Like with any competitive sport or activity, starting at a young age is a good idea for building the skills and the discipline that is required for a lifetime of competing. In gymnastics, this is especially true. The optimal age for starting a serious gymnastics program is 5 years old, with very few gymnasts starting too much older than that age.
Learning gymnastics is something that not only includes tumbling moves on the floor, but also moves on the vault, bars, and the balance beam. Between the ages of 5 and 7 you can expect the standard curriculum to include strength, flexibility, dance, and gymnastics skills.
Since level 1 is the very first gymnastics level in the JO gymnastics program there is not even an option to compete at this level, competition starts at level 4 in most gyms. Based on the time it takes to master the skills and the requirements set by the USAG, a gymnast aged 5-7 will usually be in level 1 or level 2. In some cases, a 7 year old could reach the start of level 3.
Each child is different and learns at a different pace, so this is a generalization. In addition to the gymnastic moves that a 5-7 year old gymnast should know, they should also have a good foundation of conditioning to train the body and build the muscles.
According to most coaches any gymnast regardless of age should be able to perform a minimum of 5 pullups with various different hand grips, at least 5 pushups with the proper form, frog jumps/long jumps, at least 10 v-ups, a hollow hold, and some sort of plyometric/jump training exercise.
1. Forward Roll And Backward Roll
The forward and backward rolls are the foundations of many of the gymnastics skills and are necessary to build on for some of the more advanced skills. It is important to remember that at this age it is common for the gymnast to be a level 1, so these will be among the top gymnastic moves for a 5-7 year old to master.
The forward roll or roly poly as it is commonly known is the first move that a young gymnast will learn. When done with the correct form, the forward roll looks like a very graceful somersault. A perfectly executed forward roll is completed when in one motion you move from the starting standing position into a roll and then back onto your feet in standing position without the use of your hands as support.
Being able to stand back up without your hands will take some practice if you are learning this skill. In order to pull off the perfect forward roll one should follow these steps. First, to get into the proper position to start you should be standing straight up with your hands reaching toward the ceiling.
Then, your arms should drop to a straight position in front of you while your knees bend. Your hands will then be placed on the floor shoulder width apart while keeping your fingers forward and putting your chin down on your chest.
Next, with a forward rocking motion, you should straighten out your legs and transfer your body weight onto your shoulders. In another rocking motion, this time on a rounded back, you should then be able to place both feet on the ground.
As you roll, it is a good idea to look at your belly button so that your upper back touches the ground and not your head, which is something that can hurt a little. Lastly, when you stand back up again you should be using your arms for balance but only straight in front of you. As you stand your arms should specifically be reaching forward in a tuck position to finish with your hands again reaching toward the ceiling.
The backward roll is the reverse of the forward roll and also requires you to start in the standing position with hands pointed toward the ceiling. Next, with legs and feet together get into a squatting/sitting position.
At this point your arms should drop so that they bend and so that your hands are palm up next to your ears with your fingers facing forward. It is important that you tuck your chin into your chest and round your back, similar to how a cat rounds its back. Next, you should simply lean backward and roll.
Once your hands meet the floor, you should push off of the ground as strongly as you can and straighten out your arms as you continue to rotate your body completely over your head. Your feet should then be placed on the floor in either a squat or pike, and you should finish with your hands towards the ceiling.
A couple of important things to remember is that using a wedge mat or incline mat might help in perfecting these rolls. When performing the backward roll it is extremely important to remember to roll your back and to push off with both of your hands.
Most people remember doing cartwheels in grade school during recess, but most of the time those are not quite the same as the ones that gymnasts do. As a fun fact, the cartwheel got its name because while it is being performed the gymnast’s arms and legs move like the spokes of a turning wheel.
In order to get into position for this move, you have to start in a standing position with your hands raised towards the ceiling. Next you should start moving into something that looks like a lunge, by putting your dominant leg forward and bending it slightly. Meanwhile your back leg should remain straight.
At this point your arms should still be straight above your head near your ears. Then, with your hands side by side and in line with your front leg you should reach down. To help you keep in mind the proper form for this part, you should be turned 90 degrees when on the ground.
Then you should kick your back foot over your head, followed closely by your front foot. The foot that is kicked up into the air first should be the foot that lands first on the other side. When landing, it should be in a lunge position facing the opposite direction with your arms over your head near your ears and your front leg should be slightly bent with the rear leg straight.
Your chin should also be up. When mastering the cartwheel, practicing by allowing the legs to go to the side of the body is a good way to learn the overall hand and body movements. Keep in mind that this move should be done very quickly as you should literally throw yourself into it without either tensing up or hesitating.
The bridge is a necessary skill for gymnastics as a fundamental starting point that a young gymnast needs to know how to don in order to build and stretch some of the core muscles needed to perform most other gymnastic moves.
While the bridge is not something that you will see in competitions since is not technically a gymnastics move, the bridge is a stretch that works the core, hamstrings, and glutes and is something that every gymnast learns as early on as possible.
In order to perform a proper bridge when you are first learning how to do this move, you will begin by lying flat on your back with your knees bent and your hands by your ears with palms to the ground. For the next part you will push your body up until only your hands and feet are on the ground while simultaneously arching your back as much as you can.
If you are first starting out, this is likely as far as you will be able to get. However, the next part is that once you are in this position you should straighten out your arms and legs. Then push your shoulders up as your head goes down.
The proper position from the wrists to the shoulders should be a straight line on the floor and the fingers and toes should be lined up with the body. Young gymnasts can work up to this by first using a stack of mats to put their feet on. They should work up to the perfect bridge and not push too hard, like with any gymnastics move.
One thing that can be helpful here is to use what is called a gymnastics barrel. This is an octagon shape that you can do a bridge over and that will help to support your back. After you get this position down, you should be able to go into a bridge position simply by throwing the top part of your body backwards and down to put your hands on the ground.
4. Backbend Kickover
A backbend is a move seen in floor routines and on the beam where the gymnast bends their body backward creating a “U” shape that is pretty much the same as the bridge position. The backbend kickover is the next step in this move and it involves kicking the legs over the head to land in a lunge position.
To start this move you first have to do the backbend part. Here you begin by standing in a tall position with your arms over your head and stretching your hands toward the ceiling. Looking up at your hands, you will then begin to bend backward in a “U” shape until their hands touch the floor.
Once you have done that part, you should not pause for even a fraction of a moment before you go into the kickover part. For this you will use your dominant foot to kick over your head followed closely by the other foot as soon as the first foot is pointing towards the ceiling.
It should land in a lunge position on the other side, and you should make sure to lift your arms above your head at the end to get into the original starting position. When learning how to complete a backbend kickover, just like with a bridge, a young gymnast may use a stack of mats to land their feet on until they master the movement or a gymnastics barrel behind their back for support.
Similar to a cartwheel, the round-off is another one of the top moves in the young gymnast’s arsenal, especially since this one is the gateway to most of the floor tumbling passes as well as a large number of the vaults.
Another difference from the cartwheel is that the landing is with two feet at once, facing the direction from which you started from and therefore the opposite direction than that which you were originally facing. To start the round-off you have to first get into the starting position which is standing tall with your hands high in the air.
From there, you have to move into your lunge position by putting your dominant leg forward and bending it slightly with your back leg remaining straight. Your arms at this point should still be straight above your head and near your ears.
Then, with your hands side by side and in line with your front leg you need to throw your hands down to get some forward momentum. When you do so your hands should be turned 90 degrees when they touch the ground.
Then your back foot is then kicked over your head, and then the front foot which you put into the lunge position. While both hands are on the floor supporting your entire body’s weight, your legs should be pulled together so that they are touching and so that you are essentially in a handstand position for a moment.
Make sure that this is done while they are high in the air and they are not tucked in. Meanwhile, while your legs are pulled together high in the air, your hips should be rotated about 90 degrees. As this is done your hands will begin to lift off the ground and your feet will begin to land on the ground.
Your body rotation should stop when your feet are facing the direction that the round-off began in. Upon landing the knees should be only slightly bent. Some young gymnasts might not have the muscle strength to complete a round-off on their own, using stacked mats as an aid can help build the muscles needed and teach the form.
6. Back Handspring
This move is a flip backward from a standing position that involves the hands touching the ground halfway through the flip then landing on both feet in a standing position. It usually begins as part of another move like a round-off.
When attempting a back handspring it is important to use a spotter, especially when you are first learning how to do this one. The back handspring as a move by itself should be done by first starting in a standing position with hands up toward the ceiling.
Next, with your knees bent like you are sitting in an imaginary chair, push through with your toes and fall back while your shoulders go down until your hands touch the floor. Then the legs go over your with your feet staying together as you land and put your hands back up.
It is important to note that before attempting a back handspring the young gymnast should already know how to do a round-off, backbend, bridge, and backbend kickover. While this move might seem quite similar to the backbend kickover, for the back handspring your hands should leave the ground before your feet touch, while with the other your feet touch a moment before your hands leave the ground.
A pullover is a somersault type move that is used to mount the bars when young gymnasts first begins their training on the bars. This is where pullups and v-ups come in handy, since these strengthen the muscles needed to complete a pullover.
To do this gymnastics move, you have to approach the bar and grip it with both hands with all of your fingers, including your thumbs, gripping on the same side and facing away from your face. Your hands should be shoulder width apart and your feet should be lined up close to each other not directly under the bar.
Next, while taking a step forward with your weaker foot, your dominant leg should be kicked up and under the bar. While you do this your toes should be pointed up and your legs kept straight as the momentum of the kick carries your body up and over the bar.
As your body rotates over the bar, bring your legs together and make sure that the bar sits across your hips. Your wrists should be rotating while your body moves around the bar to ensure an upright position at the finish.
Finish by straightening your arms once you have done one full rotation. your torso should be raised above the bar diagonally with your arms and legs straightened. Before dismounting a young gymnast should pause in the finishing position for a moment.
It is helpful while in rotation to keep your head tucked in and to watch the legs from the other side of the bar since if you can see your legs coming down on the other side, the rest of your body should follow a little easier.
8. Back Hip Circle
The back hip circle is another gymnastics move that is performed on the bar. To do a back hip circle you will also need to learn how to do a cast and you need to start on the bar which should sit at your hips. Your chest should be over the bar with your legs pulled toward the chest.
Keeping your hands attached to the bar still, your legs should be swung back until your body is in a horizontal position. From this horizontal position, your legs should now be swung forward in a fast motion in order to start propelling your body around the bar with your hips still touching it and your hands still firmly gripping the bar.
Make sure that your legs are straight and that your toes are pointed forward. Upon finishing the circle when the revolution is complete, you can either pause and go into the next circle or you may take a glide swing for dismount and finish by sticking your landing.
9. Handstand With Flat Back
In gymnastics, the handstand is a part of many beam routines and floor exercises. It takes time and patience to master just like most of the gymnastics moves for 5-7 year olds. When performing a handstand with a flat back you gymnast should start in a lunge position with hands up toward the ceiling and with your dominant leg in front and slightly bent.
As a tip for this, if your knee is over the ankle then it is bent too much. Next, you will kick your legs up and into a handstand. Once you are vertical, you can help to hold your body straight by squeezing your abs and glutes and by pushing through the shoulders while pulling your toes to the ceiling.
Finish by lowering one leg at a time to end in a lunge with your hands in the air pointing toward the ceiling. When first learning how to perform a handstand there are several things that you can do to help you get the right position.
One of these ways is to use a wall or handstand mat to practice performing a handstand. This will provide support while you are in the handstand pose so that you can build confidence as well as the muscles to complete the handstand with the correct form.
10. Handstand On Balance Beam
The handstand on the balance beam requires the same movements but you get into it an entirely different way. It should be said that since this handstand is being done on a beam that is 4 inches wide, a little over 16 feet long, and about 4 feet off the ground, landing this handstand will take a little more practice.
For this you have to start in a sitting position and facing off of the side of the beam. Place your hands on the beam in front of you and in between your legs and arch your back up so that you are not sitting on the beam anymore, and all of your weight is being held by your hands on the beam.
From there your legs should go out to the sides in a split without touching the beam and then start to come together behind you, all of your weight still being held by your hands on the beam. Meanwhile at this point your head should go down to in between your arms and your feet come up to point in the air.
Keep moving until your feet are pointing straight to the ceiling in a handstand position. Your shoulders should be in line with the beam while you face off of the side of the beam. After holding this for a moment, you can then lower your legs the same way they went up, only in reverse.
From there you have to put your head back up and split your legs again to go back around your arms. Luckily, this gymnastics move isn’t done on the real balance beam right away, since it takes a lot of muscle in order to be able to do this.
Usually this is done first on the floor beam, which is a beam that is several inches off the ground. In some cases, the floor beam can even be placed against the wall so that the handstand can also be supported. When the floor beam is like second nature, the next step is to move on to the balance beam.
A young gymnast will be spotted while they attempt to perform the handstand on the beam. Once they are ready, they will be allowed to try the handstand with close supervision, but since is one of the first things that a young gymnast learns on the beam, most 7 year old gymnasts know how to do this without assistance if they started at the age of 5 years old.
Conclusion And Safety Tips
Besides warming up and stretching prior to doing gymnastics, other safety tips for young gymnasts include the fact that you should always be practicing on padded floors or mats. Mats should also be placed under any equipment and equipment should be secured at all times so that it does not move around.
A qualified coach or program director should be at every practice to make sure that safety regulations are up to the most current code. Young gymnasts should never try a move at a meet that they have not practiced many times and know that they can do.
The proper gymnast clothing should be worn while practicing so that gymnasts do not get tangled or caught on equipment. No jewelry should be worn and hair should be worn tied back securely. In some cases, it might be necessary to use wrist wraps, guards, and grips when using the uneven bars.
Beginners should use grips, tape or gauze to protect the hands from blisters and tears in the skin. Special footwear is also used when on the vault. This kind of shoes have a reinforced toe that absorbs the pressure of the landing. There are also special shoes that can be used while on the balance beam.
Another piece of safety equipment used is a spotting belt. This allows cables to be hooked onto the young gymnast while learning or practicing new and sometimes difficult moves. It is extremely important for a young gymnast to let a coach or program director know if they are not comfortable completing a certain maneuver.