How much work would it take for me to learn to be able to tumble and somersault?
July 18, 2006 4:57 PM   Subscribe

How much work would it take for me to learn to be able to tumble and somersault?

I'm 35 years old, 5' 10.5" and 155 pounds. I'm fairly fit and strong enough (for my size). I want to be able to do back handsprings, back flips and backwards tumbling. How much training will it require and what would be a good way to learn (alone)? How much is it skill and strength and how much is it just bottle [nerve]?

Are there any good videos, books or web resources? I've looked at already (it seems a bit disorganised).

I have plenty of time on my hands and I'm prepared to put in the effort. I also have a 12ft trampoline at home.
posted by Glum to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Of course this is my ultimate aim!
posted by Glum at 5:07 PM on July 18, 2006

This would be my ultimate aim.
posted by intermod at 5:40 PM on July 18, 2006

How much is it skill and strength

a LOT. you need to be very flexible and have very strong core trunk muscles. start by doing handstands. walk around on your hands. do handstand pushups. do situps, crunches, hanging leg raises. practice falling forward into a somersault. stretch a lot. take some classes in capoeira to get the flexibility and core strength. take some classes in aikido to learn to fall without getting hurt. run around and do some parkour training.

at 35, expect to injure yourself. seriously, the kids in that video are like 16. i'm not saying you can't do it, but don't expect to be able to totally flip out and kill people after a few weeks!
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:59 PM on July 18, 2006

The only person (male or female) who was able to do a back handspring in my Gymnastics For PE Majors class back in college was a short little guy who had exceptional upper body strength. We were all reasonably fit athletes of various stripes, and we were all 15 years younger than you are now, and no one could do it even with the varsity gymnastics coach instructing us and with spotting help from classmates.

So, I don't think you could do the back handspring or flip. The somersault you could do, because it is mostly about timing and technique, unless you have a really big head. You might be able to do a backbend and a slow walkover.

Remember that the strength required for handsprings and flips comes from the shoulders, not the arms or hands.

Good luck, and please post videos of your attempts. :-)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:53 PM on July 18, 2006

I take an adult acrobatics class and the way they are teaching us moves like this is by working on the bridge and the handstand as components:

Bridge: starting with assistance from a yoga ball under the spine, then to holding the bridge (30 sec) without support, then to holding the bridge in an archier arch (by walking hands and feet closer together). Eventually, the bridge arch is pretty high and very strong, and you can learn to stand up from it (by sort of bouncing your arms to get a little velocity going... first you pitch forward to your knees, but eventually you can bounce back up to stand). Once you have the strength to get up smoothly from the bridge, you can start learning to backbend into it. People in my class learning this are not bending back from standing but from kneeling, or using spotters to help them. You might need a buddy at this point. Also from the bridge you can kick your legs over (a 1-2 kick like walking), which will help develop the muscles needed for back handsprings. We use spotters for this too, to give the legs an assist to get over.

Handstand: the temptation is to arch the back, but we practice these (using a wall or spotters) holding our core muscles straight and vertical. Some students are doing "front walkovers", which is handstand, then the legs split as though walking, the back arches, and the legs come down in 1-2 sequence as the person stands upright (so to do this you must already have the strength to rise up from the bridge).

No one in my class has yet learned handsprings because it seems they grow out of back- and front-walkovers and we are still working on those. The other components of our training are a warmup that is a lot like yoga (includes cobra position to warm up the back), core-strengthening exercises, and stretching at the end (splits in both directions, especially). We use 2" mats for cushioning, and the class started with doing somersaults, backwards somersaults and cartwheels... everyone was able to learn these very easily, despite not having acro backgrounds.
posted by xo at 10:11 PM on July 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

While you obviously must have the strength and coordination, a great deal of your success will hinge on your fear level. Being upside-down and spinning through the air is disorienting, and there's a point at which you have to trust in your strength and put yourself into some scenarios that are scary the first few times. If you hestitate, you will fall on your head, or your arm, or your ass. I've seen it and done it. Conviction is key.

You can learn to tumble and somersault on your own. Handsprings and backflips are best learned with a trainer or at least a friend...acrobats make it look easy, but what you want to learn is dangerous and doesn't come easily for most people. You will fall on your head or your shoulders at least a few times while you're learning. Having someone else around to spot you is the safe way to learn, plus they can help guide you while you're going through the early steps of the walkovers and then the first few handsprings. In my experience, this guidance (along with confidence) was the make-or-break point for most people. Having someone show you exactly what it should feel like - where your hands and head and feet are supposed to be at each point in the move - made it click, and then it's easier to do it on your own.
posted by hsoltz at 7:36 AM on July 19, 2006

I don't think it's a good idea to teach yourself backwards tumbling. Find an adult gymnastics class in your area. Depending on your teacher, you may start doing back handsprings right away (my adult gymnastics teacher spots almost complete beginners on these, hauling their bodyweight through the air by himself). But you will need instruction and progressively less and less spotting to get them on your own.

Nerve is important but will get you nowhere without skill/technique. You need strength, too, of course.

If you want to work on your own, you can safely do cartwheels, handstands, and bridges, and you can probably teach yourself a back walkover if you're determined. But get an experienced spotter before you go beyond that.

There's some good training info on this gymnastics hints & tips site.
posted by nevers at 8:30 AM on July 19, 2006

Disclosure: I am an ex-gymnast and ex-gymnastics teacher. You can safely learn the core skills alone, but get a spotter when you learn any actual tumbling skill -- a badly flubbed one can land you square on your head.

To build to a back handspring, the most important core skill is flexibility, not strength. Flexible wrists allow you to keep them on the floor longer, so you have better control of the move's launch; flexible ankles make your exits and landings much more forgiving; and the more flexible your back, the tighter and easier your back walkovers are. If you aren't flexible, you'll have to overpower parts of the move, which increases the difficulty (and risk!). So, the first thing to do is start stretching yourself habitually to increase your range of motion.

Once warmed up, you'll move on to Back bridges. You'll notice immediately that wrist, foot and back flexibility are all critical to these. At first you'll just want to hold them for 30-60 seconds at a time, but over time you should work on getting your hands and feet closer to each other and being stable with one or two limbs in the air. When you can "walk" around the room in this position, you're doing well. "Roll out" your back after practicing these, or your back will not forgive you.

You can work on cartwheels in parallel to the above. The simplest thing to do is get a mat that shows you where your hands and feet go, like this one. Note that these will all be sized for young girls, so you probably will have to "enter" early and "leave" late -- that's no problem, since it actually puts the mat foot markings into places where you can see them during the move. When you have a good cartwheel going, you will modify it into a round off by "punching" your feet together at the end in a proper position for a back walkover.

You should learn back walkovers to get you used to the idea of flipping backward, once you're stable in a bridge. Working without a spotter, I'd use an inflated ball to "roll" over, and a triangular mat to land on (that way you're concentrating on only one skill instead of trying to learn the landing, too -- you can do that later with the ball when you're used to the motion). When the walkover's working good, you'll start rounding that off, too.

It's only at the point where the round off entry and back punch are working consistently on their own that you try combining the two. You should not do this without adequate mats and spotting.

I'd get even more detailed, but need to run. :-D
posted by Pufferish at 10:19 AM on July 19, 2006

Wow! Never have I had a Meta question garner so many detailed responses. Thanks to you all! I have decided to find some adult gym classes but I really am keen on this (and I'm part way there already - I can hold a nice handstand for a reasonable time, I can back bridge to my heart's content - time to start building some strength!)
posted by Glum at 2:31 PM on July 19, 2006

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