Simple Folk - In from Left Field... | The Elite Gymnastics Journal

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Simple Folk - In from Left Field...

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Simple Folk - In from Left Field...

John Wojtczuk
Eastern Natinal Academy, Paramus NJ

“The wisest mind has something yet to learn.”

- Georges Santayana

During a break at a recent beginner level competition in New Jersey, I was asked by a coach about what I do to teach kids a straddle up handstand on uneven bars. A couple of other coaches came in on the conversation and commented this would be a good subject for an article.

So… here’s my take on it.

I find that most often kids trying to learn a cast HS try to cast hard, but not cast in the right direction. The center of gravity (CG form this point on), or hips for the most part, need to move straight up over the bar. If they are behind the bar they are pulling the gymnast out of the balanced HS position. For that to occur, they need to lean to “counter-balance” the legs/lower body with the shoulders/upper body. This is a little scary, especially for beginners. They need to develop strength in a planche position to be more secure in that lean. Even though the straddle up will not lean for very long, it will lean at least a little amount.

My model for the way I teach this skill is an old videotape of Khorkina performing her straddle cast HS. In slow motion, what is noticeable is the cast – to horizontal first – and then breaking in the hips to the straddle up position. When I was first taught to teach this skill, I was told the gymnast had to cast and lift the hips immediately to get to the handstand (HS). So, this was a bit of a quandary.
In biomechanics you are taught to really analyze what is occurring in the motion you are studying or examining. There is a story about a Czech distance runner, Emil Zatopek, who won every distance race he competed. (In 1952 he won three gold medals in distance events at the Helsinki Games.) Other runners tried to emulate his training regimen, his style of running, but to no avail (and to some injury, unfortunately). But in a biomechanic analysis of his running style and technique, it was discovered it was inefficient. He won simply because he trained harder than anyone else and was unbelievably strong. He could win despite his poor running technique.
Looking at the early straddle up technique, there is still a straight body cast but it is at best a cast 45 degrees below horizontal. The tangent line of the cast (at the CG or hips) momentarily is pointing back and away from the bar, but the early hip lift/straddle position pulls it back to a forward line toward the top of the bar and the gymnast presses the rest of the way up.
In the cast Khorkina performed, the CG starts higher (horizontal actually places it about 8 to 9 inches above the height of the bar), so it is a little easier to get up to the HS. If the cast is a little bit higher than that, now the tangent line of the CG is pointing over the top of the bar, helping pull the CG in the correct direction.

One Possible Progression for a Straddle-up Handstand

1) Rock (drop) kips 1 – 2 sets of 3 – 5 make sure shoulders are really rocking forward past the vertical of the bar; this is to get the “leaning” feeling for the kip cast and to help develop a strong kipping position to help with the cast.
2) Glide kip cast horizontal or higher (but no more than 45 degrees) and return. These are done singly; 3x's...good ones, they cannot fall off or back hip circle. If they fall back or circle then the CG has not moved straight upward but behind the bar, pulling them out of balance.
3) Glide kip cast, straddle stand and jump forward off the bar. Note: the cast should go to at least horizontal for this to be successful. Always straight legs. This a good middle step for the kids.*
4) From a stand on a spotting block, hands on LB:
a) jump to straddle stand on the bar, jump/bounce from there to HS and fall over
b) jump to straddle up HS immediately and fall over (no feet on bar)
Note: You can also do this with a mini tramp or some other “bounce” device if needed.
5) Try glide kip cast straddle up HS; return to drills as needed to improve.

* I have also done this drill with “canyon blocks”, starting from a little bit below the level of the bar the gymnast is casting from, and working up to a position a little above.

For the cast HS on HB:

I recommend strongly that the cast HS be mastered on the LB first. Repeat the series, but make it a long hang kip instead for numbers 2, 3 and 5. Still do the jump in 4 and rock kips on LB. (Actually you could do these on HB if you think it will help their awareness and nervousness. It's just easier to set up and work on the LB.)

Notes: You will probably need to repeat these for a while before they become automatic that's ok – do this as their cast HS drill 2 – 3 times a week for 10 - 15 minutes before going to other skills, or you can set it up as a station to be done by those who need it most while working other stations.

Also, make sure they are as close as possible to a “round back” press position, the arched back with the tush overhead is a killer.

Ancillary drills:

Press HS from feet at the least, even if you need to start against a wall. A stalder press is really preferred.

On low floor bars: from a kneeling start, jump from knees to a straddle up HS, balance a second then come back down to start by slowly starting as a planche, then piking down slowly back to a kneeling position. Repeat.

This can also be used for pirouetting: add the pirouette and still try to return to the slow kneeling position.

Straddle “L” hold for strength, and at least a “half” press to work strength for the lean as well as a better lower back shape. A full “stalder” press HS would be best.

Very good “pancake” stretch position; narrower straddle than a split and belly on floor.

June 2016