April 12, 2016 Vincent Vis

So, you think you want to learn the back handspring?

In tumbling, you have the kamikazes. These people weren’t born with the gene of fear, seem to bypass their survival mechanism in a matter of minutes, and are convinced that today will not be their last day. They usually get acrobatics very, disgunstingly quickly.

And there are the rest of us. We’re afraid to die. Our brain seems to be that horse that does not want to jump over the obstacle. How can we achieve any tumbling goal such as the back handspring or the back flip, then?

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I have had many years of very slow progress in tumbling, which I explain today mainly from a patchy teaching. I am still grateful for all the relevant insights my instructor gave me, and even more for the path this experience set me in. Without this frustration, I would not have unveiled the talent dictatorship that has taken over most tumbling classes I have seen, and would not have begun my own journey on the path of movement study. Today, my very own way of teaching has taken all this into consideration, and that is why I test, try and drill down to the smallest bits every skill I intend to teach.

For lack of a soft floor, handsprings are not something I practice regularly, unfortunately. The experienced eyes will see many things to improve in this video, where I try to brush off my skills after many years of divorce, and so do I.

But experienced or not, catch this:

  • Any acrobatics going backward has a strong element of FEAR. Forcing your way through fear, especially when performing dodgy moves, will lead you nowhere. I have seen many unprepared beginners and intermediates walking on the edge of serious injury by using this approach. You need to work SMARTLY to teach your brain the correct mechanics and remove little by little your layers of fear.
  • You have to drill your skill down. Serious, professional gymnastics coaches take their students through a myriad of seemingly unrelated and pretty boring drills that are absolutely essential to build the correct mechanics for back handsprings. Head placement, transfer of weight backward, travel distance, final position, etc. Unfortunately, all these coaches seem to be mainly taking care of the young, full of potential children who could one day perform under the spotlights. Adult movers and dancers have in many countries a very hard time finding a decent gymnastic coach. In my opinion, jumping directly to spotted handsprings is a rather inefficient way to make progress.
  • Your body is not ready (in 90% of the cases). Any acrobatics that involves an airborne moment with no transition between one limb to the other is more stressful than the average. Back handsprings seem like nothing in comparison to a full gymnastics routine. But by themselves, they can be very stressful for the wrists, shoulder girdle, spine, ankles and knees. Of course, perfect technique allows the athlete to absorb better the impact. But people in the process of learning rarely have perfect technique, and often want to apply their skills on harder surfaces. My advice: prehab the shit out of your scapulas, shoulders and wrists, and learn proper landing mechanics to protect your spine. I’ll post prehab routines soon on that matter.

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