We are weird….we knowingly teach acrobatic techniques that many other professionals believe are incorrect. We are probably the only school in the local New England vicinity that encourages students to land most of their somersaults with their arms down by their sides, especially beginners. Our students DO NOT enjoy landing in such a manner, because it affects their balance. “But it’s just easier to land with arms up…” they often proclaim. And that is precisely why this is one of the reasons we don’t want you to! There are a plethora of other good reasons for this tactic of course, as you’ll see.
Other gyms may think our technique is blasphemy & heresy. Yet the results are working for a staggering 100% of our athletes. Every gymnast in our club is “kicking-out” or “lining out” their somersaults to some degree, even the beginners, on both forward and backwards Saltos; an impressive fact really once you compare how difficult and time-consuming the old methods of teaching someone “how to kick out” are.
When a gymnast first learns any new somersault, whatever it may be, their arms will typically rise up for balance upon landing, this is a good thing. The natural raising of the arms will often prevent the performer from falling down, just as a tight-rope walker uses his arms for balance. However, as time goes on, we want the athlete to stick the landing with their chest erect, body neutral, balanced, and completely without the need to use their arms for balance at all when they land. In order to succeed at this new task, the pupil must now attempt to perform quick mid-flight adjustments to increase their rotational deceleration if they want to land without falling. What is this mid-flight adjustment called? It is called a kick-out, and the action is synonymous with the sport of Olympic Trampoline. In order to land with your arms down, you will usually need to kick-out at some point, if all else stays the same. Since the pupil is no longer allowed to use her arms to help decelerate herself, instead she must use one of the these two methods to compensate: 1) She either makes up the difference by straightening/opening your body earlier to compensate (ie. she tucks/pikes/or shapes for less duration), or 2) she can choose to intentionally slow down the speed of the flip during the initial take-off by purposefully putting in less energy. It’s easy to see that Method #1 is the correct method to apply here. We don’t normally want athletes to put less energy into their somersaults, or lower their height. The good news is that normally, the pupil will start with method #2, and then naturally gravitate towards Method #1 over time as they become more comfortable with the exercise, even if they started out using Method #2. And as such, you may start to notice that their flips become increasingly more “floaty”. Coaches: if an athlete has failed at the task of keeping the arms down at the end of the somersault, then this is often an indication that the pupil is kicking out too late or too softly, or both. And if the arms are coming up just a little bit, but not drastically, then that is your indicator that the kick-out could’ve occurred a smidgen earlier, and you can inform them of the adjustment.
Lets look at some use-cases. In the first video, you’ll see students on their first day of learning to land with their arms down. This is literally Day 1 in the video. You can already observe some signs of kick-out stage, although extremely subtle, the foundations are being laid. These athletes are well on their way to success:
In the second video below, we have another student who has been practicing the landing for a few weeks, possibly a month. Observe that amplitude has increased, and that students have more confidence in the manuevre, thus air-time also naturally increases. All sure signs that things progressing correctly. Note: this particular gymnast is jumping forward on her set in order to lean back, which we shall need to resolve later with the different drill. But the video serves to illustrate our current topic.
Finally, we have a gymnast in the next video, who has gained mastery of both forward and backwards kick-outs through repetitious rehearsal of the previous “arms down” drill. When the student has mastered the kick-outs, the arms will slowly be allowed to come into play again at the coach’s discretion, carefully and specifically under guidance. However, it is still imperative that teachers revisit this drill frequently, even with their most elite gymnasts. No harm can come from practicing this technique too often!