete. The basis of a good back handspring, is a good foundation in all aspects of athleticism.

When dealing with an athlete who is ready to start learning a back handspring, breaking down the body positions of each part before focusing on the movement patterns. In my experience, reinforcing of positions before movement patterns allows the athlete to better understand the timing within the skill. Handstands, open shoulder handstand to vertical handstand and using boulders, to to stop in each position, and to also allow the athlete to move through the skill safely. Handstand snap downs blocking drills are all time tested drills and movements.

Starting slow, on an apparatus such as a trampoline aids in the explosive movement of the jump, allowing the athlete to really focus on the timing. Once the timing is consistent, the athlete can be progressed to more difficult surfaces forcing the athlete to use its conditioned muscles to speed up the timing of the movements allowing for a more powerful skills which will be necessary on the harder surfaces.

Good Luck to all you athletes and coaches and remember to stay safe!

David on Back Handsprings

David Petty is the Tumbling Director at Cheer Extreme Raleigh in North Carolina.

Favorite drills and progressions

I like to use simple “jump back” drills. Using a small sit with an exploding jump back onto an elevated mat, or mats.

For a strong arm swing, there are numerous drills for this. You can use a weighted medicine ball, or one of my favorites is to place a wedge against a wall, have your kid sit against it with their hips and shoulders in line, palms on the ground by the hips, and then swing 10 times in a row from the ground to hitting the wedge with arms by the ears against the wedge.

How do you teach your athlete the difference between good/bad arm swing?

There are so many approaches coaches will use when teaching this skill. Arms up. Arms in front. Arms by the side. My personal opinion is that I will sometimes use all of these when teaching, (completely based off of the need of the athlete), but my favorite is the arms by the side. In a routine, you will never see an athlete, or should never see an athlete start with arms above head, or in front of their chest. I like to teach the method of “Do More with Less!”

If your athlete is starting with arms up, or in front of them, they often will have to swing down, just to swing back up. Like I said, there are uses for all starting positions, but if I’m starting to teach an athlete this skill, I try to start with arms down so that they can fill the arm swing.

Drills to fix bad legs during a back handspring?

One of the best drills that I’ve started using, is one that Shea Crawford taught me just by starting with your feet apart, and then teaching how to engage the proper leg muscles to squeeze the feet together at the top of the skill. There are many more that work, but this one has been my “go to” for about a year now.