Before a young person can attempt to do some of the more advanced gymnastic moves, she must first learn certain foundational, or beginner, moves. It is from these moves that more advanced routines will be derived. These beginner moves are ideal for a young child’s growing and delicate body and they involve the basic motions that will be used later on.
The repetitious performance of these moves will make these basic techniques second nature as the gymnast progresses. Even though these moves are simple in nature, they also help in building up the young gymnast’s muscles and bones and are therefore vital to making it to the higher levels.
When a child first starts learning these moves they should always do it the first few times while their coach watches them. Not only does this ensure the move is being performed correctly, but it greatly reduces the risk that they will get hurt if they do it wrong since the coach can serve as a spotter that can catch her if she falls or trips.
The following is a list of 20 beginning gymnastic moves that are ideal, and perhaps necessary, for a young gymnast of either sex to learn. Although these are still beginning moves, there are some of the more advanced beginning moves that require the gymnast to already possess some degree of skill and experience with the simpler ones.
I have divided these moves into the four different events that female gymnasts partake in – the balance beam, the vault, the floor, and uneven bars. After I will tell you just a little about each event, including some of the background on that event’s history, then I will describe how each of these top gymnastics moves in that event is executed and I will also try to include some of what judges look for with that move during competitions.
Vaulting Moves For The Beginning Gymnast
Vaulting is one of the popular events in gymnastics. Images of gymnasts flying through the air as they bounce off of the vault while performing acrobatic moves is how most people think of this event. However, before a child can even attempt those moves, she must hammer down some important basics.
The vault is seen as one of the more exhilarating events to perform, but it is also one of the most daunting. After all, when you are bouncing like that into the air there are a number of things that could go wrong and which could cause some pretty serious injuries.
The event is fairly straightforward. It involves a springboard and the vault itself. The gymnast uses the springboard to achieve the required elevation to contact the vault and perform a move in the air prior to landing back on the ground. She begins by running towards the vault along a long, cushioned strip at maximum speed.
This is cushioned strip is most often referred to as the runway, or simply the run. Right before she hits the springboard the gymnast should achieve maximum speed. She must have enough momentum to launch from the springboard to the vault and then come off the vault with enough velocity to perform a move in midair.
Vaulting competitions can be intense. Even the slightest missteps can alter a gymnast’s score considerably. The panel of judges will consider a variety of factors to decide a gymnast’s score. Two of the most important factors are whether the gymnast lands without having to take a step, tripping, or falling, the elevation she achieved, and the moves she performed while in the air.
Before a young gymnast completes their first vault, the event is broken down and learned step by step. The gymnast gets comfortable coming of the springboard and then tries coming off the spring and landing on the vault. Finally, she attempts a full vault jump off the vault with the supervision of her coach.
Being able to execute even the simplest maneuvers here takes considerable practice and a good vaulter is always improving their technique and form. Vault moves for youth are designed to get youth comfortable using the springboard and vault. Close attention must be paid to how a young gymnast comes off the springboard and how she makes contact with the vault.
If her technique is off in these two respects, then she will be never be able to perform a complex move in the air, since trying to do so would be particularly dangerous. There are a number of moves that a young child can perform to improve as a vaulter.
1. Arm Circles
Arm circles is one of the most basic moves a young child can learn because it doesn’t directly involve the vault at all. This move is used as a great way to get a child comfortable coming off the springboard. Performing this move routinely will help a child learn important techniques and form regarding hand and arm placement.
In order to do this move, the young gymnast bounces off the springboard and rotates her arms quickly into the air and then back down to her sides before landing. This allows the young gymnast to focus on form without having to worry about the vault.
2. Squat Onto The Vault
One of the simplest vaulting moves, for this one the gymnast comes off the springboard and lands on the vault in the squatting position. This move is a great way to get a child comfortable coming off the springboard and actually landing on the vault.
As the gymnast gets better at doing this, she can find a spot on the run from where she feels comfortable approaching the springboard so that she can start finding the right spot on the runway that she needs to jump onto the springboard from.
#3. Round Off
This a slightly more challenging, but still a reasonably basic move for a beginning gymnast to learn and it is one of the first variations that a young gymnast will learn on the vault after the handspring is coming along well. The round-off can be added once a child feels fully comfortable coming off the vault.
The move is simple. The gymnast launches at the springboard and performs a half twist while doing so in order to land on the springboard with her back facing the vault. From there she will push off the springboard and land on the vault on her hands and facing away from the runway before bouncing up and off of the vault. To execute this move properly, the gymnast must arch her back considerably in order to make sufficient contact with the vault after coming off the springboard backwards.
4. Half Tsukahara
A more complex move, a child should learn the Tsukahara once she’s comfortable rotating freely in the air with the round-off. Although it requires a degree of experience, the move is actually quite simple and it is very similar to the front handspring but with some important alterations.
Like the front handspring, one complete flip in the air is performed, but that’s not at all. The gymnast turns her body 180 degrees in the air in between the springboard and the vault. Her hands will hit solidly in the middle of the vault and she’ll complete the move by landing with her face towards the vault. The front handspring, of course, does not include the 180 degree turn between the springboard and the vault.
5. Step Circle Bounce to Handstand
The child bounces off the springboard, performs a flip in the air, and lands on an elevate map. Again, like with arm circles, a special emphasis is placed on technique and form. This is also a great way to a get child a comfortable rotating in the air after hitting the springboard.
Another very popular event, performing a successful routine on the balance beam requires a combination of hand-eye coordination, balance, and some amount of gracefulness as well. Balance beams are 16 feet long and 4 inches wide. During most competitions they are elevated around four feet off the floor with a padded mat being placed underneath the beam for safety purposes.
The gymnast performs a serious of moves on the beam, demonstrating athleticism and, just as importantly, confidence. The gymnast should never stumble or trip while on the beam and always display grace and concentration while executing each move.
The judges also pay particular attention to how a gymnast both mounts onto and dismounts from the beam. She will often leave the beam in a dramatic way, such as by performing a flip or twist in the air, and it is critical that she sticks the landing when she does so.
A move that is at simple as it sounds, but it’s often tricky for a young child to execute it properly on the beam. Before performing a leap on the beam the gymnast has to feel comfortable walking around on and doing various things on the beam without any support.
In order to do a good leap the gymnast has to elevate her front foot into the air, push off her back foot that is still on the ground, and either split her legs or some other such task while she is in the air. She will then land on one foot followed by the other one.
There are a number of different leaps that a gymnast can do on a balance beam, but in order to be able to work up to where she can do those, a beginning gymnast first has to learn how to do a regular simple leap.
Learning how to keep one’s balance while rotating, turning, or even going air borne is the foundational for a young gymnast attempting the balance beam. A cartwheel is an excellent way for a young gymnast to start developing this sense of comfort.
To execute a cartwheel on the balance beam, a gymnast has to keep her legs held apart with her lead foot slightly elevated, then turn lets herself fall over to one side and onto one of her hands followed by the other. Meanwhile her feet will come into the air and then will come down again on the other side of her hands as her hands go back into the air, putting her in the same position she was in when she started the move.
Handstands are important for almost every single one of the gymnastic events, and this move is the basis for many more advanced balance beam moves. While at first a beginner gymnast will be focusing on how to hold the proper handstand position, after this is at least mostly learned then the gymnast can focus more on the proper way to get into a handstand.
Always beginning with legs astride, the gymnast will kick her front leg into the air at a 90-degree angle as she arches herself downwards towards the beam, reaching for it until she is able to grasp it. Once her hands are firmly grasping the beam, she is able to kick her other foot up to place herself into the handstand position.
She should be perfectly straight from her feet to her head and should not be swaying. To exit the move, the gymnast will move her legs into the scissor position and rotate back onto her feet in either direction.
9. Switch Leap
This is one of the many variations of the basic leap performed on the balance beam and is one of the most common. For a switch leap the gymnast has to start the leap like normal, go into a split leap position with one leg behind her and the other leg in front, and the switch her legs to form another split before she lands on them.
There are a handful of variations to the split leap, but those are mostly done on the floor. The biggest challenge of doing this move on the balance beam is that your legs do a lot of moving around and then they still have to land on the 4” wide beam at the end of it
10. Front Aerial
Like the cartwheel and the handstand, the aerial is featured in other gymnastic events. The front aerial is one many different kinds of aerials. It is actually one of the first forms of flips that a young gymnast will learn as it is arguably the easiest to learn.
In its most basic form, the front aerial is essentially a cartwheel without using your hands. Unlike a front flip, the gymnast will keep her legs astride while in the air coming down with each foot one after the other just like in a cartwheel. The front aerial requires a lot of practice to perform on the balance beam, and the young gymnast should first learn how to perform a handstand and cartwheel on the beam before attempting an aerial.
The floor event involves no apparatus besides a spring floor. The gymnast propels herself off the floor and performs acrobatic moves in the air in a routine that is done to music. The floor itself is 40 square feet and covered in a cushion that makes for softer landings and also has some bounce to it. The bounce from the floor allows the gymnast to achieve the elevation necessary to execute acrobatic moves in the air.
The first experience many young gymnasts have with floor exercises is through tumbling. Tumbling classes teach many of the same moves used on the floor such as car wheels, aerials, flips, and tucks. After tumbling, a young gymnast may move to the floor and practice putting together complete routines.
Floor exercise is a unique event because of what it requires of the gymnast. Not only is she expected to execute sweeping acrobatic moves, but her routine must be rhythmic with the moves complimenting each other. During the typical routine a gymnast will often incorporate elements of dance in addition to traditional floor exercise moves.
In most competitions, a gymnast must complete at least one non-acrobatic element, one acrobatic element forward, an acrobatic element backwards and an Arabian element. A routine is scored based on the gymnast’s jumps, balance, flexibility, and how she holds her poses.
11. Forward Roll
At times simply rotating head over shoulders in a complete circle is something that takes some getting used to. Forward roles are a simple way for a child to learn how to roll head over shoulders. The move is quite simple, the gymnast completes one full roll from a crouched position and returns back to a crouched position at the end. For both safety reasons and the sake of form, it is important that the head and legs remain tucked in during the roll.
12. Backward Roll
Rotating backwards is something that can feel even more awkward and uncomfortable than rotating forward. To some people who are not used to this motion it can even feel downright uncomfortable, and this is why it is important for a beginning gymnast to start getting used to this as soon as possible.
The backward roll is just what you might think it to be. Like with the forward roll the gymnast starts off in a crouched position and then lets themselves falls backward and all the was around and back to the same position that they started from.
Turns are another move that a young gymnastic can learn and which is something that is built upon by adding things to it in the higher levels. At first this is referred to as a 180 degree turn on one foot, and this involves picking up one foot, placing it in a certain position depending on the name of the turn that the gymnast intends on doing.
As the leg is placed in that position, the gymnast rotates all the way around while standing on only one foot until she is back to facing the same direction that she was before.
14. Handstand Forward Roll
This one is a slightly more advanced version of the forward roll. The handstand forward roll is the next step in a young gymnast rolling and the first step in learning how to flip on the floor. This move more or less combines two aforementioned moves, the handstand and the forward roll. The gymnast begins in a vertical position with her arms in the air. She falls forward into a handstand position before rolling on her back into a sitting position from which she rolls into a stand.
15. Back Extension Roll
A gymnast will eventually have to perform backflips as part of a floor exercise routine. However, they cannot perform backflips from the start. At first, they perform basic moves like this one that help get them used to flipping backwards.
This is essentially a handstand forward roll but in reverse. To begin, the gymnast rolls quickly backwards letting her momentum carry her into a handstand position. The move is completed when the gymnast falls back gently back onto her two feet in a standing position. For this move it is important that gymnast roll backwards with enough speed to allow her momentum to carry her into a handstand.
This is one of the more difficult events for a young gymnast to perform because of the upper body strength and hand-eye coordination that it requires. The skills, training, and moves involved here are often unique to this event only.
The apparatus involved is a set of bars standing around 5 and 8 feet off the ground respectively. The entire event takes place on these bars. During an uneven bar routine, the gymnast will spin around and maneuver between the bars, performing acrobatic moves as she does so.
Good technique is critical to achieving a high score on an uneven bar routine. A variety of factors will be evaluated. In particular, judges will look at the difficulty of the moves performed, the gymnast’s mount and dismount, and whether she kept her legs straight while maneuvering around, and transitioning between, the beams. A routine should be fluid and continuous.
Even though I know that I already mentioned the handstand, doing a handstand on the bar is a very different thing in some way to doing it either on the floor or on the balance beam. This is because the palms of the gymnast’s hands cannot be flat on the ground, instead having to grip the bar and balance enough so as not to fall over either way.
During an uneven bar routine, a gymnast must have certain circling elements that she has to include in order to get a good score. There are any number of circles that a gymnast can do, and these are done in a variety of different positions based upon the name of the move that the gymnast is trying to do.
One example of a circle that is required is called the giant circle. This is one that can be done only on the high bar since it involves the gymnast keeping their whole body straight including their arms which hold the high bar away from them with elbows straight. Almost any circle can be done either forward or backward, and many of them end or begin with a handstand on the bars.
18. Front Support
This is yet another one of the first things that a gymnast learns when they are just beginning to work on the bars. While it is not a move in itself, it is a position that is used in a number of different gymnastics moves on the bar and it is therefore very important for a young gymnast to master.
The front support position is where the gymnast is holding onto the bar with their torso above the bar with their hips being up against the bar as their arms are going straight down to hold the bar beneath their shoulders. If doing this correctly the gymnast should be at a diagonal angle since their legs to their feet should also be straight and lined up with their torso.
19. Fly Away Dismount
Dismounts are a critical part of an uneven bar routine. How well a gymnast executes her dismount, and how complex the dismount is, has a large impact on her score. Before participating in a competition, a young gymnast should learn to execute multiple dismount moves. One of the basic dismount moves is called the fly away.
This is one of the first dismounts a young gymnast learns and in order to do this she lets go of the high bar at the end of a circle just before going vertical, flips in the air, and then lands on the other side of the high bar. A positive characteristic of the fly away is its variability, a gymnast can add flips and twists to a fly away move.
20. Double Tuck
One of the variations of the fly away dismount, the double tuck is essentially a fly away with two backflips at the end. Before attempting this move, a young gymnast should first learn to execute a regular flip on the uneven bars. After executing a regular flip, she then may proceed to learn a tuck and then a double tuck.