We had not anticipated putting an individual skill (especially a non-skill, like jump to the high bar) on the safety pages, but having viewed and heard about a series of serious accidents (broken bones) and resulting negative effects (fear) of this seemingly simple transition from bar to bar, we have decided to put out an alert to gymnasts and coaches.
Anecdotal Evidence Requires a Second Look at Safety
We have no scientific evidence that this non-rated movement is more dangerous than any other skill or skills, but our method has always been to re-evaluate any and every accident and implement any new safety procedures, progress and innovations we deem necessary to ensure the same accident never happens again.
Injuries Seem to Occur with Gymnasts New To The Skill
All of the injuries we have seen and heard about with this skill were with gymnasts who were just beginning to try this maneuver, either Level 5’s or TOP type training program gymnasts. We have not witnessed problems with this skill with gymnasts at higher levels or experienced performing the maneuver. Interestingly, all of the accidents were at gyms we were visiting or other programs and gymnasts, we have been monitoring, but we are still instituting these new safety measures in our own programs.
Don’t Underestimate this Maneuver
Perhaps the apparent simplicity of this movement is one of the causes of accidents. The dangers, as evidenced by the accidents we have seen, are real and significant. All of the injuries occurred the same way with a jump to the high bar from a stand on the low bar (as in the Level 5 and Level 6 bar routines). The bar is caught initially, the feet swing forward and the grip is lost.
Often Causes Arm Injuries
During the resulting fall, the gymnast instinctively reaches back with one or both arms and the weight of the body on the arm causes an injury ranging from shoulder or elbow sprain, fracture, compound fracture to dislocation. It is possible that this skill could cause a neck or back injury, if the gymnast peels very late.
Solve Problems with Matting, Bar Settings and Spotting
The safety measures that make sense in this learning progression include bar width and matting equipment progressions and hands-on spotting during the early learning phases.
Do NOT Use This Skill in Recreational Classes
Incidentally, we do not believe this skill is an appropriate or necessary skill for class level recreational gymnasts. It should not be included in the recreational curriculum even with all safety measures in place because of the risk of injury and the difficulty in spotting the skill.
Master Jump to Low Bar First
The only skill progression for this skill is multiple repetitions of the jump to kip on the low bar with increasingly higher and farther away board or starting mat placement. Now that this is no longer a Level 4 skill, it is critical that this jump and catch on the low bar be completely mastered before attempting any jumps to the high bar while learning the Level 5 routine.
Use a Variety of Jumps to Low Bar
Making sure the gymnast has mastered the jump to low bar kip mount from a number of different heights and distances and a variety of take-off positions will be the best lead-up to the jump to high bar kip movement. This means that the high bar portion of the routine should be worked on the low bar, a pit bar or from a hang on the high bar during this period.
Stack Up Mats Under the High Bar
The first step to safety in learning the jump to high bar is matting. When this skill is first being learned (read that mastered), multiple crash mats should be stacked up high enough under the high bar making it virtually similar to a jump to the low bar.
Move the Bars in Close
The second step is to adjust the bar width (set them closer) to a distance that the gymnast can easily and confidently reach. When the jump to kip is mastered at the first setting the bars may be moved out one setting at a time until they reach the setting at which the gymnast is actually going to compete. By using both the slide and width setting of the bars, there can be an almost infinite number of progression steps. Certainly the distance can be controlled inch by inch, if necessary.
Consider How Wide Bars Should Be Set for Young Gymnasts
It is our opinion that the safest setting for each gymnast would probably be just far enough apart that a gymnast could swing straight through the bars during a giant or the compulsory high bar swings. We must admit, however, that we much prefer from a coaching point of view to set the bars at their widest setting and have every gymnast work with them there to eliminate the need for setting the bars for each gymnast.
Set Different Bars for Different Height Gymnasts
Larger gyms with multiple sets of bars can deal with this by setting different sets of bars for different size gymnasts and having them work on the bars that fit them. Smaller gyms must either train every gymnast to safely catch the bars at the wide setting or take the time to adjust the bars.
Spotting This Skill Safely is Very, Very Difficult
Spotting this skill is deceptively difficult. We do not believe that any coach can safely spot this skill standing under the high bar waiting to see if the gymnast catches the bar or not. Three are two reasons for this. The first is that often the gymnast appears to have caught the bar, which makes the coach instinctively relax, and then the gymnast peels. Even coaches with the most determined level of spotting concentration can fall victim to this predicament.
This Fall Happens Faster Than the Reflex Capabilities of a Spotter
The second problem with spotting this skill from the ground is that the swinging action rockets the gymnast straight down to the floor very, very quickly during a fall from this skill. This is especially true when the gymnast jumps to the high bar with an arch jump, which causes an involuntary tap action when the feet get out in front of the bar and speeds the hands peeling off and the speed of the fall. Even coaches with the fastest of reflexes will be unable to safely and consistently catch gymnasts falling this fast, especially if it is unexpected.
Stack Up the Mats to Spot This Skill
Our favorite spot for this skill must be done by stacking mats for the coach to stand on and holding onto the wrist. Advanced coaches with good spotting experience will wait for the gymnast to jump and knowing the hand will be going to the bar will be able to easily catch the wrist. Inexperienced coaches may have to hold the wrist lightly starting from the stand on the bar and then tightly when the gymnast catches the bar.
Wrist Spot the Best
While often during spotting, we concentrate on controlling the center of gravity, this is somewhat more awkward in this particular skill and we believe spotting at the wrist is the most desirable spot for this skill.
Spotting Not Always Necessary – Mats Are
We do believe that with proper matting the need for spotting may usually be completely eliminated or limited to the first attempts at each new bar width setting. We do not believe that any spotter is completely capable of eliminating injuries by just standing under the high bar during the early attempts of this skill without stacked matting both for the gymnast and the coach.
The Safety Summary for Jump to High Bar
So to summarize, gymnasts and coaches should be aware this skill can be dangerous and cause injury. The jump to low bar kip skill should be thoroughly mastered before attempting the jump to high bar. Since Level 4 gymnasts no longer do this skill, Level 5 gymnasts should postpone learning the jump to the high bar until they have mastered the jump to the low bar kip. Mats should be stacked up under the high bar during the learning of this skill at least to a height where the gymnast can just barely swing though with a perfectly straight body. The bars should be moved in closer when first learning this skill and moved out progressively. Proper consideration should be given to the best ultimate setting of the bars for each gymnast.
Let’s Make a Better and Safer Future for All Gymnasts
Do yourself and your gymnasts a favor and take a new look at safety measures while teaching and learning this skill. Special good wishes to Stephanie and Brooke. Get well soon and good luck on bars in the future.