Friday, July 30, 2010

Tips for Back Tumbling Skills

Gymnasticsluver wanted a few tips on back tumbling skills, so I'll just give the basics. The biggest errors I see in back tumbling usually happen at the very beginning of the skill, on the take-off, so that's what I'm gonna talk about.

So in your back handspring, the squat is really important. If you feel like you're undercutting it or piking down, it might have something to do with the take-off. When you're going into your squat, make sure that your knees are in line with your feet (not in front of them). The backwards motion starts at the very beginning, so you should feel like you're sitting back in a chair. That way, when you push off with your feet you'll get a nice backwards motion and a good arch position over the top.

In any flip skills (tuck, pike, layout) the take-off is also VERY important. The main thing is that you need to get a good set before you tuck (or pike, or flip in general lol). You can practice getting a big set out of your roundoff back handspring, as long as you have a coach there to support your back. If you're tucking immediately out of the rebound or throwing your head back, your form will be sloppy and incorrect. Same applies to twisting moves; you still need to set before you flip and before you twist. Twisting right away is a mistake.

Other than that, obviously make sure you're getting a good sprint and a powerful hurdle into the roundoff before any tumbling pass. Keep your body tight and you should be good to go!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gymnastics Camps

The following is a list of some of the best-know and most reputable summer gymnastics camps in the US. I've compiled some of the basic information by looking at the camps' respective websites. Seek out those sites for more information.

International Gymnastics Camp (IGC) -
Location: Pennsylvania
Ages: 7-17 (co-ed)
This camp offers week-long sessions throughout the summer for gymnasts beginner to advanced. They, like most camps, offer other general camp activities like a climbing wall. They've got a great staff of elite coaches, National champs, and Olympic gymnasts. This summer they've had a lot of Olympian visitors, including Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Chellsie Memmel, Paul Hamm, etc. The facilities are very conducive to learning; they have five different gyms - an Olympic gym, a beam gym, an uneven bars gym, a vault gym, and a dance gym. As far as training facility goes, I think ICG wins.

Lake Owen Camp -
Location: Wisconsin
Levels: Boys and girls, levels 1-10 and elite.
Lake Owen is a fun place with a lot of great coaches. They have clinicians who are All Americans, National Champions, International Competitors, Judges and Olympians, and they have a lot of college coaches there as well. Like IGC, Lake Owen has Olympian visitors, and in the past have had Carly Patterson, Dominique Moceanu, Shannon Miller, and Kim Zmeskal. They have a floor gym which includes beams, pits, and vault tables, and they also have a separate bar gym. All their facilities have the best equipment available. At the end of the week, this camp has an exhibition where parents and friends can watch what the gymnasts have learned over the course of the camp session. One of the unique things about this camp is that they have really fun recreational activities. They have one of those giant blob that you can bounce on into the lake, as well as tubing, skiing, and a ropes course.

Camp Woodward -
Location: Pennsylvania
Co-ed. Gymnasts are grouped by age and ability.
This camp has special guests each summer, including US Olympians, International Olympic medalists, National teams from many countries, and coaches from the US National team and many Universities. This summer they've been visited by Bridget Sloan, Sam Peszek, Svetlana Boguinskia, Courtney Kupets, Courtney McCool, and tons more. The facility includes a beam gym, a pit gym, and a fully-equipped open gym that's available for 4.5 extra hours of practice for kids who want a little extra gym time. They also have a separate men's gym. There is also a Woodward West located in California that opened in 2003. It also has a gymnastics camp for kids 7-17.

Karolyi Camp -
Location: Texas
Ages: 7+
This camp was established by and is directed by Bela and Marta Karolyi. This camp actually offers some of the most reasonable rates, as far as gymnastics camps go - about half the cost of the others, which is a definite plus. They have a 25,000 sq. ft. gymnastics complex. Not much information is available online about the equipment but I would assume that the Karolyis provide nothing but the best, especially considering this is the USA National team's training center. Other than gymnastics, a bunch of other activities are available. They have an Olympic sized swimming pool, a petting zoo, and a lake for boating, as well as horseback riding, basketball, tennis, and other activities.

There are, of course, many smaller camps in different states like YMCA camps, so if none of these camps are in your area or if you're not willing to travel, a Google search should be good to help you find something that's more convenient for you. These are just some of the most notable camps in the country. I hope you find the right summer camp for you or your kids!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Overcoming Fears and Mental Blocks in Gymnastics

A lot of gymnasts I come across on yahoo! have developed fears of certain skills. If you're one of those gymnasts who is currently going through some weird stage where you fear a particular skill or event, I just want you to know you're not the only one!

When I was a level 6, one day I suddenly became afraid of the vault. I had been practicing and competing a handspring vault very successfully for over a year, and out of nowhere, I had developed some crazy fear. I know this happens to a lot of gymnasts; whether it's fear of a certain move or of an entire event, or whether you took a bad fall and are afraid to get back up there.

Everybody is different in how they deal with these situations, but the one thing that we all have to remember when overcoming fears or mental blocks is to trust ourselves. You KNOW you can physically perform a move, it's just the psychological part that's holding you back. Trust that your body has the capability to safely perform the move with precision and focus. Remember that your coaches are trained to know when you're ready to do a certain skill. If they tell you that you're ready, you probably are, whether you believe it or not. Ask for a spot if you have to... Whatever you need to do in order to get past your fear. Most likely the more you practice it, the less you will fear it. Even the best go through this.

So I hope you're all overcoming your fears and tackling the psychological aspect of gymnastics, which we all know is absolutely huge. Good luck to everybody!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

List of Compulsory Gymnastics Skills

This is an alphabetical list of COMPULSORY SKILLS only (by request). Bracketed is the abbreviation for the event(s) that skill is used on in levels 5 and 6. If you have questions on any of these moves, or on any other higher-level moves that I may not have listed, feel free to ask in a comment!

Aerial cartwheel [FX]
Baby giant [UB]
Backbend [FX]
Back handspring [FX]
Back hip circle [UB]
Back extension roll [FX]
Back tuck [FX]
Back walkover [FX,BB]
Cartwheel [FX,BB]
Cast [UB]
Cast to handstand [UB]
Clear hip circle (AKA free hip circle) [UB]
Dive roll [FX]
Front... Blah blah, all the same as the "back" skills.
Flyaway [UB]
Full turn [FX,BB]
Handstand [FX,BB]
Handspring vault [V]
Kip [UB]
Long-hang kip [UB]
Pivot turn [BB]
Roundoff [FX]
Scale [FX,BB]
Split jump [FX,BB]
Split leap [FX,BB]
Squat on [UB]
Straddle jump [FX]
Tap swing [UB]
Tuck jump [FX,BB]
Undershoot [UB]
Wendy (dismount) [BB]

Monday, July 5, 2010

Q: Gymnastic camp goals?

Ah, tis the season for gymnastics camp. Yay! By Kat's request, I'm going to go over a few goals for compulsory and early optional level gymnasts to work on while they're at camp. Obviously it depends on where you're at with your gymnastics and how prepared you are for the upcoming season, so this will be a very general overview, keeping in mind that most girls enjoy learning upper-level skills during their time at gym camp. Obviously you're going to need to listen to your coaches and do only the skills that they feel you're ready for in order to avoid injury.

Rising Level 4s: The most important thing, for ALL levels, is to make sure your skills are solid for your next competitive season. To be honest I don't know a lot about the level 4 requirements, since I began competing at level 5. But once you've got your skills and routines down well, I think the next most important thing is to start working kip drills. Kips take quite a while for some girls to learn, so starting early will never hurt. Fun new skill for level 4s to try: dive rolls.

Rising level 5s (for you, Kat!): Once you've gotten all your level 5 skills down (cartwheel on beam, front hip circle, RO BHS BHS, a strong vault, and glide and long hang kips being the most important skills in my opinion), start working on connecting great casts to your kips. If you can get a kip cast-handstand, or just a cast-handstand alone, that would be an awesome step to serve you well in future levels. Maybe you could work back handspring back tucks on the tumble track or into the pit, and you could even start twisting if your coaches think it's a good idea (though level 5 is pretty premature for twists). If you can get a roundoff back handspring with a great, high set at rebound, you're already preparing well for level 6. If you're like my new gymnast friend, Kat, starting to work back walkovers on a straight line to prepare for level 6 beam wouldn't hurt. I would also suggest doing a few clear hip drills - but don't go overboard with all this new, high-level stuff. I know it's exciting to learn new skills, but the most important thing is that you're totally ready to compete come October (or whenever your season begins). You might think your routines are perfect, but there's always something you can polish up. Camp is going to help you with that, since you'll have new opinions and perspective from different coaches. Fun new skill for level 5s to try: aerials.

Rising Level 6s: For me, back walkovers on beam were always an issue. Camp will be a great place to perfect that move. Again, the various opinions from different coaches will help you to figure out where the problems are stemming from and how to fix them (that applies to everything you'll learn). Work baby giants, your tumbling pass on floor, of course your handspring vault - maybe even a half-on or something of that nature to mix things up, etc. Things you can start working on to get ready early for optionals of course are your giants and your back handspring on beam, which you can practice on floor beam. This is also the perfect time to get a teeny bit of experience with twisting your tumbling passes. Try that into the pit, on a tramp, or whatever your coaches suggest for you. Fun new skill for level 6s to try: arabian fronts and tsuk drills.

Rising Level 7s: This is where it gets tricky, since not everyone competes the same exact skills in this level. You're going to have to use your own judgment to determine what exactly you need to learn. Typically, giants connected to layout flyaways, back handsprings on beam, and layout fulls will be good things for 7s to work on at camp. Tsukahara drills may not be necessary for all gymnasts, but for a lot of you it could be great preparation for level 8. This will be a really exciting time also to try interesting new beam mounts and dismounts. I competed a gainer dismount in level 7 and really enjoyed it. The cool thing about going to camp as a new optional is that even if you already have your routines set, you can always find a way to add more difficult skills (of course within the requirements) that you've learned at camp into your routines. Fun new skill for level 7s to try: double back flyaway into the pit.

Rising Level 8s: In my personal opinion, it'll be very important to work on connecting your new tumbling series on beam and polishing your tuck, handspring, etc. Those deductions get a lot of level 8s, so perfecting that now will give you an edge during the season. Whatever vault you're planning on performing during level 8, make it bigger and better right now. If it's a tsukahara, yurchenko drills might be fun. Definitely work on transition moves on bars (pak salto, shootover, staddle back, whatever - for me that took a long time to learn) and cleaning up your pirouettes. Fun new skill for level 8s to try: front giants.

Alright, that's as far as I'm gonna go with that. It all gets too complicated in the upper optional levels, since there is so much variation in the skills gymnasts compete. But if you're going to camp or just doing some fun new stuff during summer gymnastics practice, I hope this has been helpful! And have fun at camp!

What skill are YOU working on right now?

What's the main skill you're working on in the gym right now? How is it going?

I just want to take a quick poll so that everybody can see what everyone else is doing and you can support each other! Sometimes it's good to know that you're not the only one who is struggling to get a difficult skill. Sometimes it's also good to know that you WILL get that skill, in time. :)

Q: Do you think it's good for a level 3 to be able to do level 4, 5, 6, and 7 skills on all the events?

Sure, why not? Some girls focus only on the skills that apply to their level at any particular point in time, but other girls might begin to work skills for much higher levels long before they actually need to compete those skills. It all depends on your the way your coaches want to do things and their particular coaching styles.

Ex: When I was a level 5 (close as I can get to your scenario, as I didn't compete level 3 or 4), my coaches had me focusing only on level 5 skills and routines during my competitive season. But the second the last meet was over, we began our summer training, which meant that we stepped up the hours per week in the gym and started to focus not only on the next level's skills and routines, but also on higher-level drills to help prepare us for the future. The summer before my level 6 season I was working clear hips, back tucks, and all the other skills needed for level 6, but I was also working double backs into the pit, straddle backs, handsprings on beam, arabians, and other skills that would benefit me up through about level 9. Because we increased practice hours, we had more time to focus on more difficult skills. Not only was it good prep for future seasons, but it also helped with body control and conquering the fear issue and all that other stuff. However, when I moved out of state and switched gyms (during the summer before my level 7 season), I realized that not all coaches utilize summer workouts that way. At my new gym I focused solely on perfecting my routines and skills for the upcoming level 7 season, and that was absolutely fine as well.

I'm not sure exactly how your coaches train you, but the purpose of my example was to show you that each coach has his or her own system for preparing their gymnasts for the upcoming levels. Some coaches take it strictly one level at a time, others don't. Personally, I enjoyed being able to train higher-level skills during the summer. I found it useful in later years, and I also just found it to be something new, interesting, and exciting. It helped me to really stay engaged in the sport during times I might've otherwise felt burned out. But that might not work for everyone. I think it's perfectly acceptable for you to focus on the level at hand. It's okay if you're not ready for level 7 right now, and it's okay if you don't have all your skills even for the next level. Work at your own pace, that's the most important thing to remember. I know that it's incredibly frustrating to feel like your progress is slow, but that's something every gymnast goes through.

Wow, I'm really blabbing. The moral of the story is, yes, it is okay to be working level 5, 6, or 7 skills during level 3, as long as you still feel prepared for the level you're competing right now. It might even be beneficial, depending on the way your coaches handle it and the way you prefer to progress in the sport. But if you can't move that quickly and prefer to focus on the level you're competing NOW, that's fine too! Lots of gymnasts work that way. Be patient with yourself.

A Gymnastics Poem, for Inspiration

Patience is a man's greatest virtue,
Or so the saying goes.
A gymnast must've said it
For a gymnast surely knows

That in this funny sport of ours
Discouragement runs high,
And at times the very best will find
This virtue has passed us by.

When hands are ripped and throbbing,
When every muscle is sore
Can a gymnast have the patience
To limp back in for more?

When you've lost moves you used to do
And progress seems so slow
Can you have faith in better days,
And not feel sad and low?

Can you admit you're frightened,
Yet not give in to fear?
Can you conquer pain, frustration,
And often even tears?

When someone else does something
You've tried so long to do
Can you really feel glad to her,
Or just pity for you?

And when success feels far away,
Your efforts all in vain,
Can you force yourself to wear a smile
And disregard the pain?

If despite the tribulations,
You can say, "I won't give in."
Maybe someday you'll discover
That it is your time to win!


Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Road to Elite Gymnastics

There are a lot of questions about the path to becoming an elite, and that's probably due to the fact that that path changes all the time; just about every time the Elite Committees meet, something is changed. It keeps us on our toes, as gymnasts or gym parents, that's for sure. So as of July 2010, I'd like to give you a brief overview of the progression of a gymnast to elite status.

There are a few different ways gymnasts can go with this. One is with the J.O. (Junior Olympic) program. This is the level 4 - 10 program that a lot of you are probably familiar with. For gymnasts who have their sights set on the world stage from the beginning, this is not a popular option, but it is the option that your average USAG competitive gymnast takes. It is the path I took, along with the TOPs program which we'll get to later. The purpose of the J.O. program is to give the gymnasts experience in meets and to move forward in the sport at a steady pace (this is what I was talking about earlier, when I said most gymnasts take one year per competitive level).

A separate program is the TOPs program. TOPs is a program for young gymnasts, ages 7-11, who have the strength, agility, and flexibility it takes to potentially learn elite-level skills. They are tested less on actual gymnastics moves (such as back handsprings, vaults, etc.) and more on their strength and other attributes that are important in high-level gymnastics. While TOPs is not required of gymnasts who want to test into elite, it does emphasize the abilities elite gymnasts need to have and can be play important role in training for the elite level.

Finally, you have the Elite programs. Gymnasts have to test into the elite program by their scores in an elite qualifier meet. You've probably heard of the two classifications of elite gymnasts: Juniors and Seniors. This has nothing to do with skill, but with age. Junior Elites are between 11 and 15, and Senior Elites are 16 and up. When gymnasts first test into the elite level, they are classified as National Elites, and then have the opportunity at various Elite meets to qualify as International Elites. As you guys know, there are age restrictions at the Olympics, so only Senior Elites can compete at Worlds and in the Olympic Games.

Something relatively new in gymnastics is the Hopes program, for 10- to 12-year-old pre-elite gymnasts. Gymnasts must test into this division at a Hopes qualifier.

So there you go, gymnastics lovers. These are just a few of the ways that gymnasts can reach their elite dreams. However, there's a lot more to this stuff than I can't begin to understand. I've given you a brief (well, somewhat brief) overview of the information I gathered from If you would like to read the full answer that includes all this information and more, check out

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Conditioning You Can Do at Home

Okay, a lot of people ask about what sort of conditioning routine they can do at home. I'm just going to give a few examples of the different things you can do for strength training on your own time with little equipment.

-Push ups. There are a lot of different kinds of push ups and they work different parts of your arms. The first is the standard push up, maintaining a tight hollow body position. The second is the wide-arm push up with your hands farther out to the sides; this one works your pecs, shoulders, and your underarm area. The third is triangle push ups, where you make your hands into the shape of a triangle (thumbs touching and pointer fingers touching); this will work the outsides of your arms. The fourth is handstand push ups which you can do against the wall. If handstand push ups are too difficult, another great exercise is putting your feet up on a couch or bed and placing your hands on the floor, creating as close to a 90 degree angle as you can between your upper body and your lower body, bending at the hips, and then lowering yourself down until your head almost touches the floor before coming back up. You can do 15 of each or so, or just figure out what amount of conditioning works best for you.

-Sit ups. You guys know all these... there's the regular sit-up, the "crunchie", the sit-ups where you raise both your torso and your legs (bending your knees), and of course the dreaded V-up. I find V-ups to be the most beneficial for muscle building. My coach used to say, "Do 30 in 30 seconds." This is a challenge at first but becomes easier, like anything else, the more you practice it. Other stomach exercises include the hollow hold as well as hollow rockers. Those are both great - you should definitely feel it the next day.

-Squats, leg swings, lunges, and calf raisers. Take these and get creative with them. If you have latex bands at your house, use them for leg swings. For the calf raisers, stand on your stairs with your heels hanging off the edge to get more out of the exercise than if you were just to do it on the flat ground. With the lunges, hold weights in each hand or jump in and out of the lunge position rather than stepping out. For squats, look to ballet - they do a lot of that fancy plie stuff. Don't just DO the squats, but hold the squat position as well. If you like wall sits, those are great for the thighs. Or you can always just stand on one leg and hold the other at a 90 degree angle for as long as you can, then switch. If you've got a practice beam to do that on, even better. I've always found leg exercises to be more difficult at home than in the gym, but there really is a lot you can do.

I hope these exercises help. I've tried to break them up into arms, abs, and legs, which are the main areas to focus on. Find a conditioning routine that works for you. Consult with your coaches, if you want, and get their recommendations on how many repetitions you should be doing on your own time. Have fun, drink water, don't over-do it, and build muscle! Ready... GO! :)