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Technique discussion: handspring vault

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Geoffrey Taucer

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Block is an important part of so many skills. Most notably, handspring vaults and variations thereof.

I've tried coaching a block in several ways, and discussed it with many other coaches, and the conclusion I've come to seems to dissagree with the way many coaches teach it. I thought this would make for interesting discussion here.

The way I almost always see block taught is as an active push done by extending the shoulders on contact with the table. However, I dissagree with this idea.

In my opinion, block isn't something you "do," it's something that happens on its own when you do everything else correctly. I teach that the shoulders should already be extended before you ever contact the table. If your body is tight and your shoulders are extended, you will block when your hands contact the table. It's not something you actually try to do, it's just the effect of a tight body hitting the table.

Both I and the other boys' coach at my gym (and we both coach the girls team as well) teach vault this way, and it seems to be pretty effective.

Another thing I do differently than some coaches is that I train kids to vault with the board close (between 1' 6" and 1' 9" from the table for most of my girls -- I don't currently have any kids who vault with the board further than 2' from the table) and the table high (I aim for shoulder height with most of them, and sometimes have them practice with it a notch higher than that). Having the board close and the table high forces the kids to get their chest up on the board. Once they learn a proper heel-drive and tight position, I find that they also tend to get a more powerful block with the board close to the table.

Thoughts?
 

JBS

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I agree with the way you teach a block. I think of the shoulders more as a spring. A spring is in an extended position...when you hit it, the spring compresses and then pops back to normal. There may be some give in the shoulders, but I don't teach them to pop their shoulders. I teach them to hold tight...just like you said.
 
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LasswadeCoach

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I agree with the way you have the spring board close, as it forces the gymnasts to go up and not forward, I also agree with the way that you have your gymnasts come onto the vault, this is how i coach it in the UK, however i have found the relax and push off of the top greatly effective, particularly for young gymnasts, and also gymnasts performing much higher tariff vaults
 

JBS

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Sorry...I forgot about the distance of the board. When we moved from the horse to the vault table, vault was revolutionized. I agree with the board in close for the same reason as LasswadeCoach.
 

ACoach78

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The board should be placed as close as possible so as long as it does not compromise the optimal position of the gymnast during the pre-flight phase of vaulting. By having the board close, the gymnast will be able to establish more momentum (due to a longer run) as well as to better conserve it due to less time in contact with the board as well as in the pre-flight phase.

As for the block itself, it's really a combination of two body actions. It consists of both a shrugging (shoulder girdle elevation) action and an aggressive, nearly simultaneous opening of the shoulders. (shoulder flexion) It is imperative that the gymnast anticipate contact with the table and be "shrugged" just prior to contact (This was mentioned in the original post)and then finish the blocking action with the opening of the shoulders.

For this reason, it is necessary for there to be a shoulder angle during the initial contact with the table. After the block, due to the opening of the shoulders, the arms should move back to covering the ears and a neutral head alignment should be re-established. In a practical sense, it is important that the gymnast see his/her hands. Furthermore, I do not promote teaching a curvilinear (rounded) hollow vault. Most gymnasts will bury their head to help create the hollow shape and this will cause a "rolling" effect upon contact. In addition, a curved hollow handspring vaulting shape is counterproductive to future vaulting because its training a gymnast to "kill" rotation - unless of course you've deemed that a gymnast will only have a future performing handspring twisting vaults. Even so, I still prefer the straight body position.

Have any gymnasts who finish their block with their arms flying out to the side? Watch what their head is doing. In most cases, the head is beginning to duck under (chin to chest) as they contact the table and continues to move downward as they block off. As a result, the arms tend to fly to the sides. Part of this can be reflective of a lack of flexibility in the shoulders. The other part is the relationship in regards to functional anatomy between the neck movements and scapular movement. Unfortunately, I'm not exactly sure how the two are inter-related.

Lastly, I wanted to comment in regards to setting the table up high. I don't not feel that this is productive in the long run. I understand and respect the rationale in terms of desiring to keep the gymnasts more upright on the board. However, by setting the vault up higher, they are being taught to "come on high" to the table. Not only are they losing some of the momentum that they've conserved by having the board close, but this is also very counterproductive to future vaulting. From my perspective, a much better approach is to start with the vault low and concentrate on the right body positions. From there, start raising it as the gymnast gets bigger, more powerful, etc. And, you'll also need to raise or lower it as a means of trying to get the gymnast to contact at the proper angle.

My approach is to work on board position separately. I do a lot of board drills in which I try to get the gymnasts to practice hurdling in an upright position with the chest hollowed, the bottom tucked under, the hands low as they circle through in a forward/upward direction, and the feet a little in front of the hips. I do drills in which they just try to hurdle and stick in this position on the board. I also have them bounce up to their feet onto a block as well as try to rebound backwards. I do most of these drills from one or two steps only. I also work a lot of step-hurdle punch to handstands up to a mat or spotted onto the table and then I set them back down on the board or they step down onto the table. From a single step, they have to stay upright otherwise they cannot make the handstand.

It takes a lot of time and repetition, but it seems to work well.
 

JBS

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Wow...great post! A couple of questions for you.

ACoach78 said:
The board should be placed as close as possible so as long as it does not compromise the optimal position of the gymnast during the pre-flight phase of vaulting. By having the board close, the gymnast will be able to establish more momentum (due to a longer run) as well as to better conserve it due to less time in contact with the board as well as in the pre-flight phase.
The movement of the board is not enough to add an extra step in my experience. An extra step would be needed to increase speed...or are there coaches putting the board that far away?

ACoach78 said:
As for the block itself, it's really a combination of two body actions. It consists of both a shrugging (shoulder girdle elevation) action and an aggressive, nearly simultaneous opening of the shoulders. (shoulder flexion) It is imperative that the gymnast anticipate contact with the table and be "shrugged" just prior to contact (This was mentioned in the original post)and then finish the blocking action with the opening of the shoulders.
This is how I initially started teaching. The problem I ran into is that in trying to teach the action was mushy vaults. How is this action effectively taught? What are some drills? Do you have any videos?

Once again....great post!:vault:
 
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ACoach78

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Wow...great post! A couple of questions for you.

The movement of the board is not enough to add an extra step in my experience. An extra step would be needed to increase speed...or are there coaches putting the board that far away?
You make a good point there. Let's hope not. I don't see too many coaches putting the board past 2-3 feet. The vault table is about 3 feet in length. So, let's suppose you want their hands near the middle...that'd be like placing the board at 4-4.5 feet on the old horse. The biggest thing is that by keeping the board in close, you're conserving more momentum because you have to get off the board quicker in order to make the vault. Plus, you're more likely to contact at a lower angle and therefore the postflight will be greater.


This is how I initially started teaching. The problem I ran into is that in trying to teach the action was mushy vaults. How is this action effectively taught? What are some drills? Do you have any videos?
As for teaching this, it's hard. Not only are the arm actions critical, but so are the angles of contact. In theory, I desire for the gymnast to "catch" the table as they are inverting to handstand somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees. The rotation is really established from the run and the board. The vault just offers the gymnast the ability to gain some height and a small amount of extra rotation. But, the key is to hit the vault at the correct angle so as to sort of ricochet off of it while your center of gravity is still moving in a vertical direction.

My primary objective is for kids to learn how to vault with a really straight body as well as how to hit the board properly. From there, I'll start playing with angles to try and get the post-flight that I want. There is where you have to start manipulating the vault height a little to experiment and see what works.

As for drills, I do all of the traditional stuff - handstand hops, hops up to a panel mat and down from a panel mat (I modify it down to maybe 1 or 2 panels depending upon the level of the gymnast, of course), blocking off the wall to the stomach on a soft 8" crash mat, etc.

On the vault itself, I do a lot of stacking mats up behind and then I pull a mat (either a 4 inch or 8 inch depending on the level of the athletes and their ability) right over top of the vault to the spot at which I want their hands and cover up the rest of it. Then I have them vault and handstand hop up to the mat. Similar to the drill with the old horse, but modified for the newer apparatus.

At the end of the day, blocking is still going to largely be a result of how good the run and hurdle are.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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Lastly, I wanted to comment in regards to setting the table up high. I don't not feel that this is productive in the long run. I understand and respect the rationale in terms of desiring to keep the gymnasts more upright on the board. However, by setting the vault up higher, they are being taught to "come on high" to the table. Not only are they losing some of the momentum that they've conserved by having the board close, but this is also very counterproductive to future vaulting. From my perspective, a much better approach is to start with the vault low and concentrate on the right body positions. From there, start raising it as the gymnast gets bigger, more powerful, etc. And, you'll also need to raise or lower it as a means of trying to get the gymnast to contact at the proper angle.
Obviously there is such a thing as setting the table too high; what I meant was this: I have many kids who can vault equally well with the table on 2, 3, or 4. I will have such a gymnast vault on 4. I have them vault on as high a setting as they can reasonably manage in much the same way I put the board as close as they can reasonably manage.


I dissagree with what you're saying about the block itself, at least with regards to a handspring; if a kid tries to come in with their shoulders relaxed and at a slight angle, they won't be able to get the extension quick enough. They are likely to absorb some of their power on contact with the table, and they will not be able to get off the table quick enough.

Now, for higher level vaults, such as a handspring front, a bit of a push may be necessary. And by the time a gymnast is working a vault like this, odds are they will be strong enough to black in the way you've described.

The nearest thing I can compare this to is the slight whipping action that occurs on the takeoff of a back layout on floor, when compared to a back tuck; when teaching kids to do a back tuck, we teach them to set straight upward, with no backwards whipping action at all. When they go to learn a back layout, they actually do have to whip it just slightly, but we don't actually tell them this; we let it happen on its own.

I see the shoulder pop action on a higher-level vault the same way; when they are learning a handspring, I don't teach them to push off at all, merely to stay tight. When they learn higher level vaults, and have the strength to block in the way you're describing, perhaps I would change the way I teach the block, but it still sounds like it's more a product of proper heel-drive than of an actual push with the shoulders. I'm not entirely sure, though; I've never coached anybody at that high a level, and when I vault myself, I'm not entirely sure whether I do a shoulder pop or not; I don't make any conscious attempt to.
 

ACoach78

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I dissagree with what you're saying about the block itself, at least with regards to a handspring; if a kid tries to come in with their shoulders relaxed and at a slight angle, they won't be able to get the extension quick enough. They are likely to absorb some of their power on contact with the table, and they will not be able to get off the table quick enough.
I don't promote the shoulders being relaxed. You need to go back and read my response a little slower. I do believe that there should be an angle in the shoulders, but that does not mean that the shoulders are relaxed in any way. The gymnast should already be "shrugged" in anticipation of table contact and they complete the action by aggressively opening the shoulders upon contact. I don't tell gymnasts to "push" on the block. I stress "bouncing off of the arms...rebounding off of the arms..."

And, the vault is basically determined from what happens on the run and board. And, this directly effects the angle at which the gymnast can contact the table. A slower, less powerful gymnast will have to contact at a higher angle while a more powerful, faster athlete can contact at a lower angle because they have enough power to get turned over quicker off of the board.

The angle of contact is very much an important factor in determining the post-flight of the vault. That's why setting the board a mile away is counterproductive unless you have a really slow athlete. It forces the gymnast to perform a higher pre-flight as well as causes a greater loss of momentum due to the time that they are in the air between the board and table contact.

Go online and read up a bit on the "angle of incidence." Although in physics terms, it refers mostly to the reflexion of light, the same theory also applies to moving objects as well. For example, the angle at which a ball bounces will theoretically reflect off of the surface at the same angle. Say you throw a ball at a 45 degree angle and it strikes the ground and should theoretically rebound off at a 45 degree angle barring any other factors of interference such as air resistance, the integrity of the ball in terms of its "bounciness," etc. I see vault as much the same. Of course, the human body is not a rigid object. So, a lot can change depending upon how tight the gymnast is, how quickly they can execute the blocking actions, etc. But, theoretically speaking, it does form some of the basis for how I see vaulting.

Now, in saying this, you have to remember what level of athlete that you're working with. Obviously, you're not going to get younger gymnasts to have any understanding of angles and so forth. So, my personal approach is simply to try to achieve appropriate board positions and a nice, tight straight body handstand. And, as you say, my hope is that the block will sort of happen on its own for the time being. But, as they get older, I'll start talking to them more about angles and so forth.

[/quote]

The nearest thing I can compare this to is the slight whipping action that occurs on the takeoff of a back layout on floor, when compared to a back tuck; when teaching kids to do a back tuck, we teach them to set straight upward, with no backwards whipping action at all. When they go to learn a back layout, they actually do have to whip it just slightly, but we don't actually tell them this; we let it happen on its own.
I don't agree with this. The body must open up a bit in order to better utilize the "pressing" of the hips to aid in creating rotation, but ideally the body should not be whipping except for a double layout. In the arch-arch technique for a double layout, the idea is to "throw" the upper body backwards while forcing the hips aggressively forward/upward so as to rotate the first layout very quickly. This "whipping" action on the double layout shortens the body considerably and allows for increased rotation. That's why it appears that the second layout goes higher - because the first one rotates so quickly. As the gymnast leaves the floor, they become a projectile and will follow the general parameters of projectile motion. Most importantly, they'll always follow a parabolic flight path. Because that first layout rotates so quickly, that's why they appear to be going up on the second salto - because the center of gravity is going to continue to follow the parabolic flight path that was set as they leave the floor.

If there is a great deal of "whipping" going on, then the feet are not in the right position at touchdown out of the back handspring and the momentum of the upper body is carrying the center of gravity too far behind the base of support, which are the feet. The gymnast must adjust his/her block angle and try to set the feet further behind them out of the back handspring. How far they must set the feet behind will depend on what skills they are doing.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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I don't promote the shoulders being relaxed. You need to go back and read my response a little slower. I do believe that there should be an angle in the shoulders, but that does not mean that the shoulders are relaxed in any way. The gymnast should already be "shrugged" in anticipation of table contact and they complete the action by aggressively opening the shoulders upon contact. I don't tell gymnasts to "push" on the block. I stress "bouncing off of the arms...rebounding off of the arms..."
Perhaps "relax" wasn't the best choice of words; I think we're basically using different terms to decide the same thing. What I meant is simply that, if I'm understanding you correctly, you are saying the shoulders extend/open on contact with the table rather than being extended already when you contact it. This is the part that I'm dissagreeing with, at least with regards to a handspring. Like I said, a bit of a pop may be required for higher level vaults, but if you tell a kid to come in with a shoulder angle and open on contact, they won't block, they'll absorb and then push off.

And, the vault is basically determined from what happens on the run and board. And, this directly effects the angle at which the gymnast can contact the table. A slower, less powerful gymnast will have to contact at a higher angle while a more powerful, faster athlete can contact at a lower angle because they have enough power to get turned over quicker off of the board.

The angle of contact is very much an important factor in determining the post-flight of the vault. That's why setting the board a mile away is counterproductive unless you have a really slow athlete. It forces the gymnast to perform a higher pre-flight as well as causes a greater loss of momentum due to the time that they are in the air between the board and table contact.
This I agree with fully.

Go online and read up a bit on the "angle of incidence." Although in physics terms, it refers mostly to the reflexion of light, the same theory also applies to moving objects as well. For example, the angle at which a ball bounces will theoretically reflect off of the surface at the same angle. Say you throw a ball at a 45 degree angle and it strikes the ground and should theoretically rebound off at a 45 degree angle barring any other factors of interference such as air resistance, the integrity of the ball in terms of its "bounciness," etc. I see vault as much the same. Of course, the human body is not a rigid object. So, a lot can change depending upon how tight the gymnast is, how quickly they can execute the blocking actions, etc. But, theoretically speaking, it does form some of the basis for how I see vaulting.
The condescension isn't necessary. I'm familiar with the concepts.


As for the back layout

I don't agree with this. The body must open up a bit in order to better utilize the "pressing" of the hips to aid in creating rotation, but ideally the body should not be whipping except for a double layout. In the arch-arch technique for a double layout, the idea is to "throw" the upper body backwards while forcing the hips aggressively forward/upward so as to rotate the first layout very quickly. This "whipping" action on the double layout shortens the body considerably and allows for increased rotation. That's why it appears that the second layout goes higher - because the first one rotates so quickly. As the gymnast leaves the floor, they become a projectile and will follow the general parameters of projectile motion. Most importantly, they'll always follow a parabolic flight path. Because that first layout rotates so quickly, that's why they appear to be going up on the second salto - because the center of gravity is going to continue to follow the parabolic flight path that was set as they leave the floor.

If there is a great deal of "whipping" going on, then the feet are not in the right position at touchdown out of the back handspring and the momentum of the upper body is carrying the center of gravity too far behind the base of support, which are the feet. The gymnast must adjust his/her block angle and try to set the feet further behind them out of the back handspring. How far they must set the feet behind will depend on what skills they are doing.
Again, I think this is more an issue of using different terms to describe the same thing than a difference in how we coach. When I said "whip," what I meant was merely that the shoulders and chest must be more open when setting a layout than when setting a tuck.

Perhaps we should start another topic for the discussion of tucks, layouts, or just back tumbling in general? You certainly seem to know your stuff, and I'm enjoying this opportunity to discuss methods with one such as yourself. I'd particularly like to hear more of what you have to say about double layouts, as it's a skill that I'm currently having trouble with, despite having several other skills which are supposed to be significantly harder.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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Understood, sorry I snapped at you.

Anyway, I think I'll go start that back tumbling topic.
 
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