When it comes to having athletes train outside the gym, I’ve found that most coaches generally end up in either one of two groups: the conservative or the care-free.
The conservative group believes there should be no outside tumbling whatsoever. In their mind, if someone wants to attempt any sort of flipping, it must be done in a well equipped facility under the watchful eye of a coach.
The care-free group on the other hand, isn’t really fussed about it — as long as their kids achieve the required skills and don’t kill themselves in the process, all is well.
I most definitely belonged to group #1.
And to some respects, I still do… because the last thing I need is for little Suzy to start throwing back handsprings on the playground when she just learned it two days ago.
Or for crazy Cody to huck fulls on his backyard trampoline when he can barely do a layout to save his life.
But when you’re mostly working with competitive cheerleaders that spend well under 5 hours per week on tumbling, yet are expected to have the same skills which take gymnasts and power tumblers 10-15 hours per week to get, something’s gotta give.
Actually it’s more like, something’s gotta be added. And what exactly are we adding?
The bottom line is that if an athlete wants to learn a skill such as a layout full, but they’re only training one hour a week, it’s going to take multiple years to achieve mastery. And that’s if every training session goes perfectly… which we know never happens.
So to close this time gap in a way that is safe, effective and actually makes sense, I realized that giving out some tumbling “homework” was essential.
Over the years I’ve played around with lots of options as to what I should prescribe as homework. Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t. For example, when I gave tasks that were too technical or complicated, it would undo all the technique work we did in class.
But if I played it too safe and all I gave was conditioning, then it would bore them to death, and it wouldn’t get done.
Eventually, I found the right balance and settled on 4 categories of tumbling homework which yielded the best results:
- Body Shapes
- Fundamental Movements
- Perfecting Prerequisites **
Disclaimer: The advice you’re about to read is for entertainment purposes only. I take no responsibility if you or your athlete practice tumbling at home and get hurt. You should always consult your local qualified coach or training professional before attempting to applying any training advice you read on the internet.
Category #1: Tumbling Shapes
There are 12 tumbling shapes that essentially make up all the skills and drills in tumbling. So it goes without saying that when the quality of a body shape increases, so will the quality of the skill associated with it.
For example: if an athlete can’t hold a perfect bridge statically (without moving), how can we expect them to have perfect shoulder flexion during the back handspring, or a back walkover? Quality bridges (along with other shapes) produce quality handsprings. So many coaches know this but don’t implement it enough.
And while it’s very beneficial for your athletes to know all 12 shapes, be sure to ask them to work only the ones necessary at home.
So if a back handspring was the skill you wanted to give homework on, you would ask them to work the following shapes:
- Front Support
See how that works? This cuts the homework time by a huge degree which means they’re more likely to actually practice them. And with technology at our disposal, we can even turn this into a game.
Ask your athletes to upload their perfect shapes to Instagram in practice gear, and turn it into a contest.
Not only does this create free marketing exposure, but you can then pick a winner for prizes such as stickers or even just bragging rights.
Don’t have Instagram? Fine, use Snapchat. Ask everyone to send you a Snap of their bridge. The next day (or next week) at practice you announce the winner.
Shapes may be boring to do on their own, but there’s no reason we can’t make it fun!
Category #2: Fundamental Movements
Just as how body shapes are essential to quality skill development, so are fundamental movements. If you think of shapes as the “atoms” that make up a tumbling skill, then fundamental movements would be the molecules. (In case you don’t know what a molecule is, it’s a particle that is made up of 2 or more atoms held together.)
The Needle Kick would definitely qualify as a fundamental movement. In this animation you’re seeing one of my level 1 athletes demonstrate it, but know that my advanced athletes don’t get a free pass! Like handstands, everyone is required to practice them.
Another classic example is the Handstand Snapdown. There is no athlete I’ve met, whether beginner or advanced, that can’t benefit from doing MORE snapdowns. Not one. It’s a vital hip extension/flexion movement that is needed most of the time.
In power tumbling, I remember we had to did entire passes coming out of HS snapdowns on both the Tumble Trak and rod floor.
So when when I get emails or DM’s from coaches about a back handspring connection they can’t seem to fix, and I suggest they work on mastering the snapdown, I find it laughable when the response I get is: “I tried those with her, but it doesn’t work”
Let me make this clear: saying that a HS Snapdown doesn’t work is like saying a push-up doesn’t work. It’s an absurd statement. A more accurate statement would be that you don’t know how to work the snapdown for that athlete.
Just as a push-up can be rendered completely useless by barely bending at the elbows, not achieving full range of motion, and having an arch in the back, so can the snapdown by being loose, slow and sloppy.
It’s not just the movement, it’s the quality of it.
The best part about fundamental movements, is that once they’ve been taught to an athlete, they’re relatively safe.
Consider another fundamental movement: The Handstand Shoulder Pop. If an athlete were to practice these at home, how many of you would lose sleep and worry about them getting injured? Most of you wouldn’t.
I’m not saying fundamental moves are totally immune from injury. Heck, I have athletes who’ve hurt themselves while walking. Risks will always exist. But in this case, they’re so low in my opinion, that the rewards far outweigh them.
What you want to do is come up with 2-3 fundamental moves that are easy and related to the skill they’re working. This way when they’re back in class, you as a coach can dedicate more time to the entire skill itself.
Category #3: Conditioning
You knew this was coming. And why wouldn’t it? When looking at it in terms of pure risk / reward ratio, conditioning definitely offers the biggest bang for the buck.
Now technically speaking, you could rope in the tumbling body shapes in this category (as anyone who’s held a hollow shape longer than 30 seconds will tell you!) But for me, conditioning should be specific and directed at addressing weaknesses in the body.
As an example, most tumblers have a general imbalance between quad and hamstring strength. This can put the knees at risk of injury. So glute-hamstring raises is something most can benefit from.
Another common imbalance in tumblers is that their muscles which are involved with pushing movements are overdeveloped compared to those involved with pulling. This makes sense since in tumbling we’re rarely ever pulling anything towards us.
So to address this, I’d prescribe more pull ups, rows, hyper-extensions and so on. The volume of conditioning will depend on the ability of the athlete. Below are a few of my favorite sets and rep ranges:
- 3 sets of 15
- 3 sets of 10
- 4 sets of 8
- 2 sets of 25
I like giving higher volume of work to smaller muscle groups. So 2×25 is great for any type of abdominal or arm work. It really builds up the lactic acid (this is a good thing) and forces them to not only get stronger, but enhances muscular endurance.
On the flip side, something like 4×8 is great for larger muscles groups such as those in the legs and back because it allows for recovery so they can focus on pure strength and force production.
Optional: Tools For The Busy Tumbling Coach
You might be wondering: “This is all great so far, but writing down a plan for all 10 of my athletes can get exhausting!”
And you’re right, it can. Below is an example of how I used to do things…
While this was effective and really honed my stick-man drawing skills, it definitely started to eat up too much of my time. Especially as I started taking on more private lessons, classes & clinics.
So to solve this headache, I spent my own money to develop an easy solution which allows me to create customized tumbling plans in 60 seconds or less. If you’re interested, check out the video below to see how it works…
Category 4: Perfecting Prerequisites **
If you recall from the intro, I used to be very adamant about not letting athletes tumble outside of class. However, as my tools and methods started to get more sophisticated, I’ve realized that once an athlete has achieved a certain level of mastery, then I don’t have to worry.
Let’s say an athlete of mine is working back handsprings in class. The only way they would be allowed to work on this skill if I’ve “checked off” their back walkover, limber and other skills from my progression system.
That’s what it means to achieve Perfection before Progression.
So if this athlete chooses to do some walkovers at the beach or in her backyard, it’s not going to be the end of the World.
Essentially, I turn their love of throwing themselves around to work in my favor. When a prerequisite has been mastered, I’ll encourage athlete to spend further time on it. I keep them in the Perfection bubble while I take care of the Progression under my watchful eye.
The OBVIOUS Question: How do you KNOW when a prerequisite has been “perfected”?
Well that’s for you to decide. I hope your standards of quality are higher than what I usually see. Personally, I have a 3-check system that I like to rely on using my Tumbling Trackers. If you don’t have my trackers, you can still modify this by using a simple sheet of paper.
One check means they can do the skill on their own without spot, but it’s new or requires equipment (e.g, a wedge mat for handsprings).
Two checks means it can be done on floor without any assistance, but it’s a little rough around the edges.
Three checks means it’s ready to be put in a routine and they can do it in any state (tired or fresh)
Not only does this work well for giving homework, but when it’s time to make changes to a routine all you need to do is take a quick glance at the tracker to know which pass you can throw in and be relatively confident that the athlete will nail it.
Prerequisite Limits For Advanced Athletes
Now at some point, you’re going to have athletes that have advanced passes completely checked off. For example, a whip to layout full twist. Does this mean it’s OK for them to start throwing it outside on grass or on their friend’s backyard trampoline?
So make it clear which skills they can do and on what equipment. In my case, if an athlete earned their 3 checks for a whip to layout full twist, I’d be OK with them visiting an actual trampoline park and working on it. Because at that level of mastery the only real issue they’ll have, is to adjust their rebound timing on the trampoline.
If you use my trackers, simply draw a line underneath the Tier number which they not allowed to cross. And if they DO cross it, be sure to have consequences in place.
For advanced athletes I don’t let them go past Tier 7, which includes standing tucks. But that’s just me. It never hurts to play it safe.
At the end of the day, while we can’t physically control what they’ll do outside the gym, we can certainly educate and influence our athletes, and hope they make the right choices.
Hope that helps you structure your tumbling homework in a meaningful way. Let me know in the comments below if you have anything else to add. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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