Training Article: The
Handstand is the Most Important Gymnastics Skill
By Karen Goeller, CSCS
Published in Sept/Oct 2005 Technique Magazine, the Magazine of USAG for Pro
This article is not for reprint without
written permission from the author.
Check out the Handstand
Handstand is the most important gymnastic
skill in our sport and remaining tight is essential. Gymnasts of all levels
perform the handstand several times throughout their workout. While performing
many skills in gymnastics, the gymnast must actually pass through the handstand
or vertical phase safely and efficiently. Without a good handstand a gymnast may
have trouble building gymnastic skills and therefore progressing through the
gymnastics levels safely and efficiently.
The handstand involves so
many muscle groups working simultaneously and it is often difficult for the new
gymnast to fully master the handstand prior to being expected to perform even
more difficult gymnastic skills.
Often times, the enthusiasm level in many
gymnastics clubs drives the coaches and athletes to move on to more difficult
skills prior to the mastery of those already introduced, such as the handstand.
And all too often, the new gymnast has trouble keeping their abdominal section
tight or their lower back in the correct position because the focus has changed
away from the handstand and onto different gymnastic skills.
Here are some gymnastic drills that
should help your gymnast learn to pull in their lower abdominal section while
elongating their lower back for a more straight and tight handstand position.
Belly Button Lift
gymnast lie on their stomach, face down. Have them place their arms up by their
ears, keeping their arms straight and hands (palms) on the floor. Instruct your
gymnast to keep everything on the floor, including their hands (palms), arms,
chin, armpits, chest, hips, thighs, and (pointed) feet. Once your gymnast is
completely flat, instruct them to lift their belly button off the floor, leaving
everything else on the floor. Remind your gymnast again to keep their hands
(palms), armpits, chest, hips, thighs, and feet down while they lift their belly
button up. Once your gymnast lifts their belly button you should see their lower
back elongate into the correct position for a handstand. Their buttocks should
be under once their belly button is lifted off the floor. Your gymnast has just
begun to learn the “pelvic tilt!” Have your gymnast relax and then repeat this
drill with enough frequency so that they completely understand how to pull in
their belly button and elongate their lower back. Make sure your gymnast keeps
everything on the floor with the exception of the belly button area once lifted.
Another gymnastic drill to help your
gymnast understand handstand shape is the Octagon Tuck. Have your gymnast
stand in front of an octagon or barrel type mat. Instruct them to stand with
their back to the octagon. Next, have your gymnast place their hands on the
floor and then one shin at a time on the octagon. Your gymnast should now be in
a hand support with their shins on the octagon. Your gymnast’s legs, hips, and
chest should be off the floor. Next, instruct your gymnast to start with their
body, legs, and arms straight. Once your gymnast is completely straight with
their shins on the octagon, instruct them to squeeze their buttocks and to pull
their belly button in, just as if they were performing the Belly Button Lift.
You should see their lower back elongate into the correct position for a
handstand. Next, instruct your gymnast to push down on the floor so that the
portion of their back between their shoulder blades rises towards the ceiling.
Your gymnast will need to learn the shoulder shrug for the handstand as well as
for many other skills in the future. Your gymnast has just performed the “pelvic
tilt” and will now be expected to hold the pelvic tilt shape while in motion.
Once in the correct shape, instruct your gymnast to slowly tuck their knees in
toward their chest, keeping that rounded shape, their hands in one place, their
arms straight, and their upper body stationary. Next, instruct your gymnast to
keep the rounded shape and to open their hips and knees again. Your gymnast must
keep the elongated lower back pelvic (tilt) as they are opening their hips and
after they have completely opened their hips.
Have your gymnast repeat
this gymnastics drill frequently enough so they completely understand how to keep the
elongated lower back while tucking and then opening their hips again.
You can have your gymnast
perform this drill on octagons of different heights and then in the handstand
for a more complete understanding on how to elongate their lower back and keep
Remember, the gymnast should
first learn how to get tight, form the correct shape, and hold the tight shape
lying down or stand up before we can expect them to do so safely upside down or
while in motion.
Take it slow and be sure to
pay attention to detail; the handstand is the most important skill in gymnastics!
By Karen M. Goeller
Karen Goeller has
been training athletes since 1978. She has an
education that includes training in emergency medicine, physical therapy, and
nutrition. She has held certifications that include NSCA-CSCS, Fitness Trainer,
EMT-D, Nutritional Analysis, and many Gymnastics Certifications among others.
Besides being author of the Gymnastics
Drills and Conditioning books, Karen is the author of the
Swing Set Fitness books. She has also published
journals, training programs, and
articles. Her books are used by fitness
experts, coaches, teachers, and athletes worldwide. Karen has worked for world
famous gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, owned a gymnastics club for ten years, and
has been featured in several newspapers and on television many times. She offers
sports performance training and private
gymnastics training in NJ. For
more on Karen visit
gymnastics, handstand, tumbling,
gymnastics drills, gymnastics conditioning, gymnastics training, gymnastics
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