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Skills Every Gymnast Should Know

Kristi has been a competitive gymnastics coach for 25+ years and has coached levels 3-10 to state, regional, western and national titles.

Cast from bar

Cast from bar

Competitive gymnastics has a mystique to it that I've never understood. Probably because I've been in the thick of gymnastics since I was a toddler, it's impossible for me to understand why there is such a fascination with the ability to tumble on a 4-inch piece of metal covered in leather that sits four feet in the air. To me, that's normal. But for most people, that probably seems like a circus feat.

Basic Skills Every Gymnast Should Know

There are many skills that can advance the career of gymnasts. I've put together this list of core skills that will be exemplary building blocks for any athlete that wants to further their career in gymnastics. If kiddos can master these skills correctly, they will have a shot at being good competitive gymnasts.

Handstand against mat

Handstand against mat

1. Vault

Every gymnast should be able to run and hit a springboard doing a straight jump onto an 8" mat. Once they can run and jump from a springboard, you can then advance from a springboard with a mat to a springboard with a resi-pit and then gradually build from there. You want to make sure that your athlete can jump without collapsing or bending in the midsection of their body when they are jumping from the springboard onto the mats. If they cannot do the simple straight jump with a tight and controlled straight jump, it is not appropriate to advance them to harder skills on vault.

2. Bars

Since bars is generally considered to be the most physically demanding of all of the gymnastics events, it's important that athletes are adept at the basic uneven parallel bar skills.

Gymnasts must understand all of the grip styles on bars. Although they will not use all of the grip styles in the early levels of gymnastics, they should practice them so that they are comfortable holding and swinging with them in both directions. However, I do not consider this to be one of the basic skills.

  1. Gymnasts must be able to perform a Pullover on the bars. Often times I will get new students in my class who will hold the bar, throw their heads back to the floor and try to kick with one leg. I have a saying that many of my athletes can repeat verbatim. "Where your head goes your body goes." Gymnasts need to learn to keep their chests close to the bar and pull both feet at the same time. It's also important not to allow girls to switch their grip when they are upside down. They do this out of fear and because they don't understand how to roll their wrists to get to front support. A gymnast must be able to snap their wrist and roll to front support quickly with straight arms.
  2. It's also important that athletes know how to Cast on the bar. More often than not, girls will bend their arms, sink into the bar and barely swing their legs. Sound familiar? The bar should be pushed down past the bottom of the leotard line and the shoulders should be pressed down. Girls should be leaning slightly forward over the bar and as they cast they should be opening their shoulder angle with a tight, hollow body. As girls become more comfortable with a correct cast, push them to cast higher and higher until they achieve a handstand. Always make sure that you have them cast and return to the bar several times so that they get used to working the bar.

Additional Basic Bar Skills Gymnasts Need to Know

  • Pullover from step kick to front support
  • Pullover with feet together to front support
  • Table top
  • Cast to 15 degrees
  • Cast to 45 degrees
  • Cast to horizontal
  • Glide
  • Back hip circle
  • Front hip circle
  • Clear hip handstand
  • Cast handstand
  • Sole circle
  • Single leg shoot-through
  • Stride circle
  • Under-swing to candlestick
  • Candlestick hold
  • Cast squat on
Dismounting the beam

Dismounting the beam

3. Beam

Balance beam is elegant, graceful and dynamic. It's performed on a platform that is 16 feet long, 4 inches wide and 4 feet off of the floor. Learning how to stay on the beam takes years of practice and literally thousands of repetitions. I've had countless conversations with parents who have asked me how their child can get better at beam. The million dollar answer is that the more time your child spends on the beam, the better she will be.

Your child simply cannot attend class once a week and be a Shannon Miller or Nastia Luikin.

In order to be a beam star, your child will need to be able to:

  • Walk on the beam in relevè with her arms at crown, high-V, side-middle and side-down.
  • Walk forwards, backwards and sideways with all arm positions.
  • Step kick to the lunge with her right and left legs.
  • Step kick lunge to handstand to vertical.
  • Cartwheel to handstand with correct handstand and head position.
  • She will need to know what a forced-arch and a lock position are. Both of which are done from relevé.
  • Relevè turn from pique and snap turn.

When you're teaching gymnastics skills, if you have any questions about whether or not the technique is correct, ask your coaches first. Teaching bad habits makes your coaches job harder in the long run and makes the learning process more difficult for your daughter.

Additional Basic Beam Skills

  • Half turn on relevè
  • Snap turn
  • Know correct arm positions for turns
  • Battement leap
  • Know correct arm positions for leap
  • Pivot turns
  • Lever to horizontal and return to stand
  • Lever to beam and return to stand
Bridge on floor

Bridge on floor

Bridge with feet up with hyper-extended shoulders

Bridge with feet up with hyper-extended shoulders

4. Floor

Teaching tumbling seems to be the most fun for gymnasts. You can set up many drills for your athletes whether it's on the floor, the trampoline, the tumble track or the double-mini and they are bound to learn something. Kinds are amazing learners and while they may not pick up exactly what you want on the first lesson, don't get discouraged and feel that your drills are useless. Most of the time you should look for a close approximation, especially if you are introducing a new drill.

Refrain from spending your time with cross tumbling, line tumbling or performing constant routines. You should also refrain from spending workout time playing games. If your athlete isn't making progress it's a clear sign that you need to break down the skills and re-teach something.

  1. Every beginner athlete should know how to do a lunge. There is an entire community of coaches who believes that the back foot of your lunge should be turned completely out however when you are tumbling, on the beam or floor, you don't have time to stop and make sure that your back foot turns out. It should turn forward. Your front foot should turn slightly out. Arms should be at crown, front knee bent, back should be flat from your hands to back foot. Both feet should be flat. You should see a straight line from your hands to your back foot.
  2. The second skill every gymnast should perform perfectly is a handstand. While I believe that a handstand is the most important skill in all of gymnastics, I also believe that a lunge should come first. Without a lunge you will not have a good beginner handstand.
  3. Athletes who want to be great tumblers should be able to perform excellent cartwheels. Often times kids teach themselves to do cartwheels and are not corrected on the proper technique, meaning that they either cartwheel with bent legs, bent arms or cartwheels with broken shoulder angles - which is especially detrimental to learning a roundoff. Gymnastics is based on straight lines and learning a cartwheel that is incorrect instills a bad habit that is difficult if not impossible to break.
  4. Learning how to roll (forward and backward) is immensely important for a gymnast. The forward and backward roll lead to many different skills in the career of a gymnast or tumbler. Proper rolling techniques are truly essential building blocks for an athlete to learn so they may advance in their gymnastic career.

Floor Skills to Build On

  • Press Handstand (pike and straddle)
  • Roundoff
  • Backbend to bridge
  • Back walkover
  • Back handspring
  • Roundoff back handspring
  • Handstand forward roll
  • Pirouettes
A gymnast's legacy

A gymnast's legacy

5. Conditioning

While conditioning is important, I thought I would add some basic exercises so that coaches could benefit from knowing what beginner gymnasts should fluently know how to do. I see a lot of coaches who give their athletes unreasonable amounts of conditioning to complete. Not only do the high numbers frustrate your beginner athlete but they can also injure your kids.

All beginner gymnasts should know how to do:

  1. 5-10 Pushups with correct shape
  2. 10-20 V-ups or pike-ups (whichever you call them) depending on the level
  3. 5-10 pull-ups (chin-ups) with hands in forward/ reverse and mixed grip
  4. Hollow holds or rocks
  5. Frog jumps or long jumps
  6. Some sort of plyometrics that are appropriate to the level and athleticism of the athlete.

Refrain from using intense plyometrics on beginner gymnasts who have never experienced any sort of plyometric exercises. You can easily injure your athletes by over-training them with plyometric exercises.

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Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on March 19, 2018:

Mika Fourie Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your opinion. It's typically not dangerous in fact, it's preferred to have shoulders that will hyperextend. In the USAG floor routines, if you don't show hyperextension you receive a deduction. That's why having excellent flexibility is a must! Again, thanks for reading and commenting. -K

Mika Fourie on March 16, 2018:

I think that it can be dangerous to do a bridge with feet the same amount high as your shoulders because you can easily pop your shoulder bone.

Shyla pelliccia on February 08, 2018:

You are good......

Tilliana Bohm on November 16, 2017:

This helped me a lot with pull overs (they are the only thing on this I couldn't do) {^_^}Meow!

And it is very bueautifuly written :)

Me on December 07, 2016:

OMG this was my dreams but I was so excited for the first game of this season and I had a lot of fun working with you for like 12 days until you have a little bit

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on February 27, 2013:

I've been coaching again - can't stay away from those wonderful kids. Thank you for reading and commenting. I haven genuinely missed our chats. -K

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 27, 2013:

Six weeks ago? Where have you been young lady? As for this hub, I'm not sure there is a more demanding sport than gymnastics. Good job of instruction and explanation here my friend.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on January 14, 2013:

Teaches, So nice to hear from you. Thank you for reading and commenting. Gymnastics isn't offered in many schools any more. It's a shame that many programs are being cut because it's a great physical activity. Great to see you. -K

Dianna Mendez on January 05, 2013:

This is a very detailed and well designed hub on the 10 skills you listed. Gymnastics was not an option when I was young, I would have enjoyed trying it though. Very nicely written.