Tumbling – Back strength, Exercises

Hello Coach Wayne,

My 8-year-old daughter takes gymnastics, likes it, but she has a fear of hurting her back while learning to do a backbend.

Could you please help her get over her fear of this?

THANK you. From BECKY and SARAH Ross.


Note From Coach Wayne

Fear and discomfort are very common while learning skills such as walk-overs and limbers. Just as muscular strength may or may not come easily for some of us, flexibility ALSO may or may not come easily.

The following are a series of exercises are designed to be practiced in the home environment to increase back flexibility and strength.

They will help you accomplish your front and back-walk-overs & limbers or arch-stand kick-overs.

Cheerleaders!!!! Please write me with your questions and comments on the subject of TUMBLING. I’ll answer all I’m able. Coach@CoachWayne.com

Many people have mentioned that it’s MUCH EASIER to understand my coaching instructions when they see them on VIDEO, rather than reading them. I agree… If you haven’t seen my “Better Back-Handsprings video” you should check it out.

Unless you have genuinely superior back-handsprings, this tape will help you.

Having said that, here’s the latest news…I’m going to begin making NEW VIDEOS soon!!! I want YOUR input!!! If you could learn ANYTHING about tumbling from a “CoachWayne” video, what specific questions would you like to have answered?

What specific tumbling challenges are you having? What specific skills, lessons would you like to learn about?

Write often.
Have fun, be safe, push hard!
~Coach Wayne

Until the new videos are available.. here’s some great reading for those of you who haven’t mastered your Walk-Overs.

The Solution

Coach Wayne’s simple back strength & flexibility exercise

1) Lay on your back on the edge of a bed or couch… with your head and arms hanging off. Then GRADUALLY… slip off the bed until your hands touch the floor. Just slipping off slowly is FUN, but here’s the good stuff.

2) Once you’re hands are beginning to support you.. straighten your arms COMPLETELY at the elbows… look at your hands with your eyes.

3) Now bend your arms and let your head touch the floor… then STRAIGHTEN them again.. so it’s a type of “push-up” but the back muscles are working too!

For MORE fun…slowly…bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the bed.

Then… push UP into an arch stand.. feet UP on the bed.. hands DOWN on the floor.

THEN try the “push-up” exercises (10-20 reps)
If that’s too simple… lift ONE let straight into the air…. then switch legs (like a split)

MORE great “CoachWayne.com” exercises for your back

The PRIMARY element for being able to kick-over from an arch-stand is SHOULDER/UpperBack flexibility & strength.

Here are some more ways to improve your shoulder flexibility.

1) Lay flat on your belly… arms stretched out straight over your head. This is called a “Back-Arch-Rise”. You may want to slip your feet under a heavy piece of furniture or have a partner hold them down. Now, hold a BOOK between your hands.

Now.. lift the book off the floor but keep your NOSE ON the floor. Hold the book as high as possible for 5 seconds… relax to the floor.

Repeat that a dozen times.

NEXT: Lift the book.. AND your head… AND your shoulders off the floor. Lift the book as FAR as possible… your ribs and even your belly may come off the floor. That’s great! Keep your eyes open and LOOK behind you.

Try and touch the book to your feet.. and look at your feet. When you’ve lifted (arched) as far as possible, HOLD that position for 5 seconds… then relax again to the floor.

Repeat that a dozen times.

2) Lay with your back on the floor. You are going to be performing a “Modified” back arch-stand… also called a “back bend”. You’ll be pushing UP onto your hands and feet from that position.

Bend your elbows.. and place your hands flat on the floor underneath your shoulders with your fingers pointing towards your feet. Bend your knees… place your feet together … with your feet FLAT on the floor.

Now, without moving the hands or feet, STRAIGHTEN both the elbows and the knees. This should LIFT your body off the floor. Relax your head backwards and look at your hands. Stay up for a count of 10 seconds… then relax to the floor and repeat 20 times. Ideally, your knees and elbows should be completely straight. (but that’s pretty advanced.) Remember to FOCUS the pressure/stretch into the SHOULDERS! They should feel the stress. There’s no need to attempt to kick over.


You’ll be performing the same arch-stand.. only this time you’ll start with your feet elevated. Your buttocks will be almost touching the front edge of the couch. Place your feet up on the hard front edge of your couch..

About 8-12 inches high should be adequate. Now push up into the back arch-stand again.. but this time your feet are not on the floor.. they are UP off the floor … so your sort of standing on the very edge of the seat of the couch.

NOW… here’s what is important… Push up as HIGH as possible in the arch stand (back-bend) and keep your hands as close to the couch as possible.

As your knees straighten up you’ll feel more and more of the weight of your body on your hands… and off your feet. Keep opening the chest and shoulders… arching harder… with the elbows perfectly straight. Push your head out.. so your nose is as far in front of you head (away from the couch) as possible.

Go as far as possible (again emphasizing the tretch/stress in the shoulders) HOLD for 5 seconds… then relax to the floor by bending the elbows and knees… returning to the beginning position. Repeat a dozen times.

Practice those exercises.. for another week… maybe 10 days. Shoulder flexibility is something that may require a few weeks to attain. Try those now and let me know what problems/questions arise.

Yet MORE “EXCELLENT Walk-Overs” Exercises

PLEASE READ ALL these instructions COMPLETELY before beginning this exercise.

Think them through FIRST, then perform them accurately, adjusting for your individual body limits and circumstances.

1) Stand with your back against a wall. (a closed door works well too)
2) Take ONE step forward
3) KEEP your feet in a STRIDE position with your knees as straight as possible.
4) Hold your ARMS high over your head, elbows straight, arms narrow so your thumbs touch each other
5) Look at the ceiling.. then tilt your head backward until you can see the wall behind you.
6) Touch the wall behind you with your hands. Keep your arms as narrow as possible and VERY VERY far back (down behind)
7) Relax your head back & STAY in that position for 4 LONG breaths, relaxing your back and hands LOWER on the wall with each breath.
8) Bend your FRONT knee to stand, keeping your back arched as LONG as possible and bringing your head/arms back up LAST. All the weight should MOVE to your FRONT LEG. REMEMBER to LOOK AT YOUR HANDS!!! Keep your chin up and head BACK to encourage arching.

9) Each time you repeat this (5-10 times) begin standing FARTHER away from the wall (move forward one or two inches at a time) & eventually you’ll be able to lay your hands on the floor or grab the BACK of your foot!
10) At advanced levels, the entire exercise is performed standing on ONE foot only with the front leg being held (knees straight) as high in the air as possible.

***NOTE*** in this exercise, to PROTECT and SUPPORT the LOWER BACK… you should TIGHTEN/SQUEEZE your BUTTOCKS and HOLD THEM in a tightened condition.

There should be NO pain, but a bit of general “discomfort” may be expected. Be sure to warm-up and stretch the back muscles BEFORE and AFTER this exercise.

Remember, strong abdomen/chest/hip muscles are needed to balance out strong back muscles.


A hand, placed lightly on the gymnast’s back should help stabilize and control a gymnast. Maintain VERY light pressure, enough to perform these functions.

1) Minimize lateral (sideways) or twisting motions. (a second hand, at the hip bone or sacrum, may help) You should NOT be HOLDING the gymnast’s weight. Let HER hold herself.

2) To help prevent “falling” until the muscles/brain learn to coordinate & balance & control THROUGHOUT the entire movement. Usually only needed for a few of the first 10 repetitions.

3) To help the gymnast “sculpt” and shape the curving bend of the back. By moving your hand up and down the entire spine lightly, a “brushing” /probing with the fingertips, you help the gymnast identify muscles & vertebrae/ribs which are, or are not, being used.


TUMBLING – basics


Coach Wayne,

My name is Emily and I am a coach in Philadelphia for a cheerleading squad. There aren’t many local gyms for my girls to learn the basics at and I was wondering how I could teach them some of the basics ( back walk-overs, front rolls, etc..)

Do you have any potting tips for me ( to give my girls the courage to try some things)? Some of my girls are very flexible and do back walk-overs, but are too afraid to try a hand-spring. Can you give me some help/advice on what to do?



The Solution

Hi Emily,

Thanks for writing! “Here are some Back-to Basics” guidelines for EXCELLENCE in TUMBLING:

The better your handstands are, the better your other tumbling can be. Almost EVERY error a tumbler makes in her HANDSTAND will be echoed and exaggerated through MOST OF her other tumbling skills.

If you think about it… the HANDSTAND position, or a variety of it, is found in MANY other tumbling skills:

  • Cartwheels
  • verdana Cartwheels
  • Round-off
  • Front Walk-Overs
  • Back Walk-Overs
  • verdana Walk-Overs
  • Front Handsprings
  • Back Handsprings
  • others….

You will effect DRAMATIC change in tumbling skills by focusing on IMPROVING handstands FIRST. Do this for a significant amount of time, during EACH and EVERY workout. (As well as before ALL performances).

The unwise thing to do is jump out and begin tossing walkovers and round-off handsprings from the get-go. It’s EXCITING to jump ahead and “TOSS” the “BIG” skills, but a wise tumbler will approach EACH work-out as a chance to develop ENDURING HABITS of EXCELLENCE.

Handstands are a skill that should be performed MASTERFULLY, EACH and EVERY day, for excellence in tumbling. It takes 5-7 minutes. YOU, as coach, must COMMAND that discipline & CONTINUALLY drive improvement in the handstands!


1) To acclimate your body to being upside down… do this: Work on your handstand against the wall… Start by standing with your BACK to the wall… then place your hands about 10 inches from the wall… push against the floor with STRAIGHT elbows… and then walk your feet UP the wall until you’re standing on your hands.

Have some one WATCH you to make sure your body is in good form… look for:
a) Head RELAXED and hanging down loosely between the arms
b) hands almost touching one another… thumbs about 2 inches apart
c) body in a STRAIGHT line from wrists to toes… no bends! Especially in the shoulders & back
d) feet TOGETHER… toes pointed… knees TIGHT.

Remain on your hands for about 10 seconds… then reverse down to the beginning position and relax, then repeat that about 20 times a day. If your form is bad or weak… don’t count it.

2) practice a STRAIGHT BODY LUNGE STEP with BOTH legs… and LEVER your straight body ON the lunge leg only…until your hands are supporting you partly and PUSH the body forwards onto your hands with ONLY your front knee working.

So… here are the steps. (have a friend help you read and do this)

a) start standing on your feet… arms overhead, straight and narrow. (gymnastics stance)

b) lift ONE leg in front of you… straight knee… until your feet are as far apart as you can make them (without letting EITHER knee bend) and then STEP forward onto the front foot. Your feet should be FAR apart.

c) BEND the front knee… BUT keep ALL the rest of your body EXACTLY as it was when you were standing straight on your feet. (arms overhead & narrow…back & shoulders in the same LINE as your ankle and wrist and KEEP bending the front knee (lunge leg) until ALL your weight is on that FRONT foot & your back foot is brushing softly on the floor. The front lunge knee should be bent DEEPLY at a right angle (90 degrees)

d) HOLD that LUNGE position for 5 seconds and let NOTHING move. just breathe. MAKE SURE your arms don’t drop.. your back doesn’t arch and your back leg remains STRAIGHT.

e) THEN> yes it gets tougher (but you CAN do it!) KEEP lifting your back leg up in the air… towards the ceiling… until your hands touch the floor. but keep your hands as FAR from your front (lunge) foot as possible so that you are REACHING (lunging!) forwards aggressively. When your fingers touch… put ONE hand in FRONT of the other (turn your hands sideways in the same direction)…

BY THE WAY!!!!! make sure you are working on a STRAIGHT LINE. Begin here at one end with both feet “8” together.
8|———-> step forwards onto your lunge leg “o”… onto the same line o|——–o————-and reach with the hands “xx”to the same line 0|——o——-ax-ax———> HOLD that position for 5 seconds….

f) THEN REVERSE the process EXACTLY with the feet ending up EXACTLY in your starting position and your body in a gymnastics stance.

g) rest

h) repeat 10 times… LEFT foot in front and 10 times with the RIGHT foot in front

i) repeat 10 MORE times… both sides… but this time when your hands are on the floor in front of your lunge leg…

I want you to PUSH the lunge knee straight … push HARD enough to actually get the knee COMPLETELY straight AND off the floor

LASTLY… practice LOOKING at different parts of the STRAIGHT LINE… each time. For example… the first time you do it.. LOOK at your hands the ENTIRE time second time… ONLY at your right foot third time… only at your left foot… and then try CHANGING from one to the other RANDOMLY throughout EACH attempt.

OK… I PROMISE you… if you’ll do those exercises for the next few days… when you attempt your cartwheel on Friday, EVERYONE will be amazed at how strong and well-formed your cartwheel is.

Expect your shoulders and knees to be a bit sore with the new work. good luck!