Building Basic Gymnastics Skills

Subject: Building skills
Sex: female
Age: 13
Gymnastics Level: Beginner (I don’t take lessons)

Hello, I am 13 years old, and I would really like to learn some gymnastics skills. I am tall (5’5) and big boned. I can do cartwheels, front rolls, and bridges from a sitting position. My splits are relatively good, and I am relatively flexible. Every morning I do a stretch routine that consists of a series of stretches

  1. Plank (30 sec. +)
  2. Push ups (3 sets of 7)
  3. Sit ups (20+ hold every 5)
  4. Leg lifts and core exercises (In order)
  5. Plank (40 sec. +)
  6. Bridge from sitting (20 sec. +)

Every morning and evening. I wish to develop skills and flexibility required for certain exercises. Right now, I have no spotter but am working on cartwheels, round offs, and trying out handstands. I eventually want to move on to walkovers and then possibly hand springs, but without a spotter at the moment I am worried I am running out of time. Since I can’t do a standing back bridge yet, what exercises would you recommend for me to progress. Other than push ups and planks what is helpful for upper body strength, and what are some exercises to enhance shoulder flexibility? Another huge question is time, I’m willing to do what it takes, as long as it will eventually provide results, but how long should it take me to learn, and is what I’m doing enough? Thank you so much, Bianca.

While it is certainly possible to work on strength and flexibility at home without instruction, I cannot really recommend that any significant gymnastics instruction be done without qualified, experienced instructors. There is a really good reason to receive good instruction from the very beginning of your gymnastics career. Gymnastics is a series of habits. Once a habit is developed, good or bad, it is very difficult to break. Even on seemingly simple skills, like cartwheels, untrained gymnasts are not likely to know exactly what to do.

Using cartwheels, as an example, do you practice every time:

  • Do you start in the correct starting position?
  • Are your hips and shoulders square when you start?
  • Do you lunge into the cartwheel?
  • Do you maintain straight body line into the cartwheel?
  • Do you have the exact correct hand placement?
  • How far does your first foot land from your hands?
  • Do you maintain straight body line out of the cartwheel?
  • Do you square off the landing?
  • Do you finish in the correct and attractive landing position?
  • Do you know all of the different possible cartwheels you can and should be working on like cartwheel for beam, side-to-side cartwheel, cartwheel 1/4 turn, both one-arm cartwheels, etc.?

If you do not know all of those things about cartwheels (and there is much more to know and learn) then you are running the risk of building bad basic habits and limiting your future in gymnastics and limiting the skills you will eventually be able to learn.

So go ahead and keep working on getting strong and flexible, but get yourself professional equipment and instructors, if you really want to learn gymnastics correctly and safely.

Strength training needs to be progressive, which means that you should not be doing the same workout every day, but that your workout should be getting harder every time you train. Doing backbends with your feet up on a couch or some other sturdy object will allow you to stretch your shoulders better than a regular backbend on the floor. Go ahead and start doing handstands, if and when, you are already strong enough to support your entire body weight. Most gymnasts learn them first up doing them up against a wall.

Lifting weights can be a fast track method of building strength for gymnasts your age. At this point I would suggest that if you think you need to, you should add aerobic exercises (running) to your daily workout.

Good luck get out there and find a way and find a gym where you can get professional gymnastics training.  And keep up the daily workouts.

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