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!