Sunday, January 16, 2011

Handspring Vault

A few general tips for a killer handspring vault.

  • The first and probably most obvious tip is to never underestimate the importance of your sprint down the vault runway. The run is a huge factor in determining the power and turnover speed of your vault. It is important that you're comfortable with the distance at which you begin your sprint in order to avoid what coaches like to call "stutter stepping" as you near the springboard. The best way to find the take-off, stride, and distance that work best for you is simply by trial and error. Always use the tape measure to check your distance before you vault! Once you find your distance, your run should be very consistent. You should be taking the same number of steps every time, taking off with the same leg, and therefore having very few issues when it comes time for the hurdle. We've all had those days when we get stuck at the end of the vault runway hurdling with the wrong leg. To avoid this issue as best you can, befriend the tape measure and find the sprint that works for you.
  • The second tip is to get a powerful hurdle. Newton's Laws tell us that the amount of force we inflict on the springboard during our hurdle is equal to the amount of force the springboard will give us in return. The more you pound the springboard, the more spring it will give you to complete your vault. So be powerful with the hurdle and don't hold back - use a full arm circle to help you get the momentum you need. Another common mistake that happens during the hurdle is that the gymnast leans too far forward with their hips towards the vault table. We don't want to jump into the table, we want to spring up and over it, so leaning into it is not going to help. Hitting the springboard with your feet in front of your hips in a hollow is going to give you the necessary height.
  • This one is really important, and I'm sure you've heard it before: it's all about the heel drive when it comes to handspring vaults. A heel drive is just what it sounds like - you need to drive your heels upwards to eventually find the vertical position and get over the table. The tricky part is that you need to drive your heels while maintaining good body position. You don't want to just arch your body and flop over the vault. The heels need to be the driving force for your whole entire body, which should remain tight and, for the most part, very straight. This requires a fair amount of core strength but is essential to a good vault.
  • This next tip is all about angles (by that I mean the angle your body makes with the vault table). While ideal contact angle depends on the speed and power of the gymnast, the important thing for all gymnasts to remember about angles is that you should always be off the table before your body hits the vertical position. You want the "pop" or the "shoulder block" to happen before you hit the 90 degree mark. In other words, you don't want your contact with the vault to happen so late that you are blocking off the vault after you have hit the vertical position and are angled towards the landing mat. Your shoulder block should happen as quickly and as powerfully as possible so that it is almost as if you barely touched the vault at all.
  • Another note on the shoulder block is that it should require absolutely no elbow bend. In fact, the entire purpose of the block is to get power off the vault table without having to use your arms to push. Not only is an elbow bend incorrect, but it'll also slow you way down and surely cause you to flop over with an arched back onto the landing mat, rather than with all your muscles squeezed as they should be.
  • Of course, during the initial moment of contact as well as the whole shoulder block phase and continuing through the second flying phase, you should have a tight, straight body position. You should be stretched out, but with no yucky loose arching. If there's one thing judges cringe at seeing on vault, I think it would be an arched body. Arching over on a vault is a little bit like cheating on a test; it allows you to complete the vault using minimal strength and effort and without really having to block at all. However, it's completely incorrect and not very pleasing to the eye.
  • As your feet finally start to hit the landing mat, bend your knees and extend your arms out in front of you to absorb the shock of the landing and to help you find the balance to stick it!


  1. thanks, this was very helpful! do you know what judges deduct from on vault? i'm always very curious because i'm usually a pretty good vaulter but my scores seem to be getting lower and lower. i know i have the height and distance but what else? i also pike a little bit on the springboard.

  2. Good question! They're going to deduct big for body position, so if you fail to show an open shoulder angle and totally extended body in the hips, they'll deduct for that. Also things like bent and separated legs, steps on landing, etc.

    Here's a pretty solid list I found on It's a great site for information on routine requirements and deductions, if you want to check it out! Here is what they say...

    "Here is a list of additional penalties a gymnast can receive on a front handspring vault."

    • Body position
    - Piked
    - Arched
    • Legs
    - Bent
    - Separated
    • Feet
    - Not pointed

    • Run
    - Lacks speed
    - Lacks power
    - No acceleration
    - Not straight
    • Wrong vault performed
    • Aid of Coach


    • Arms
    - Bent
    - Shoulders not open (showing a shoulder angle)
    • Head contacts vault
    • Failure to leave the vault before the gymnast goes past vertical
    • Hands
    - Additional hand placement (moving hands once they contact the vault table)
    - Keeping hands on the vault table for too long
    - Touching with only one hand
    - Not touching the vault at all

    • Not enough height
    • Not enough distance
    • Any contact with body at the end of the vault table (Other than when the gymnast hands first have contact)

    • Feet
    - Hop
    - Move
    - Step
    - Jump

    • Extra arm swing
    • Additional body movement to maintain balance
    • Incorrect body position
    • Deep squat
    • Touching the landing mat with any part or body other than feet
    • Touching the vault table with any part of body
    • Not landing feet first.