Curing Straddle Back Problems

Subject: straddle-backs

Sex: female
Age: 16
Gymnastics Level: 9

I have been competing straddle backs for 2 and 1/2 years, but do them incorrectly ( I let go too early and don’t see anything when I let go). Every time I try and fix them (let go later) they improve for a short amount of time, but always go back to how they were before I tried to fix them. To be honest, straddle backs scare me. Not so much the idea of going backwards or even releasing the bar, but that not one straddle back that I do is ever the exact same so I never know how it is going to be. Recently, they have been improving ( I actually see something before I let go) with a spot. Once my coach stopped spotting me, I went back to how I did them before. I know I lack confidence in this skill and I constantly get frustrated by not being able to improve it. If you could provide any insight on how I can improve my confidence or improve the skill, I would be most grateful.

Thank you

Straddle backs are a high bar to low bar release move. All release moves are more difficult to become consistent with than with most skills, where you can hold onto the bar. Skills that you have done for a long time have become habituated. Skills that are good habits require only maintenance work, but skills for which you have developed bad habits take twice as much effort, because you have to do extra work to undo the bad habit, and then relearn the skill correctly. Here are a number of techniques you can use to relearn straddle backs and other gymnastics skills.


Physical skills, from learning to walk to straddle back timers, are physical habits. When you are first learning, you must concentrate on doing the skill with your conscious mind. As you perform successful repetitions of physical skills, they become subconscious habits. When you have learned skills incorrectly or inconsistently, it is actually even more difficult to unlearn/relearn the skill than it would have been to learn it correctly the first time. Imperfectly learned gymnastics and physical skills tend to revert to old bad habit, especially under pressure or tension.

30 Day Habituation Guideline

The habituation process takes something like 30 (research is varied with 21, 22, 27 and 30 days commonly mentioned) days of repetition to become a successful automated habit. Whenever gymnasts are learning timers and skills, they should be expecting to be taking up to 30 days to burn that physical habit into their brain.

Video Training

A good first step for embedding the correct straddle back technique in your mind is to watch video of the skill over and over (and over). Visual learning is a very effective learning tool.

3-Prong Visualization Training

It is important that you mind (and then your body) understands perfectly how to do gymnastics skills. Visualization is an effective method of accomplishing this and can be done both in and out of the gym. Many gymnasts believe they are not very good at visualization, but if you close your eyes and imagine yourself visualizing your bedroom or the gym, you will find that you visualize quite well and you will also learn about your own individual visualization style. Visualize straddle backs in three different ways. See them as if you are watching yourself on a video, imagine how it looks like to be doing them from the inside of your mind and imagine how it feels to be doing them.


Straddle back consistency starts with consistent straddle back timers. Building in consistency habits takes time. It is best to get consistent timers before adding in or re-adding in the actual release move, but it may be possible to successfully overlap the process to some degree to save time.

Pike Straddle Backs

A way to bypass the necessity to take the time to unlearn a bad habit (which Japanese scientists have estimated to take up to 22 times the original number of skills done) is to learn a different enough version of the skill (or a completely different skill). When the skill is different enough, the old pattern is not activated and the new skill or pattern can be learned in the normal way and relatively quickly. In this case, doing pike straddle back timers and learning a pike straddle back could be enough of a different skill to by pass the unlearning process. Later after learning a pike straddle back, those positive habits could be transferred back to a straddle back, if necessary or preferred.

Review Complete Learning Progression

The most standard method of fixing a skill with bad habits or inconsistency is to go back and thoroughly and completely review the entire learning process and progressions from the very beginning, giving enough time to each and every step to master it correctly.


From all of the alternatives, however, it seems like spotting has already worked and is likely to be the fastest (but not too fast) method of getting your straddle back consistently. You will simply need to convince your coach to spot you long enough (up to 30 days) for the straddle back to become a positive and consistent habit. Many coaches do not completely understand the habituation process and stop spotting too soon for building good habits and consistency. But when the correct habit is built, time is saved in the long run, because the skill will not have to be relearned, like you are having to do now. This seems like your best alternative.

A Little Afraid

It also seems likely that your little bit of fear will disappear when you become consistent and have built in the correct habit from a long enough period of learning or spotting.

Straddle Back Animation

This animation shows too early a release and a more of a layout than pike/straddle but is still interesting to watch.

Good luck.

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