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1 (2007) 18- 24 Article
Ideological approach to coaching the front handspring vault
Hataitai Gymnastics, Wellington, New Zealand ABSTRACT
The handspring vault is the first proper vault a gymnast will probably learn. It’s considered a fundamental prerequisite for the training of all front entry vaults (handsprings, Tsukahara, Kasamatsu). The training and development of this vault starts from an early age with the gymnast performing basic progressions and lead-ups for their first 3-4 years of gymnastics training before competing the actual vault. However, even after all time devoted to training this one skill, many gymnasts still struggle to perform this vault correctly in their first year of competing it. The method presented in this article identifies and corrects common coaching errors and misconceptions about the technical execution of this vault. The method focuses on the first 4 vault phases, and aims to develop run-up consistency and speed, hurdle/springboard mechanics, and quick turnover of preflight. The repulsion or block phase is not the predominant focus, as it success is predominantly the result of the preceding 3 phases, which are identified in literature and research as the most critical areas of focus, for the gymnast to perform exceptional front handspring vaults. Key Words: vaulting, hurdle mechanics, block/prop/repulsion, run-up.
The front handspring vault is as the easiest and most fundamental front entry vault (recognized in the MAG and WAG Code of Points) a gymnast can learn. Not surprisingly it is usually also the first. National compulsory streams for most western countries breakdown vaulting over the first 3-4 years into front handspring vault progressions, which highlight its importance in mastering prior to moving onto learning more difficult vaults. Even though the vault is considered relatively easy it is usually the cause of much frustration for coaches, because vaulting is physically very demanding from early on, and there are no quick solutions, or tips that can make up for inadequate physical ability. Even after 3-4 years of preparation and training towards a front handspring vault many gymnasts still struggle to perform the vault to a high technical standard in their first year (unpublished observations). This hints that current coaching methods are possibly inadequate to cater for the less physically gifted gymnasts, or the methods are not as effective as its believed. Currently coaching methods emphasize the block action, and a great deal of time is spend practicing it, using simulation drills like handstand blocks on the floor, over ©2008 The Gym Press. All rights reserved boxtops, and even handspring flat backs, however this approach does not develop to any great extent the preceding vaulting phases. A study by Takei and Blucker (2003) examined high and low scoring Roche vaults performed by male gymnasts at the 2000 Olympics, and they found that the repulsion phase was predominantly determined by the successful and correct execution of the pre-flight mechanics. This hints that at a young age the focus should be on developing the technical mastery of the first 3 phases (run-up, hurdle, pre-flight) which are less limited by physical strengths and abilities of young athletes. This is reflected in the vaulting progressions used in compulsory streams. This article examines the mechanical properties needed for the performance of handspring vault and provides a ideological approach to preparing young athletes during their first 3-4 years in gymnastics.
Even thought it is not stated specifically, body tension in the performance of vaulting is critical. The following drills, Gym Coach Vol.1, July, 2007 - 18-
V.Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.1 (2007) 17-23 progressions, exercises all assume a tight rigid body position, with the only exception being in the run-up.
The first and most critical phase of any front entry vault is run up as speed, and consistency in approach. Running technique is vital to optimize speed. Unfortunately most children are not extremely competent at this motor task from an early age, and it most definitely requires proper coaching. The development of running technique is a vast topic that cannot be covered in this article, thus gymnastics coaches are recommended to speak with track and field coaches on methods and techniques to developing speed in young athletes. Perfecting running technique is a long term process that should constantly be refined, and trained specifically, it is a mistake to allow gymnasts to develop a running style purely on merit that they feel comfortable with it. Consistency in run-up is also a vital aspect that is much more easily trained. The following method is recommended for the development of consistency in the run-up: 1- The gymnast starts by standing on the springboard (on the ‘sweat spot’) 2- He/she then performs a power-start hurdle that is long and low to land on the take-off leg (the leg that the gymnast will take-off from during the hurdle. This is usually the dominant leg or the leg they step into for a cartwheel or round-off). 3- As the gymnast lands on the take-off leg and starts running down the run way. Not counting the hurdle and the landing, the gymnasts counts their take-off leg steps (Figure 1). Take note of their final step, as this will be their starting point. A beginner gymnast whose focus is to work on the spring board entry should measure 3 steps of the take-off leg, an intermediate gymnast who is working on basic vault preps (front somersaults, dive rolls, handspring flat backs) should measure 5-7 steps. Focus should be on technique not speed. For actual vault’s of any kind, the
should start their run with their non- take-off leg forward, so that their first stride starts on their take-off leg which is when the gymnast counts the first step (figure 1 – red feet) 5. Measure the distance from a constant point at the end of the run way, and mark it so that they gymnasts can start their vaulting from the same spot/distance every time. Hurdle/Springboard contact There are very few specific drills for teaching the correct hurdle technique. The common approach is to stop the gymnast on impact with the board, so the coach can shape and educate the gymnast on the correct body shape on impact. Simple hurdle stretch jump drills and other variation of this drill are also common drills in use; however these drills are hardly perfect as they are based on a trial and error principle, with a strong dependency on feedback from the coach. This makes the learning process much harder. Probably the most common error that effects the hurdle aside from running speed is that the gymnast will hurdle from to close to the springboard. Olympic male vaulters hurdle from 3-3.1m from the springboard (from an average run up speed of 7.5-10m/s). If we scale that down to the running speeds expected for good preadolescent vaulters, we would expect to see hurdling distances of between 1.92.2m at running speeds of 6-7m/s. Often coaches will mark out a distance for the gymnast to hurdle in front of. This is usually done using carpet squares or using a chalk line on the runway. Both methods work but its advised to change the texture of the surface of the too close area (such as by using a mat instead of a chalk line) so that the gymnast can feel when they have hurdled from too close. This method had show to be effective with kids at all levels to encourage the proper long hurdle. However it is strongly dependent of running consistency to carry over to competition. It is essential that there is minimal loss of horizontal velocity during the springboard contact to take-off phase. There will always be some due to opposing forces on impact, sounds, heat, friction ect, but it is vital that the gymnast minimize these by having minimal springboard contact time. As a rule if the gymnast contacts the springboard first with the heals/flat foot, time spend on the spring board will be longer, compared to if he/she contacts the spring board with the front ½ of the foot (5). It is thus important to encourage the gymnasts to run and impact the springboard with the front ½ of the feet (figure 3) to improve reaction times off the board. The underarm action is also very important during this phase. At first contact of the board the arms should be behind the trunk and are then swung down and forward as the gymnast is taking off. This arm action is to help compress and load the springboard additionally, which will result in greater recoil of the springs and thus propel the gymnast with a greater force on take-off (5). At the - 24 -
Figure 1 - Illustration of how to measure a 3 step run up is
gymnasts should measure between 9 (for younger gymnasts) and 15 (for adult gymnast) steps. Most top level male gymnasts take between 13-14 steps, and most female gymnast take between 14 and 15 steps (5). 4- Once they have marked their starting position, the gymnast should repeat this process 10 times (each attempt being clocked using a stopwatch) working on sprinting faster and faster each attempt. Use their fastest attempt, as their standard. From the marked position the gymnasts ©2008 The Gym Press. All rights reserved
V.Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.1 (2007) 17-23 beginning of take-off (the instant the springs stop loading and begin to recoil) the arms should be beside the trunk pointing down at the floor, and at the end of the take-off the arms are in front of the trunk no higher then forehead level inline with the head (figure 3 and 4) (5) Unfortunately at this point, according to the author, there are no better or more specific drills/methods of coaching the hurdle. As a result the standard drills are still the best recommendation available for shaping and educating the gymnast on how to hurdle effectively, along with the coaches feedback.
Methodological Article than off a springboard onto 60cm cash mat, than spotted by a coach over the table onto crash mats built up to the same height as the table and than eventually the gymnast does independently over the table to mats. This is a long term developmental process and the coach should begin once a gymnast has developed a basic physical preparation for gymnastics. Learning how to quickly rotate over the table is the most crucial purpose to this drill and phase. If the gymnast can take-off and rotate over the table onto a mats level with the table, a block will be easy. It should be pointed out the layout should be straight or in a tight arch (thought the chest) with an arm going to the sides as opposed to being brought down to the thighs. Regardless of the drills used to encourage heel drive during pre-flight, emphasis should be on the legs leading and the arms reaching quickly forward with the body in a tight arch or straight position during the pre-flight. The added advantage to being slightly arched in pre-flight as opposed to being straight is that rotation (angular velocity) is increased with the reduced inertia, as well as allowing the gymnast to contact the table sooner. This technique is quite a bit more advanced to the regular straight body position required in junior levels. This technique is worth noting, it is definitely the technique of choice used by male gymnasts performing handspring double front and Dragulescu vaults.
The success of this phase is the direct result of the gymnast ability to take-off the springboard quickly, with as much angular rotation, and vertical velocity as possible. In coaching terms this means lots and lots and lots of leg drive (heel drive) on take-off with the arms extending forward (figure 2 and 3). A critical body position on takeoff is that the gymnast hips are above his feet, with the legs completely extended, and the gymnast body in a piked position (figure 2). This position allows for 2 things • Faster hand contact with the table, which means an entry at a lower angle. • The potential to generate greater angular rotation. Meaning the gymnast will turnover faster. If the knees or hips go past the toes prior to take-off from the springboard the pre-flight will be compromised, and will usually result is far from ideal vault. From a coaching perspective this position is seen as leaning forward and is usually discourage. However this should not be so, the error is in the knees buckiling forward over the toes, or not extending fast enough. The best way to drill this motion is to work on doing front layouts over a table, or a soft object the same height as the table that the gymnast will vault over. The technique of doing a layout over the table is identical to doing a front whip layout technique on the floor. Focus is on rotation rather than height (Figure 2 and 4). Doing layouts over a table may sound dangerous but it is only dangerous if it is not progressively developed. The layout should be developed during the years leading up to actual table work. First it should be learned on a trampoline like surface,
If the pre-flight phase is learned correctly than the ‘prop’ or block (the actual repulsion) as its known in coaching terms can be easily accomplished without requiring a great deal of strength. For strong and explosive gymnasts it is ideal to impact the table in a tight straight body (from a technical point of view as judged at junior levels), for weaker gymnasts it is beneficial to impact the table with a little shoulder angle, as this will give them a little more time to apply force on the table during the block. Regardless of the shoulder angle at impact (open or slightly closed) it’s absolutely critical that the gymnasts depart from the table prior too or at handstand position with the shoulders completely elevated (so no sag through the shoulders) and the shoulder joint at 180deg flexion (completely open shoulder angle). During the actual block action all that the gymnast has to do is push the table down and backward (opening the shoulder angle) as quickly as possible. This action is best practiced doing handspring flatback drills, either as a vault, or at lower boxed surfaces. Regular specific conditioning exercises for the shoulders, back and shoulder girdle musculature, such as shoulder shrugs, push-ups, handstand press ups, and handstand blocks on the floor are also recommended. Regardless of the exercises chosen, they needs to be specific and done explosively to be effective. The coach must keep in mind that the better the turnover and entry onto the table the - 24 -
Figure 2 - Illustration of the relationship between the front layout
and the front handsprings vault entry. Notice the similarity between ©2008 The picturePress. All rights reserved ‘b’. the layout in Gym ‘a’ and the handspring vault
V.Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.1 (2007) 17-23 better and easier it is to block of the table. Doing block specific conditioning should be to supplement and encourage a greater block as opposed to being the sole means of achieving a block.
Methodological Article 1- Run-up technique needs to be learned, in order to take out run-up variables that could be slowing down the gymnasts. 2- Minimal springboard contact time and correct body position on entry. 3- A quick turnover during the pre-flight. The flip from feet to hands (onto the table). 4- Development of strength and power in the legs and upper extremities.
Vaulting is mechanically the hardest apparatus to teach to young athletes because of the necessary pre-requisite strength and power, in the run-up, leg thrust of the springboard, and in the upper body. The method detailed in this article aims to prescribe a methodological approach to developing the front handspring vault through the correct physical preparation of the gymnasts during their first 3-4 years in gymnastics. The rationale to this method is that most vaulting errors or short comings are not a result of technical errors but rather lack of physical preparation, or alternatively stated, technical errors are the result of lack of physical preparation and readiness. There are 6 phases to any vault: 1– The Run-up 2– Hurdle/Springboard contact 3– Pre-Flight 4– Support/Repulsion 5– Post-Flight 6– Landing Very often coaches place a great deal of emphasis on working the ‘Prop’ or block off the table (phase 4), as this is the most easily observable trait of good vaults. Unfortunately this is thought to be a mistake by the author. Out of 6 phases, technical and biomechanical literature identify the run, the hurdle/springboard contact, and pre-flight as the most crucial phases for the execution of high scoring front handspring vaults, and contrary to popular belief the support/repulsion phase is commonly identified as having a much smaller role in the successful execution of the handspring vault, because gymnasts can do very little to enhance their rotational and translational requirements for the successful execution of the vault (1,5). This tends to support the proposed ideological methodology applied in this articles (the post-flight and landing are not covered as they are the direct result of the correct execution of the preceding 4 phases, and are relatively easily trained). It has been suggested that the gymnast can actually use a different body configuration and entry to increase their angular momentum during the support phase, which is the current technique used by high level male gymnasts in performing Roche vaults, however this technique is to hard for young athletes and thus not practical at an early age. Based on current scientific literature on vaulting there are four key areas that coaches need spend developing in the beginning, even if it is at the expense of competition results.
Running at full speed towards an immovable object like the ‘vault table’ can be a scary task for many. Even if the gymnast seems to be running at full speed it is quite likely that they may be holding back just a little in order to be able to stop if something goes wrong. This is a major mistake which can be the result of fear. If fear is the cause it will require the coach to work with that particular gymnast to develop fear coping strategies that in time will help to eliminate the negative effects of fear, along with lots of safe developmental progressions, such as running towards a pit, vaulting over soft vaults etc. Such strategies are not the scope of this method and thus will not be discussed. Running speed is paramount; a 10% increase in velocity generates a 20% increase in total kinetic energy going into the vault (10). That is a substantial increase in the overall amount of energy delivered to the performance of the vault. This illustrates how important it is for gymnasts to learn how to sprint well, so that they can maximize the potential kinetic energy they can use in performing their vault. Simply stated, the faster the gymnast sprints, the greater their potential for a well executed vault. Unfortunately sprinting is a learned and practiced skill that takes time to develop, particularly for young kids (preadolescents) who generally have poor intermuscular coordination for fast and dynamic activities, difficulty in performing consistent maximal efforts, and inadequate muscular conditioning. For preadolescent children an average running speed of about 6-7m/s (s = x/t) (7) is the norm for successful vaulting (based sprint test results of top female USAG TOPS testing). In comparison Olympic male gymnasts run at speeds between 8-10.5m/s (depending on difficulty of vault) and 7-8m/s for women (5). The optimal training for the development of optimal running mechanics for vaulting has not been studied previously and it’s thus an area that needs further research and analysis. It is however recommended that gymnastics coaches talk to track coaches for advice on developing speed in preadolescent athletes. An alternative are for improvement in the run-up that can be overlooked is the inconsistency in technique during approach. The common signs and symptoms of this are - 24 -
©2008 The Gym Press. All rights reserved
V.Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.1 (2007) 17-23 variable stride lengths between turns, confusion about take of leg, slowing down near the spring board, etc. This in itself leads to inconsistency between turns, making progress variable. By improving the gymnast run-up consistency they will be able to focus on other technical aspects, which should improve progress.
Methodological Article upon by an outside and unbalanced force’ (6). This means is, that when the gymnast hurdles and leave the ground his horizontal velocity will stay the same until acted upon an outside force, which can either slow down or speed up the gymnast. In this case when the gymnasts leaves the ground the only forces acting on the gymnast are gravity which is pulling him/her down toward the ground (and thus does not effect his/her horizontal velocity) and air resistance which is acting in the opposite direction of the gymnast and could slow him/her down, however air resistance is virtually negligible at the velocities achieved during a vault run-up and is thus can be ignored (7). This action of hitting with extended legs forward is like hitting the breaks suddenly on a bicycle. The front stops and the back end lifts up. If the gymnast were to hurdle from a to close distance at full run up speeds they wouldn’t have enough time to get their feet forward and thus transfer the horizontal momentum to vertical lift. Of course the length and height of the hurdle is going to be highly dependant on the gymnast’s horizontal velocity and hurdling take-off angle. The faster the gymnast goes, the further and at a steeper angle he/she can hurdle from. The gymnast should impact the springboard reclined at about 30deg to allow for the body to pivot over the feet during the amortization phase (or compression phase of the board) so that the gymnast can take-off with an about 20deg incline (figure figure 3) which is an ideal angle to optimize elevation over the table, while encouraging rotation and translation. The underarm action is believed to be the most effective arm action because it helps increase the spring loading during the compression phase of springboard contact. However a true underarm action is rarely seen performed, which could be due to the extremely fast speeds, poor habits, or it is unrealistic to be performed in its true nature. The mechanics of this phase are rather complicated but basically the horizontal momentum generated during the run has to conserved and thus converted into predominantly vertical lift and angular rotation.
This aspect of vaulting is by far the hardest to coach to a beginner, because it’s the shortest and most dynamic phase. The whole point of the hurdle phase is to allow the gymnast to impact the spring board in the correct body position, with maximum horizontal momentum, so that the gymnasts can take-off from the springboard with the required linear and angular momentum to arrive at the vaulting table under optimal conditions to perform the repulsion phase effectively (1). For this to be possible the hurdle should be long and low (which is dependant on the speed of the run up), to allow the gymnast to stretch out their legs forward in preparation for impact with the board, whist also preserving maximal horizontal momentum during the flight phase of the hurdle, and to allow the gymnast to have the necessary body position for board contact (figure 3) The technical advantage of the long and low hurdles is partly explained by Newtown’s first law of motion which states that ‘a body in motion will continue in this state unless acted
Figure 3 - Diagram of the correct body positions on
first impact and take-off following the hurdle. Notice the position of the center of gravity relative to the resultant force. This illustrates the approximate 30deg recline backward on first impact and 20deg incline on take-off.
The goal of this phase is to make first contact with the table in the shortest time following the springboard take-off arriving with the centre of mass as high as possible (1). Boys and girls prior to reaching adolescences are not usually physically (muscularly, and neurotically) mature enough to generate the run-up speeds and explosive springboard takeoffs, and strong block actions - 24 -
Figure 4 - Kinematic diagram of Marian Dragulescu performing a Dragulescu vault (Handspring double
front barani out) illustrating the long low hurdle with the shoulders behind the feet on first impact with the springboard with a recline of about 30deg. On the take-off the center of mass is approximately on a 20 deg incline, with hips above feet followed by an aggressive leg drive and long reach forward. Note that that because the camera low frame rate there are in-between frames missing to show the exact moment described.
©2008 The Gym Press. All rights reserved
V.Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.1 (2007) 17-23 needed for performing high difficulty front entry vaults. The training adaptations required are especially hard to develop with minimal training hours. This considered, it is makes sense to start training for the handspring vault from an early age, by first teaching the front layout. A skill achievable by majority of kids from a springboard. The leg drive on pre-flight and thus essentially the turnover will be affected by several factors 1- Take-off angle. The optimal as discussed earlier is approximately 20deg, given run-ups speeds of 6-7m/s over a vault table that is 110-115cm. 2- The gymnast muscular strength and power in the knee extensors (quadriceps muscles), and hip extensors (hamstrings, gluteus muscles). 3- Body position on take-off (Hips above feet with the arms reaching forward for the table). 4- Springboard recoil properties. During the actual flight of this phase prior to the hands making contact with the table, there is nothing the gymnast can really do to adjust for less then optimum springboard take-off and lack of leg drive. The only things the gymnast can do during the pre-flight is to tuck, or pike to increase speed of rotation; which is undesirable due to the technical and form errors and deductions.
Figure 5 – Illustration shows the compression and repulsion phases
during the support phase on the vault. Notice the path of the center of mass (dotted line).
The final critical stage of any vault is the repulsion. This phase is very similar to springboard contact phase. Like the springboard contact phase there 2 distinct phases. The first is called compression which is followed by repulsion (5). The initial linear and angular velocities and the actions of the gymnast during both the absorption and repulsion phases will determine the conditions the gymnast departs from the table, and whether they will have the required linear and angular momentum in order to complete the necessary vault (1). When the hands make contact with the table the hands are stopped, but because of inertia, the gymnast’s body will continue to pivot over the hands in a forward and upward fashion (5) (figure 5).
For handspring vaults the hands should be parallel, shoulder width apart, which is the optimal anatomical position for shoulder flexion and shoulder girdle elevation (5). The primary goal of the support/repulsion phase is to generate an increase in vertical velocity of the centre of mass, in gymnastics terms this mean a higher post flight. However it important to remember that during this phase the gymnast has very limited ability to generate any additional linear momentum or angular velocity (rotation, especially if they resulted in tucking during the pre-flight), and as a result any increased vertical lift comes at the expense of linear horizontal momentum, and angular velocity (10). In order to maximize vertical velocity during the repulsion phase there are 2 main factors: 1- The speed of rotation (angular momentum) during hand support. The greater the speed of rotation the greater the centrifugal force pulling the gymnast off the table (like a swinging on the bar) during actual support. This property of reduces the force needed to overcome gravity and the gymnasts own weight to propel him/herself of the table 2- Upper extremity power – The stronger and the more explosive the gymnast through the shoulder girdle the greater the force he/she will be able to apply to the table in the shortest period of time and thus generating a greater impulse off the table.
The success of any vault is predominantly determined by the correct and ideal execution of the run-up, hurdle/springboard contact, pre-flight and repulsion. To coach vault the coach has to focus on developing the runup, hurdle/springboard mechanics, turnover during preflight, supplementary upper body conditioning specific to blocking, and leg plyometrics from an early age. A common coaching error is to focus excessively on the repulsion phase by doing blocking drills with the aim to produce a bigger block. However, technical and scientific ©2008 The Gym Press. All rights reserved - 24 -
V.Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.1 (2007) 17-23 literature shows that the repulsion phase is in fact deemed to play a minor role in the success of the vault in comparison to the first 3 phases. Development of the handspring vault should be a long term process, and the coach should have a long term plan in order to ensure that gymnast grasps the key fundamentals to effective vaulting described in this article. It’s acknowledged that there are limitations to the method presented, due to the lack of hurdle drills and progressions available. This is partially
Methodological Article resolved through the use of current coaching methods, but its advised that coaches seek better and more effective methods to training the hurdle.
Every care is taken to assure the accuracy of the information published within this article. The views and opinions expressed within this article, are those of the author/s, and no responsibility can be accepted by The Gym Press, Gym Coach or the author for the consequences of actions based on the advice contained herein.
Address for correspondence: Valentin Uzunov, Hataitai Gymnastics, Wellington, New Zealand. firstname.lastname@example.org.
REFERENCES and RECOMMENDED READINGS
1- Prassas, S. (2001).Vaulting Mechanics. [url] http://cis.myile.com/index.php?
2- Takei Y, Dunn J.H, Blucker E. (2003). Techniques used in high-scoring and low-scoring 'Roche' vaults performed by elite male gymnasts. Sports Biomechanics, 2(2):141-162 3- Henry Picolo (1999). MAG: EUG Training camp in Tirrenia [DVD]. Tirrenia, Italy 4- GymSmarts (2005). How to Maximize the Handsrping Vault [DVD]. Norwell, Massachusetts 5- Cuk I., Karacsony I. (2004). Vault : Methods, Ideas, Curiosities, History. Ljubljana: Slovenia. STD Sangvincki 6- Kamen. G. (2001). Foundations of Exercise Science. PA Philadephia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 7- McGinnis P.M. (1999). Biomechanics of Sport and Exercise. Human Kinetics. Champaign, Illinois. 8- Gluck M. (1982). Mechanics for Gymnastics Coaching. Charles C. Thomas Publisher. Springfield Illinois. 9- Coventry E., Sands W.A., Smith S.L. (2006). Hitting the vault board: implications for vaulting take-off--a preliminary investigation. Sport Biomechanics, 5(1):63-75. 10- Smith. T (1984).Gymnastics: A mechanical understanding. Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc. New York.
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