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Hi my names markie. I'm a high school senior cheerleader who needs to get her back handspring, but my back flexibility isnt good. I can to bridges and back bends when someone spots me. How can i increase my back flexibility very quickly?

And how long will it take til my back gets more flexible?

Hello Markie,
         I am very glad to help you.  You cannot count on back flexibility occurring quickly.  You can work towards it.  Please also understand that the best back handsprings are those where the athlete is straighter.  Also understand that the purpose of a good  round off back handspring is to increase miles per hour between point A and point B.  A big arch in the back of a back handspring slows your MPH down.  Below are some exercises for the back handspring strength and a description of the back handspring for you to better understand the dynamics.

     Introduction to the Back Handspring or Flip Flop

   The back handspring is not that hard to do, it is hard to do well!  First, understand that the best tumblers are those who tumble from point A to point B with the fastest mph(miles per hour). That speed in turn(when technique is refined) is transferred to valuable height.  As a result, the back handspring will be quite long.  There used to be USAIGC testing measuring the speed of the gymnasts back handsprings using a stopwatch. The gymnast would start by doing a handstand on a spring board placed in the corner of the Floor Exercise mat.  The gymnast would then snap
down and proceed to do Flip Flops(FF) (back handsprings) down the diagonal as quickly as possible to a pre measured finish line.  As the gymnast’s time became lower through practice, the FF became longer. This is a great drill.

         Technique on the Back Handspring or Flip Flop (FF)

1.    To begin a FF, sit with a straight back till the weight transfers from the balls of your feet to your heels.
2.     ...anticipation of this moment (the weight transfer from the balls of the feet to heels), apply the pressure back to the balls of the feet and push with the arms extending and reaching backwards.
3.    Do not let the head look back before the arms are next to your eyes.  If your head goes early because of nervousness, this is called having your brains on your back.  As your arms are extending, they should also be making a little bit of a circle motion...not very much or you will look like a slinky.
4.    The position as the hands touch the mat will be similar to the following.  The hands will be… lets say like the numbers on a clock, 6 o=clock and the body extending from the hips should be between 10 10:30.
5.    The body will be in a stretched position and moving.  As the hips pass over the shoulders, the gymnast should uncoil the body by giving a quick shrug of the shoulders and raising the chest up with as little a pike as possible from the waist.  This action is much more easily accomplished (for awareness) on the trampoline or tramp trak.
6.    The head should still be between the arms and the finishing is a stand in a slight hollow position around the waist area.  The athlete should then be able to jump up and back slightly.
7.    Using a cheese mat (tumbling wedge) helps when you have the tendency not to fall off balance...but don’t get addicted to it!
8.    Remember...when someone is spotting or assisting you, they should be very experienced in that skill, not only in knowledge but also in the technique of spotting.

Bridge Kickovers for back strength and flexibility

First, you need to do your bridge (prior to the kick over) with your feet higher than your hands.  In other words, the height of the mats needs to be enough to keep your shoulders over your hands for a vertical line.  The next thing is to make sure your legs are together on the folded mats then lift one leg up and totally push off (including the ankle).  Now use your back to pull your legs over and finally step down like you would in a handstand step down.  Make sure to push off your hands as you put your first foot on the floor.  You should finish by taking two steps back with your hands up.  If you have trouble with the last part, practice kicking a handstand against a wall and stepping down as described.  This will imitate the last part of the bridge kick over.  Understand and remember that being strong in the handstand is huge.  YOU SHOULD be able to kick to a handstand against the wall and then step down afterward.  Remember the end of a bridge kick over is like stepping down out of a handstand!  Be patient and don’t lower the mats until you can take the two steps back with arms up.  Finally, don’t forget to work your flexibility which will help in the “kicking over portion” of the kick over before the push leg comes off the mat/surface.  Also….remember being strong is huge.  You should be able to kick to a handstand against the wall and then step down afterward.  Remember the end of a bridge kick over is like stepping down out of a handstand!  

I wish you the very best in your training and Take Care – Jack Leonard


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Jack Leonard


Former 5 time Natl. Tumbling Champ, 3 time Natl. Vaulting Champ, Natl. Floor Exercise Champ; Ass`t coach of Dominique Dawes for 6 years; Owner/Director/Head coach of Kauai Gymnastics Academy on the island of Kauai in Hawaii; Retired Physical Ed teacher; Childrens Fitness Expert; Expert Consultant for gymnastics litigation; Retired Mens & Womens HS Gymnastics coach for 32 years. National coaching honors for Men in 1981 & Women in 2001.


I value the following awards because they were given by acknowlegement through my peers: The Nissen/Grissold Award given to the outstanding Tumbling and Tramp Athlete(1972), National High School coach of the year in 1981 for men and 2001 for women, 10 time County Coach of the Year. Medal Award given at the first World Tumbling Championships in London, England for dedication to the sport. Lastly, having the opportunity to coach Wes Suter(1988 Olympian)in his intermediate years and Dominique Dawes(1992 & 1996)

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