Back Head Springs
This article might repeat some of the advice in earlier tumbling articles. You might want to go back and take a look at them for additional suggestions about tumbling and hand springs, specifically.
One of the cutest things at the cheer gym is the little Mini cheerleader throwing her series of back handsprings, bouncing her head off the spring floor each time, never missing a beat. At that age, it is cute because they are too small to do any damage to themselves, AND because you know they will eventually learn how to straighten their arms and develop strong, accelerated back handsprings. At least you hope they will. Anyway, here are some tips to help you turn your HEADspring into a HANDspring.
First and foremost, lift up with your arms when you jump. Do NOT just throw your hands back behind you and reach for the ground. Doing that will cause you to undercut. That is when your hands land only about a foot or so from where your feet took off from. The shortness of the handspring is only a symptom of the problem. The problem is that instead of using all of your strength to get off the ground and jump, you cut off almost all of your power by arching your back prior to jumping, causing you to take a backward nose dive into the ground behind you.
I wrote a whole article about accelerating handsprings that talks about how to jump correctly and avoid this undercutting. I won’t repeat it all here, so feel free to go back and check it out if you need or want more details about it.
Here is something else to remember with your arms. Once you have jumped up all the way and you start to arch and go over the top, keep stretching with your arms. If you reach up hard when you jump, your shoulders will come up and touch your ears. You have to keep stretching all the way over the top or your shoulders will reflexively relax and just fall back into place. Your arms are still “up” but they are not fully extended. Instead of being in line with your ears they are more in line with your eyes. With your arms in this position, you will land in a push-up instead of in a handstand. It takes a lot more effort to get to your feet from a push-up than a handstand, so do yourself a favor and don’t forget to keep stretching those arms!
My final bit of advice to stay off of your knees is not to crumble once you get to your hands. A lot of people are able to get all the way to the handstand, but then they bend their elbows and land in a big heap on the floor. To fix this, sometimes you have to go back and take a look at all of your handspring techniques, like sitting, jumping, reaching etc. But sometimes, all you have to do is remember to keep your eyes open. Seriously! One of the first things I ask a student who is landing their handspring on their knees is, “What did you see right before you landed?” The answer is almost always, “Nothing.” Well that means you closed your eyes. And if you closed your eyes, you were probably also flinching, tucking your head in, and anticipating the floor. Basically, you were scared of hitting the floor hard on your hands and you relaxed to absorb the impact.
This is the exact WRONG thing to do. When your hands contact the floor, you want your shoulders shrugged up by your ears, arms locked out and eyes looking right at your hands. Maintaining this “rigid” frame with your upper body will cause you to bound right off of your hands, up and over, onto your feet. If you look away and/or flinch, your bent arms and relaxed shoulders will absorb the impact, but you won’t bound anywhere. Instead, you will stall in your handstand (or push up) and likely crumple to your knees.
If you are to the point that you can throw your back handspring safely on your own, but you are still landing on your knees, there are several things you can do to take the next step to improving. First, I suggest video taping yourself tumbling. You can learn a TON by watching yourself, and you will probably be surprised to see you are not doing what you think you are doing. Also, try practicing on a cheese (wedge) mat. If you can’t get into a gym, find a gentle grassy hill to tumble down. Tumbling down a hill gives you a little more acceleration and a little more height to rotate, all of which help you get momentum to push over to your feet. You can gradually work your way down the hill to smaller slopes until you are throwing and landing on a flat surface.
Finally, work on your conditioning. A big part of rotating in tumbling is your core body strength. That means working on your abs and your hip flexors. Extra work on shotguns, crunches, leg lifts, etc. might be all you need to turn your HEADspring into a good HANDspring!