Key to Running Tumbling
What is the most important part of a roundoff, handspring, double full? Probably the most correct answer is, “It depends.” But since I asked the question I’ll narrow it down. The best answer is the ROUNDOFF.
If you already believe me, you’ll be nodding your head throughout this blog. If you don’t believe me, read this with an open mind. I think it will make sense to you.
There is an expression in computer programming that goes, “Junk in, junk out.” In other words, if you start with lousy programming, the final product is only going to get worse. The same is true of tumbling.
Running tumbling is all about speed. Poor tumblers slow down through their pass. Ever see a person barely make it over on their third back handspring? They were probably losing speed. Good tumbling maintains speed throughout a pass. Elite tumblers actually speed up as they go.
The easiest way to have good speed in a tumbling pass is to take a powerful hurdle. Some people like hurdling out of 2 steps. Some like 4 steps. Some like to run across the floor. In any case, you should be moving forward with speed at the moment you begin your roundoff.
The whole purpose of a round off is to convert your forward momentum to backward momentum. In other words, when you land your roundoff you want to be moving backwards at least as fast as you were moving forwards during your hurdle. Ideally, you will land your roundoff in an off-balance position (unless you are doing a roundoff into a tuck or other upward skill). The best off-balance position would be with your legs and feet together. Your knees are only slightly bent. The knees are directly above your ankles, or even behind your ankles. Knees should NOT be forward over your toes. Your shoulder and hips should be lines up so that your back is perpendicular to the tumbling surface. Arms should already be straight up above your head. Your chin should be level and your eyes should be forward, not up. Hopefully you can visualize this. From this position, you only have two choices. You can do nothing and fall on your butt (ever notice that tumble means “fall?”), or you can jump, pushing off through your toes, look up at your hands, causing your back to arch, and bound into a perfect back handspring.
So that is how you want to finish your roundoff. And we already talked a little about your hurdle. Now lets talk about that goes on during the roundoff.
The main thing you want to think about for a good round off is making it straight. A crooked roundoff is a slow roundoff (plus you will take out anyone who is tumbling next to you and that can lead to much awkwardness). The simplest way to keep your roundoff, and all of your tumbling, straight is to make it long. The proper length for your roundoffs and your back handsprings is the length from your pointed toes to the tips of your fingers if you were laying on the ground with your arms reaching above your head. If you are around 5 feet 6 inches, that should be a little over 7 feet. An easy way to measure that is to go at least a foot past the width of a typical cheerleading floor panel, which is 6 feet wide.
To travel this distance without going crooked and while maintaining your speed, you want to break it up into even quarters. The first quarter is the distance from your back foot to your lead foot (the lead leg should be in a lunge) The second quarter is the distance from your lead foot to your lead hand. The third quarter is the distance between your lead hand and your second hand. The last quarter is the distance between your second hand and your landing.
Another key to a straight roundoff is hand placement. Something that will help your hand placement is your vision. A lot of people make the mistake of looking at their lead foot as they enter their roundoff. That can lead to crossing your arms, reaching sideways or not reaching out far enough. All of those things cause a crooked roundoff. Instead, you should be looking out at the spot on the floor that is in the middle of where your hands will land. If you’re a math person, that is 5/8 of the distance of your roundoff. As for your actual hand positioning, there can be some variation depending on what is comfortable for you. But in general, you want you lead hand to have the fingers facing forward and your second hand should be turned 90 degrees, perpendicular to the lead hand. This hand placement allows you to push (shrug) through your shoulders so you pop up onto your feet for the landing.
One final tip for a straight roundoff. Just like a cartwheel, you want your hands to land one at a time. If your hands both contact the floor at the same time, you might be diving into your roundoff, which will kill your momentum. Either that or you are really reaching out crooked, and we already talked about how that can cause problems.
I’m a huge believer in the importance of a good roundoff. Especially if you are tumbling on a non-spring floor. During my floor tumbling career, I progressed to double backs. Every time I moved on to a higher level trick, I would go back to the roundoff and try to improve it a little. Sometimes the difference between landing a trick and falling on your face will be just a little extra speed and power from the roundoff carrying you through.