Cheerleading requires a good foundation in many skill areas, but there are a few particular skills that are very important to learn correctly before progressing to higher level skills. Below you will find five basic elements of beginner level tumbling/gymnastics that play a large role in determining both the ease and speed at which higher level skills will be learned. It is important to conquer these skills fully before moving on to other skills. Many athletes move on too soon or skip some of these elements, and this is evident in their tumbling as they progress.
The Bridge – Back flexibility is crucial in backwards and forwards tumbling, but particularly important for both front and back handsprings. Bridges are a great way to increase back and shoulder flexibility and prepare the body for handsprings. The Bridge should be performed with an arched back, ideally with an arched upper back, and an open shoulder angle. The arms and legs should be straight, and the head should be in neutral position.
The Back Bend – Back bends take bridges a step further. Instead of beginning the bridge from a flat position on the floor, a back bend requires the cheerleader to stand with feet shoulder width apart and slowly recline back into their bridge position. This not only incorporates the benefits of a bridge, listed above, but now adds additional elements of core strength. Ensuring a smooth transition to the ground is important for safety. You should not be coming down with such force that your arms are forced to bend. Locking out your arms before your hands touch the ground will ensure that you don’t hit your head and that your bridge is steady.
The Back Walkover – For a while the art of the back walkover seemed to have been lost. Cheerleaders were beginning tumbling lessons with a starting point of the back handspring. Starting with such an advanced skill does a disservice to the athlete because their body has not been trained or adequately prepared for this skill. Athletes who have successfully conquered a back walkover will in most cases learn a back handspring much faster than their counterparts who simply begin with the back handspring.
A back walkover takes the back bend to the next level. In this skill, you begin standing with one foot in front of the other. The upper body will progress the same as in the back bend, but as your hands touch the ground you kick your legs over one at a time. There is no delay in time between when your hands contact the ground and the legs coming over. A successfully completed back walkover ends in the exact same position it began.
Handstand – A handstand is the perfect illustration of core strength, control and focus – all skills necessary for advanced level tumbling. Completing a handstand demonstrates that you can keep your arms straight during a back handspring and other advanced level skills; it also shows that you can maintain the contracted muscle frame necessary to control a back handspring. There are also many training and conditioning exercises that can be done from a handstand position. Handstand snap downs are an excellent drill for those learning back handsprings. Additionally, handstand roll downs and limbers are great training tools.