The Handstand Homework Mat
As a mom of a cheerleader, every open area of my home has become a place to turn cartwheels and every doorway has become a place to stretch. I have reluctantly watched my couch get ruined by flipping and bouncing, and become a master of catching lamps mid-air after being hit by a stray body part. My yoga blocks have become stunting blocks and my therabands have become stunt straps. I’m sure any cheer parent can relate!
When I owned a gym and actively coached, one of the most frequent questions I got from parents was “What can my child practice safely at home?” This can be a tough question to answer with a lot to take into consideration. Usually my answer was something along the lines of; conditioning, stretching, and handstands against a wall.
Why handstands? A handstand is the single most important skill in cheerleading and tumbling. The handstand is the core and foundation of all tumbling skills, and as we move into more acrobatic stunting elements it is relevant there as well. If a tumbler is struggling in a skill, many times it can be traced back to a technical error in the handstand. The handstand is also a good exercise for conditioning as it involves multiple muscle groups working together to support your own body weight. It promotes strength, body awareness, and lessens the chance of injury.
Tumbl Trak has developed a new product designed specifically for practicing this fundamental skill at home, The Handstand Homework Mat.
The Handstand Homework Mat is 9 ft. long x 2 ft. wide x 5/8" thick and is designed to easily attach to any door with slide-on clips and Velcro straps. It is reversible, and can be used on the floor as well. One side is a Cartwheel Mat (available in 4 colors) and the other side is carpeted and features a 6 ft. long, 4 in. wide white “beam” stripe.
My favorite part was the extra bonus that comes with the mat, the Handstand Homework book. The 60 page Handstand Homework book (included with purchase) demonstrates the shapes necessary to achieve the perfect handstand. It is filled with pictures of correct shapes, as well pointing out some common misshapes. The workbook also includes some fun “quizzes” about handstands, a “word find” and many other items a young gymnast will surely enjoy while learning at the same time! The book is progressive starting with basic, followed by intermediate, and then advanced skills and exercises. Each level has additional variations and super challenges within the exercises. Whether your child is just starting out or a Level 5 cheerleader- there is something to benefit every athlete in this book.
My 10 year old daughter, Cheyenne (a Level 2 cheerleader), had the opportunity to review this product.
“I love the Handstand Homework Mat. It gives me a safe place to practice my handstands and I don’t have to worry about my feet pounding on the wall. The workbook is my favorite part. Until I used the workbook, I didn’t realize that I was not doing my handstands correctly. The workbook exercises were easy to follow and helped me get the right shape in my handstand, and I liked being able to write down my progress as I went along. I can already feel a difference in my back handsprings too and it’s helping me keep my head in. In cheerleading, we are tumbling in tight formations, right next to other cheerleaders. I used the mat on the floor with the beam stripe to help get my cartwheels, round offs, walkovers, and handsprings straight. I would feel really bad if I hit someone because I tumbled crooked. Now I know that my tumbling skills stay straight and it helps lessen that fear.”
Cheerleading industry professionals across the country weigh in on the importance of developing a proper handstand.
"There are really only two positions where an athlete derives power; from the standing position and from the handstand position. It stands to reason that a well-developed handstand with a strong core is important to tumbling safety and performance." Jim Lord, Executive Director, AACCA
"The handstand=building block of tumbling. Every skill from a RO to a double full is a form of a handstand. I think of RO's/BHS's as transferring handstands(arched=goes back) and then layouts/fulls/doubles as hold handstands (hollow=goes up). Transferring handstands must be more flexible and arched, while hold handstands must be straight, fighting off the arch. Most cheer and gymnastics coaches teach athletes to look at their hands while they tumble but I disagree with this technique. I explain to my kids that they don't walk around all day looking at the ceiling or run a 100 yard dash looking at the sky. When we walk or run we look straight, keeping our spine in its natural alignment. An athlete in a handstand position looking at their hands will always cause the arch in their neck to increase which then drives the hips down putting more weight in the arms. Imagine an athlete in a handstand looking at their hands (head out) and then flip them upside down in the same position. You will now be looking at the position in which the athlete will punch out of the handspring in. Their head will be arched back with their shoulders in front, the typical "your heads out" mistake. Looking at your hands causes you to enter every skill head first as opposed to arms/shoulders/head entering together. This is why I always tell my athletes to look at the wall they started from in handstands and to look at the wall they are traveling towards while entering a RO or BHS. Obviously when you punch into an air trick you change walls and look for the wall in which you started from. So basically if you want to keep going forward (or backward in a handspring) you look at the wall your traveling toward and then when you want to change direction and go up you find the wall you started from.. Although I'm talking about RO's and BHS's this is 100% about the handstand seeing as both of those skills end in a handstand snap down." Joseph Carpinetti, Owner/Head Tumbling Instructor, One United All-Stars
“Handstands are a fundamental building block for tumbling and stunting. A good handstand ensures that an athlete can bear weight in the proper position for all advanced tumbling areas as well as provide a solid core block for extended stunting elements. I believe handstands are a necessary mastered skill in all star cheer.” Mandi Spina, Program Director, Cheer Fusion Frederiksburg, VA
“I tell my athletes all the time handstands give you the shoulder strength, core strength and overall body awareness to perform your tumbling correctly. Good handstands equal lower chances of injury.” Mark Galindo, Director at Elite Athletics, Springfield, MO.
“If you can't hold yourself up how do you expect to hold someone over your own head!” Holly Brucker, Coach, Kansas City Athletic Cheer.
“If it's not tight, it ain't right! I just wish more coaches would teach and preach CORRECT position in the handstands, not just get on your hands.” David Erlenbaugh, Tumbling director, Cheer Command, Mokena, IL.
"A handstand is like Jesus, it's everywhere in cheer and you don't even realize it. Older people laugh at me during tumbling privates when I spend a lot of time working handstands. Within five minutes they will see an 8 year old throwing a trick to full pass. They'll ask me, "how did they get so good?!!". My response, "they didn't laugh." John Migaiolo, Program Director, HDC Spirit Athletics
"I tell my athletes, it all starts with a great handstand, it can make or break your tumbling skills.” Kristine Ryan-McCoy, Owner/coach, Champion Cheer Elite Lebanon, MO.
"Every class starts with handstands, and we stress if you can't do a technically correct handstand straight and tight your other skills will more than likely suffer. We even stress to the parents the importance of handstands being practiced at home! Make it tall and tight to make it right!" Karen McKinley, President, owner and Head Coach. All Starz Gymnastics and Cheerleading, New Albany, Indiana
For more information on how to order the Handstand Homework Mat please visit:
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