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Gym Coach, Vol.5 (2012) 1-5 www.thegypress.

net Technical Report

Developing the Straddle Sit Press to Handstand
Valentin Uzunov
USA ABSTRACT
The straddle-sit press to handstand (SsPHS) is an extremely important early developmental skill in the training of young and developing gymnast. This article presents a systematic training approach to developing the SsPHS, it provides recommendations for the training of the three main areas: flexibility, strength, motor execution/performance. Based on the limited amount of empirical research examining the performance of this skill or its variations, several key points were extrapolated that could be of assistance to the coach when teaching this skill. Key Words: press, conditioning, TOPS, strength, active flexibility

The focus of this methodology is to provide drills and progressions are not coach assistance intensive, progressive The straddle-sit press to handstand (SsPHS) is a (making it suitable for ranges of ability, levels), and also fundamental movement pattern in gymnastics. It is effective. performed in some variation on all events, aside from vault, by both male and female gymnasts. The SsPHS can be performed in a dynamic manner, such as in the execution of METHODOLOGY elements like the straddle cast to handstand, Endo and Stalder skills on bars, or Tippelts on parallel bar for Subjects example. Or it can be performed as a balance element, which The methodology described is applicable for all ages, and requires considerably more physical preparation in levels of ability. However, it should be noted that better and comparison to its dynamic form. Mastering the SsPHS early faster results are most likely to be achieved with preon from a static position, has been said to enhance the adolescent boys and girls. learning process of more advanced gymnastics skills, as well as being a very effective strength specific conditioning Procedure exercises as well as help develops great inter-muscular coordination, relevant for similar movements. The straddle-sit press to handstand, has three major training factors. The benefits of training and learning the SsPHS are clear and well known to the majority of coaches. Despite so, the I. Flexibility (active predominantly) authors experience has been that many coaches simply do II. Strength not follow-through with this knowledge. From the author's III. Motor execution/performance personal experience as coach, its speculated that this could be many reasons which can be encountered working with In the beginning stages each component should be trained large diverse groups of gymnasts ( in ages, ability, talent). separately in order to facilitate the learning process. The Despite the realistic difficulties the coaches is likely to learning of the SsPHS is dependent the combination of all experience with the training, with diligent practice and a three factors. Ideal flexibility can off-sets strength clear training methodology, majority of gymnasts should be requirements, strength gains can make up for lack of able to attain this skill. flexibility, and motor pattern learning (understanding how to perform the skill) can contribute can significantly in Academic examination of the SsPHS is very limited, which reducing strength requirements, and overall conditioning. means that there are no established specific training recommendations. Majority of technical and developmental Flexibility examinations come from gymnastics coaching literature, and the coache's own personal experience. In so, the scope The main area of static flexibility required is in hip flexors, of this article is to provide a systematic training with the legs abducted (straddle) or together (pike). The methodology to learn the straddle-sit press to handstand. ©2012 The Gym Press. All rights reserved Gym Coach Vol.5, June, 2012 - 1-

INTRODUCTION

V. Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.5 (2012) 1 – 5 ideal would be to be able to achieve hyper flexibility in the ' pancake 'stretch, and additionally in the pike stretch. Any lack of flexibility can be made up in strength, but improvements in flexibility can significantly reduce the need for muscle strength, by freeing up the gymnast to assume much more mechanically advantageous body positions, and alignment (2). The goal of static stretching is to help facilitate the development of ' active flexibility '(2). The two are very closely related but not mutually dependant. The maximal Active ROM of a joint in by in large dependant on the level of passive flexibility. Active flexibility however does not directly improve passive flexibility at an already passively active joint. The necessary active flexibility can be developed using several stretching techniques: I. Static-active stretching*. II. PNF CRAC method (1).

Technical Report gymnasts shifting their weight backward towards their hips instead finger tips. The goal is to develop the hip flexor strength, rather than felling a static stretch. This will however be largely dependant on the current level of static flexibility in the gymnast. In addition to the static and static-active stretching on the pancake and the pike, the dynamic ' straddle pull through ' stretch ( aka japana ) (video) is extremely helpful in developing the correct press to the handstand technique, maximum amplitude in the straddle, and compression. The protocol used for performing this stretch described below: I. Starting from a pancake, the gymnast reaches forward with the hands along the floor (but no pulling on it) II. As he/she does this, he/she must circle the legs around each side, while keeping the hips as low the ground, this should be done without the help of hands. In doing so the gymnast is also working on developing a better understanding and strengthening of the pancake compression required in the SsPHS. III. Once the gymnast has circled behind and closed his/her legs together, they should finish laying face down on the floor, at which point they reverse the movement ending back up in the pancake starting position.

The use of the PNF CRAC method is explained by the author in the article “ Stretching Scientifically Part II: Stretching methods, the pros and cons to each method “, readers are encouraged to read that article for a better understanding of flexibility training methods. The use of the static-active stretching method was chosen as the mode of exercise in this program because it was deemed to be the less time consuming method applicable with large training groups. The protocol use for static active stretches is described When performed correctly this stretch simulates the correct below for the pancake stretch: movement of the legs, as done during a straddle stand press I. The gymnasts start by spending first 10sec – 15sec to handstand, and allows the coach to gauge the level of amplitude that each particular gymnast can achieve. in a static pancake stretch II. After this adjustment period, if the gymnast is laying flat on the ground with arms extended above as Throughout any stretching the gymnast should always be shown in fig 1 or fig 1b, the gymnast proceeds to required to focus on maximal knee extension, toe point, flat push up on his/her finger tips, elevating his/her lower back (achieved by trying to arch the lower back while chest and stomach just off the ground every so performing the stretches), good knee and ankle alignment slightly. If they are not flat, the gymnasts must place (knee caps pointing upward) toes straight not turned in. his palms flat on the ground, as far as possible and Strength lean forward with the flat lower back. III. From either position the gymnast tries to raise and hold his/her legs off the ground (this helps develop The strength demands for the execution of the SsPHS are the hip flexor strength to maintain ' compression ' * most often considered as the progression limiting factor in the pancake). As this is done the gymnast may or during the learning process. Clearly there is a strength may not experience a static stretch in the component that cannot be eliminated, but it usually overestimated by those that cannot yet perform the skill. hamstrings and hip abdutors IV. The stretch should be held in this position for 30 40sec and repeated for 3 sets, with small breaks The primary movers involved in the successful execution of between sets (can be another stretch). the SsPHS are identified as the anterior deltoid, Pectoralis major, Biceps Brachii, all of which are involved in shoulder From a flat pancake it is extremely difficult to have any join flexion. The Trapezius is the main shoulder girdle movement of the legs above the ground, without the stabilizer (3). The Psoas major, Rectus Femoris, and Sartorius are the primary hip flexors involved in * “Static-active stretching involves the stretching of an antagonist muscle compression. The hip extensors are the hamstrings (Bicep Femoris, Semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles) group/s by moving a joint though an active ROM using the strength of the gluteus maximus. An often neglected group that needs equal agonist (prime mover) muscle group/s.” (1) * Compression refers to the gymnast ability to hold and maintain a tight pancake consideration is the Erector Spine and Multifidus muscle groups associated extension of the spinal column (4), and position ©2012 The Gym Press. All rights reserved -2-

V. Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.5 (2012) 1 – 5 the TVA ( transversus abdominis muscle), which is vital for core stability.

Technical Report stand. This exercises is perfect for the development of the shoulder stabilization, compression, wrist and finger strength. Once they can do more than 6 use a harder variation.

The following series of exercises are selected specifically because they target the corresponding muscles groups and actions performed in the SsPHS. Click here to view video demonstrations of these exercises Handstands holds @ wall and or free standing Handstand holds are ideal for the development of shoulder, wrist and finger strength. Its also a great shoulder girdle stabilizer exercises when held for time. It is recommended to start with 1min sets at the wall (facing wall), and progressively build up to 5 min without rests over a period of a few months. Feet should be flexed and the only body part in contact with the wall. The centre of mass should be directly above the shoulder and wrist joint, forcing the gymnast to counter balance anterior sway with wrist and finger pressure. II. Straddle sit Holds and L-sit Holds These exercises help develop the hip strength necessary to maintain a straddle position, and help indirectly with developing compression. It also has some wrist and finger strengthening benefits, and shoulder girdle stabilization training. III. ½ Handstand, Planche, press to ½ Handstand. This exercise is ideal for developing the shoulder flexion strength. Starting in a half handstand so the gymnast makes a right angle at the hips, with feet on box and hands on the ground. The gymnast planches forward as far as possible (make sure the gymnast presses the hips down toward box), hold planche for 2 count and press the shoulder angle open again to the ½ handstand start position. Make sure gymnast does not hyperextend the shoulder angle in the ½ handstand position. IV. ½ Press to handstand from L-sit on Parallel Bars & Beam Starting in a straddle-sit or L-sit on either beam or Parallel Bars, gymnast presses (with or without coaches assistance) as high as possible, holds for 3sec at top of press, and slowly returns to to start position. The ultimate goal is to press from straddle- sit, ½ press and lower into L-sit, and vice versa. Its recommended to provide assistance in the beginning. Emphasizes to the gymnast the importance of keep their weight centred over the wrist, and to maintain maximal compression. V. Tuck planche / advanced tuck The tuck planche is ideal for the shoulders strength stabilization development necessary for the press to handstand. As a gymnast achieves consistent 1215sec holds, they can advance to harder planche variation. This exercise also helps in developing the finger and wrist strength. VI. Pike drags Starting in front support on any of the apparatus ( Parallal Bars, Beam, Uneven Bars, Pommel Horse, Rings ) the gymnasts attempts to press up to pike ©2012 The Gym Press. All rights reserved I.

Doing a large number of repetitions is not productive in strength development, and coaches are advised to maintain a moderate to light volume (number of repetitions and sets) while keeping intensity high. Rep ranges of 5 – 8 for up to 3 sets should be sufficient if the exercise is difficult for the gymnast. There is an extremely large array of exercises that could have been prescribed, but the following exercises were least coach assistance intensive, as well as being very specific in kinematic and kinetic characteristic to the SsPHS. It is recommended that coaches try to spot and correct whenever possible. Motor execution/performance The following is a list of systematic progressions that the coach can use to technically teach this skill to multiple gymnasts at once. This is not an exhaustive list of exercises, or the only effective progression scheme. I. Straddle Sits It is important to develop the straddle-sit before really attempting the SsPHS. At the beginning if the gymnast cannot keep the underside of legs parallel of the ground, have them perform it of an elevated surface like a beam, floor parallel bars, panel mats, etc.. Work towards progressing to a floor surface as fast as possible. All active flexibility training will also help. Holding sets of 20sec (the goal is to be able to hold it continuously, however most will start with intermittent holds and stops). The ideal position will be to have the underside of the thighs about halfway up the forearm or higher. II. Straddle and Pike press against wall 1- Gymnasts start by positioning his/her hands approximately a hand span away from the wall (if this is to hard, have the gymnast adjust his position until the gymnast finds a challenging but achievable position). Its recommended to have the gymnast point his fingers away from the wall, as it is less straining on the wrists. 2- The gymnast starts pushing down into the ground while attempting to raise his/her hips as high possible in a straddle stand position. In doing this the gymnast has to try to raise all the way up to the tips of their toes. As they reach a peak hip height, they can start to learn forward until they touch the wall, but still continuing to try to raise the hips. -3-

V. Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.5 (2012) 1 – 5

Technical Report

3- At peak hip height, the gymnast actively has to handstand (PpHS) on various apparatus. If done draw in their knees into their armpits to assume and correctly with the coach only offering the lightest of active pancake compression. In doing this gymnast spots with no rests between reps, 3 sets of 5 presses should feel the ability to able to roll their back and is an effective rep scheme. By this point the hips progressively up against the wall. gymnast, is able to perform 85% of the work on 4- As the feet start to lift of the ground the legs their own, the coach is mainly reinforcing should be circled sideways (like in the straddle pull technique, compression, and facilitates the through), while actively drawing them towards your completion of the sets. armpits/body (holding the active compression on pancake), as the lower back and hips are rolled up In the learning process the coach should reinforce several against the wall. key learning points 5- Gymnast should first stop in a straddle I. The focus should not be on leaning forward, but on handstand with their back flat against the wall, attaining and maintain maximal compression in before close the straddle. Once the press has been either the pike or straddle positions completed, from handstand the gymnast should II. Avoid learning a press to handstand with bending reverse the movement down as slowly as possible. or bent elbows. This is extremely counter productive, and can result in long lasting bad habits The goal should be do do 30 – 50 such presses in a III. Always raise to the tips of the big toe in standing training in the beginning learning stages. This can presses as this helps to raise the hips to a peak be divided between conditioning and apparatus height, making the pressing to handstand motion training station. When the gymnast begins to feel much easier, and reinforcing good compression. that the straddle press is easy, they should be IV. Early hip extension is a common error, it must be encouraged to perform the pike version discouraged. III. Standing straddle with spot or from raised surface This exercises is performed in the same way as the press to handstand against the wall, except the coach or a partner spots the gymnast lightly as the hips. The biggest difference is that the gymnast does not have a wall to stabilize their shoulder, instead the gymnast must work extra relay on his conditioning to prevent him/herself from falling over. The spotter should only be reinforcing technical execution (compression, raising on toes, etc). If no spot is available gymnast can try to perform the standing straddle press of a raised surface. A panel mat is great as the gymnast can progressively reduce the elevation. IV. Pike Press to handstand or ½ Press to straddle stand + straddle or pike press to handstand. If the coach is in a position to be able to spot most gymnasts, the coach should aim to spot each gymnast for at least one set of 5 V or Manna pike press to handstand on floor parallets or beam, or floor (but careful not to overload wrists). Alternatively if not possible to spot everyone, the gymnasts should work on doing ½ press starting from an L-sit or Straddle sit (on beam, floor parallel bars etc) to a straddle stand, or pike stand, and continues to try and do a press to handstand from this intermediate stop position. V. Standing straddle or pike press (without assistance) The gymnast performs 3 sets of 5-10 standing presses. Again when the straddle press becomes to easy the gymnast can work on few numbers of the pike press. VI. Assisted SsPHS and Pike press to handstands The gymansts is assisted by the coach in performing the SsPHS or Manna/V-sit/L-sit pike press to ©2012 The Gym Press. All rights reserved

DISCUSSION
The SsPHS can be kinematically broken down into 3 distinct phases: Straddle sit-support, the lift or press phase, and the handstand. When each phase is considered separately, it is much easier to prescribe effective physical preparation methods, and devise a training plan. Despite the importance of the handstand and the press to handstand, the scientific community has not devoted much specific attention to the press to handstand. The author was able to only find two articles using popular medical and sport journal search databases. Several conclusions were draw from this research that support several technical coaching points: I. “ Increase level of shoulder joint strength at the later stages of shoulder joint flexion might be one of the prerequisites for proper execution the skill “ (Prassas 1988, p.327) II. “Utilization of an increase in hip joint flexibility could reduce the damands placed upon the shoulders joint musculature. “ (Prassas 1988, p.327) III. “To perform the skill with a smooth execution, more shoulder strength is recommended” (Prassas 1988, p.326) IV. “5° - 10° deg reduction in hip angle (compression) does not substantially reduce should er joint torgue requirements” (Prassas 1988, p.326) V. “during performance the CM continuously elevated and remained close to a vertical line passing through the center of the wrist joint.” (Prassas 1988, p.326) A special note should be mentioned that this skill does favor the pre-adolescent athletes, who are physiologically and biomechanically at an advantageous stage in their natural -4-

V. Uzunov, Gym Coach, Vol.5 (2012) 1 – 5 growth and development. Strength differences between boys and girls at this age are not significant, as they are predominantly attributed to differences in body mass and physical activity levels, which for pre-adolescent competitive gymnasts is assumed to be fairly even. Unfortunately upper body strength characteristics change with puberty, with performance benefits for boys and reduced upper body strength in girls. Even so, these changes are almost negated when males and females are standardized for weight.

Technical Report

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CONCLUSIONS
The SsPHS is an extremely versatile skill that deserves its time and effort to train. The training of this skills from the authors personal experience, if often approached by coaches through repetition of trial and error. This is seem as a very selective approach, which leads to unsatisfactory results. This article proposes a systematic training process, involving physical and motor learning training. Based on the research and authors recommendations the the take home message for the coach can be summarized to a couple coaching recommendations

Emphasize the importance of developing the necessary active flexibility, in order to maintain a large angle of hip flexion which reduces the demands of shoulder joint strength. II. Early hip extension is a common error that make the skill significantly harder to complete. Maximal hip flexion should be maintained throughout the whole skill. III. Should strength is predominantly necessary for stabilization. IV. Wrist and finger strength is critical for the balance and stabilization of positions throughout the press to handstand. Wrist and finger strength should not be underestimated in your training, and when searching for limitations to performance.

DISCLAIMER
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: Uzunov V. Rochester MN, USA, valentin.uzunov@gmail.com

REFERENCES and RECOMMENDED READINGS
Standard Article 1. Uzunov V. (2008).

Stretching Scientifically Part II: Stretching methods, the pros and cons to each method. Gym Coach Journal, 2 : 6 -14, March \ 2. Prassas S. (1988). Biomechanical model of the press to handstand in gymnastics. International Journal of Sports Biomechanics, 4 (4): 326 – 341 3. Prassas, SG, Kelly DL, Pike N. (1986). Shoulder joint torques and the straight arm/flexed hips press handstand on the parallel bars. ISBS'86 IV International Symposium of Biomechanics in Sport, Halifax, Canada 4. Thomson CW, Floyd RT. (2004). Manual of structural Kinesiology (5th ed). McGraw Hill, New York, NY

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