Back Handspring Drills
The back handspring truly is the gateway skill for most cheerleaders. It’s what separates the Level 1s from the Level 2s, and it opens the door for powerful synchronized tumbling. It’s the most coveted skill for beginning cheerleaders!
First and foremost, it’s important that cheerleaders learn a back handspring IN THE GYM with a qualified instructor. The skill is far too dangerous to practice at home. Many cheerleaders try to learn one on their home trampoline and I strongly discourage this. A trampoline back handspring is very different from one on the floor, and bad habits are formed. If you learn a back handspring incorrectly it will be hard to fix and it will keep you from doing a round-off back handspring or a back handspring series correctly. When learned on a trampoline, most cheerleaders have an improper takeoff and don’t learn to push effectively.
It is not necessary to learn a back walkover to learn a back handspring as they are two very different skills, however, most cheerleaders start out in Level 1, and a back walkover is a requirement for that level. Back walkovers are good to learn for flexibility, plus back walkover into a back handspring is a legit series for Level 2.
The following are some back handspring drills that you can do at home or in the gym. Drills are safe to practice out of the gym (with your coach’s approval), and the more you do them the quicker you will learn your back handspring!
You will need a strong bridge before you are ready to do a back handspring. You should be able to push up from the floor into a bridge and have straight arms. Pushing your legs straight in the bridge will help stretch your shoulders, which will make your back handspring easier.
You will need to be able to do a backbend, which is a bridge from a stand. To practice at home, walk down a wall to a bridge, and then walk up again. Practice your bridge in the gym onto a wedge mat or with a coach spotting.
Having a strong handstand will help you in all of your tumbling skills! The back handspring passes through the handstand position so you will need to have a good handstand. Practice against a wall, and also practice kicking up to a handstand without the wall. Control your body, you should be able to kick up and step down without falling over. You should have a good body position without arching your back or sagging in the shoulders.
Backbend Snapdown (Back Limber)
This is a great skill to practice that can help you get your back handspring quicker. The push off the mat with both feet and the muscles used to snap down are the same. It builds core strength and resembles the movement of the back handspring in slow motion.
Wall Sit Drill
I love this drill because it teaches the proper body position for the takeoff. To measure where to stand, lean your full back against the wall and then sit like you’re sitting in a chair. Move your feet so they are directly under your knees. That’s the sitting position. Don’t move your feet and stand up. Now lean slightly back and “sit” against the wall. Then straighten your legs but keep your shoulders against the wall and let your hips come forward. Your arms should reach over your head at the same time. This mimics the sit and takeoff for the back handspring.
Mat Sit Drill
This one needs to be done on an 8-inch squishy mat. Stand next to the mat. Now sit down on the mat. This drill helps you get the idea that you need to lean back and sit for your back handspring. This drill goes well with a round-off. Do a round-off and land with your feet just in front of the mat, and then immediately sit down. This drill can also be done on a wedge mat. It can highlight if you are having issues with your round-off, as the drill can’t be done properly if your round-off isn’t correct.
I like this drill because it helps prevent tumblers from piking over. Sit just in front of an 8-inch mat with your legs straight. Now throw your body and arms back, landing in a nice arched position with your hips off the mat. Keep head neutral.
I like to combine a round-off with the Mat Sit Drill with the Throw Drill. Roundoff, then sit back onto the mat, then throw drill. I feel like it gives a good idea of doing a round-off back handspring.
Coaches teach all kinds of starting arm placement for the back handspring. I teach starting with arms by the sides instead of over the head or out in front. I teach it this way because it looks clean for cheerleading if you’re going to do synchronized back handsprings. It also helps prevent dropping the shoulders forward during the takeoff.
You can also practice your back handsprings with a spotter and on pieces of equipment in the gym. The one mistake I see a lot is cheerleaders getting spotted in their back handspring and it’s basically the coach just flipping them over. I don’t think that teaches anything but learning to rely on the coach. I personally only spot when the tumbler has mastered all the drills and is ready to put the skill together. I spot to guide the cheerleader and protect them, but I will never do the trick FOR them.
The back handspring is a tough skill because it takes strength, a certain amount of flexibility, timing and guts. If you really want to learn it, you will need to practice in the gym a minimum of 2 times a week and also at home. I know many cheerleaders that enroll in a once-a-week tumbling class and then are discouraged when they don’t’ get their back handspring. You will need to put time in to get this skill, but once you master it then it will be the gateway to bigger and better things!
My last tip is to NOT practice a back tuck while you are learning your back handspring. The takeoff for a back tuck is completely different and it’s easy to get confused. In this case, learn one skill at a time. Good luck! Happy Flipping!