All-Star Gymnastics Techniques: The Perfect Cartwheel

We encourage our students to practice basic skills at home (see our Safe Training at Home tips), but there’s a problem.

Most parents of gymnasts aren’t, in fact, gymnasts. And since they’re not gymnasts, they have no idea to how to perform the skills, let alone teach them. So, from time to time, we’re going to run posts teaching the basics of these techniques so that parents know what they’re looking for when kids practice.

For our first instalment, we’re going to look at that staple of good gymnastics: the cartwheel.

Whether you’re in Rio de Janeiro competing for the gold, or right here in Nixa, gymnastics training starts with a good cartwheel.

Mastering the cartwheel is the key to mastering a whole host of more complicated techniques, like the walkover, the limber, and the round off. Learning to do a solid cartwheel isn’t just a good first step in gymnastics training. It’s also a great confidence-booster. Your little gymnast will light up like the Olympic torch when she shows Grandma what she can do.

Getting Started

Before you even begin your cartwheel, you have to make sure the area is safe. There’s a lot of flailing and falling when you first get started, so it’s important to stay away from low ceilings and things with sharp corners. You’ll also want about 10-15 feet of free space in front of you to make sure you don’t run into anything.

Learning a cartwheel is, of course, best done on a padded surface so you don’t bruise anything should you fall.

The Lead Up

To achieve the perfect cartwheel, you have to be in the perfect position. Start with one foot in front, standing straight and tall. Make sure your back stays straight throughout the entire movement.

Raise your arms up over your head, again maintaining as straight a line as you can from ankles to wrists. Now you’re ready to go.

Hand, Hand

The cartwheel is a continuous, four-part motion. It goes hand, hand, foot, foot. Don’t try to stop in the middle. You’ll probably fall down, and then your kids will laugh at you. It’s embarrassing.

With your arms up over your head and your body aligned as straight as it gets, shift your strong leg (the one you kick with) out in front of you in a lunge. Be sure to point your toes in the direction you want to go. Shift your weight to that foot as you bend at the waist, maintaining the line between your wrists and your back ankle.

Your back leg should naturally come up off the ground as you’re bending at the waist, and your front knee will bend slightly. Reach toward the ground with your arms, letting their momentum bring your back leg up higher.

The first hand to hit the ground will be the one on the side you initially stepped with. For example, if you started with your left foot forward, your left arm will touch down first. Keep your arm straight (it’s the only thing keeping your face away from the mat) and plant your other hand next to the first one, shoulder-width apart.

As the second hand hits, the momentum from your movement should bring your back leg up. Now it’s time to kick off with the front leg and go up into a handstand.

At this point, you should be supporting all of your weight with your arms, which should be straight, and shoulder-width apart. Your legs should be up in the air, forming a wide V (called a straddle), and your entire body should be along the same plane. No bending your back or your waist.

If it sounds difficult, don’t worry. You won’t be here long.

Foot, Foot

Once you’re up, you have to come down. Ideally with the grace of… well… a gymnast. The first leg that lifted off is also going to be the first to come down. Let it fall naturally and, as it hits, your other leg should come up and over, pulling your first hand up and off the ground.

As your second foot hits, your first hand comes up, and you end up standing in a slight lunge, facing the opposite direction from when you started.

Now bring your feet together, throw your arms out wide, and smile to the cheering crowd while you wait for the judges’ decision. You just did a cartwheel!

Tips

  • Relax. Sure, supporting yourself in a handstand takes some core strength, but try not to tense your body up. You’ll hinder your progress and your cartwheel won’t flow like it should.
  • Choose (or draw) a straight line to do your cartwheel on. Every time you drop a hand or foot, it should land on that line. That’ll stop you from veering off into the unknown while you’re upside down.
  • You should have no more than two body parts touching the ground at any given time. Lift up your trailing appendage a split second before the next one hits the ground. Your momentum will keep you from falling and carry you through the movement.

Ready to try out your cartwheel in front of a real coach and get some expert feedback? Our open gym hours are 5:00-7:00 p.m. every Sunday! If you live in Springfield, MO, gymnastics help is right around the corner!

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