Gymnastics Training Item: Floor Split Jump and Balance Beam
As basic as the split jump is, there are still a large number of gymnasts who cannot perform this skill correctly. Many gymnasts are reaching a 180 degree leg split, but they are not keeping their hips square, in line with their shoulders. Once a gymnast has become accustomed to rotating the hips to achieve a larger split in the legs, it can be very difficult to correct.
Training a gymnast to keep her hips square during a split jump should be a goal from the day she enters her first gym class. If you train to stay squad early on, there will be a greater chance that your split jumps will be performed correctly throughout your gymnastics career. It is helpful to encourage gymnasts to keep their hips square while stretching for splits, splits, jumps, walks, and hand jumps.
Another common problem with the split jump is that many gymnasts have enough flexibility in the hamstrings, but not enough flexibility in the hip flexor and quadriceps muscles to properly split their legs for their split jump, among other skills. The hip flexors are the group of muscles that lift the leg forward and up. When these muscle groups lack flexibility, the opposite movement of lifting the leg back and up (for the split) becomes difficult.
Here’s an easy way to assess your gymnast’s hip placement and flexibility relative to a split and ultimately their split jump. Have your gymnast perform a split the way she normally performs this skill. Even if you can’t reach the ground in a split, this assessment can still be done. Once your gymnast is split, have her bend her back leg so her back foot lifts off the ground and reaches a 90-degree angle with that leg. Your athlete’s back foot should be off the ground and her back knee should remain on the ground. If your gymnast’s rear foot is naturally pointing toward a wall rather than the ceiling, she may benefit from additional work regarding hip placement. Your gymnast may also benefit from increased flexibility training for the hip flexor and quadriceps areas. If your back foot is immediately pointing toward the ceiling instead of a wall, you may already have the correct hip position.
Your gymnast may need to lift her body slightly from the split to perform this gymnastics assessment or to make adjustments with hip placement. If you have found that your gymnast’s hips have not remained square while doing this simple gymnastics assessment, you can easily help her correct her hip placement by instructing her to pull the hip on the same side as her back leg forward. Once asked to pull the hips forward, your athlete’s rear foot can point toward the ceiling. At that time, many gymnasts can feel the difference between correct and incorrect hip placement during splits. Sometimes awareness is all that is needed to correct a hip placement problem, but many gymnasts will also require a change in their flexibility training.
You may have determined that your gymnast will benefit from further stretching the hip flexor and quadriceps areas. The following stretch is simple, but very effective for gymnasts of all levels.
Block hip flexor stretch.
Have your gymnast lie on his back on a stack of mats or an observation block.
Make sure the area of your buttocks is on the edge of the pile or block of mats.
Instruct your athlete to bring one thigh toward his chest with the knee bent.
Next, have your gymnast place her hands on the top of her shin to keep that leg close to her chest during this stretch.
Next, have your gymnast raise the other leg above the body so that the toes are pointing toward the ceiling. This leg can be slightly bent or relaxed. The knee and heel of this leg should be in line with the hip bone and shoulder on the same side throughout this stretch.
Once in the starting position, tell your athlete to slowly lower her raised leg so her thigh is level with the block and then lower than level with the block.
Once lowered as low as the gymnast’s hip flexor muscles will allow the leg to hang below the top level of the block or stack of mats.
Again, make sure the leg hanging below the level of the block is in line with your athlete’s hip and not to the side.
Allow your gymnast to remain in this position so that the hip flexor muscles are stretched. Gravity will do the work of slowly and steadily stretching your gymnast. If your gymnast has done this stretch before and feels that this stretch is no longer effective, allow her to use a light ankle weight.
For safety, your gymnast should keep the opposite leg in place to keep her lower back on the block.
This second stretch is quite common, but many coaches do not ask their gymnasts to bend their rear leg, depriving the gymnast of a full stretch in this position.
Hip / hamstring flexor stretch
Instruct your gymnast to kneel on the floor with one leg in front of her body.
Next, tell your gymnast to shift her weight to her front leg, pressing her hips down and forward.
Once your gymnast’s hips are pressed down and forward, instruct her to lift her back foot off the floor, bending the knee. Make sure you keep your knee on the ground.
Make sure your athlete’s front foot does not go past her knee for the safest and most efficient stretch.
Watch your athlete’s back foot to see if it is pointing toward the wall or ceiling. If your back toe is not pointing toward the ceiling, your hips are probably not square. Instruct your athlete to pull the hip on the same side as her back leg forward and press the hip on the same side as her front leg forward.
For the hamstrings: Keeping the feet in place, have your gymnast move the hips back and then flex the front foot to stretch the hamstrings of the front leg.
Make sure your gymnast is not sitting on her back foot. If you are sitting on your back foot, tell your athlete to move her front foot forward.
To help the athlete understand how to stay square in this stretch, you can ask her to make sure that the tops of her inner thighs touch each other. Stretching in a squad will help keep your gymnast’s splits and jumps square.
Focus on the position of your gymnast’s hips in relation to their shoulders in all stretches of this nature because once you allow a gymnast to rotate her hips rather than stay square, she will allow the muscles to move and gain flexibility in a different address than expected.
It takes time, focus, and a commitment to excellence to insist that a gymnast perform her warm-ups, jumps, walks, and hand springs with square hips, but the safety benefits and time saved when training skills or routines Advanced are invaluable.
The book Gymnastics Exercises and Conditioning Exercises has a section on dance exercises that includes exercises for the split jump and the straddle jump.