There are so many gymnastics maneuvers that look amazing that it can be hard to remember what an aerial is. While the very name of aerial gives a hint that it has something to do with the air, there are a lot of other gymnastics maneuvers that involve leaping into the air in some way.
An Aerial is a gymnastics term that essentially involves doing a cartwheel but without your hands touching the ground. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as an aerial cartwheel, although in a standard cartwheel your hands are used as support while you are upside down.
Doing an aerial is quite challenging to learn and is reserved for the higher levels of gymnastics, usually somewhere around level 6 or higher. But there is a lot more to an aerial besides that. There is a certain method to learning this challenging maneuver as well as tips on how to do it perfectly. These things, along with some variations, are all things that are both useful and interesting to know about.
How To Do An Aerial
One of the best places to start practicing doing an aerial is on a trampoline of some kind or at least a cushioned mat. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the upside down motion without using your hands. This simplest way to do this is to jump into the foam pit as though you are doing a cartwheel but without using your hands.
Of course, to start with you will have to learn how to do a regular cartwheel with ease. You definitely have to learn this first if you don’t know it already since this lays the foundation for the aerial. Preferably you can not only do a regular cartwheel but you can do it with either leg leading and either forward or backwards.
Another good foundation that you should have is a strong kick and a high jump to help with your momentum. Once you have the foundations in place then one way you can start working towards an aerial is to start doing a cartwheel with only one hand. Gradually try to decrease the amount of weight you are putting on that hand until you can pull it in as well.
When you are practicing this part, one helpful thing to try to do is to switch the hand you use when you are doing a one-handed cartwheel. This helps to make sure that you do not become too dependent on one hand. When this is just as comfortable to you, gradually start decreasing the one hand. You can wait for just a moment before stretching it out in addition to trying to decrease the amount of weight on it.
One of the differences to keep in mind is that with a traditional cartwheel your goal is to cover distance, while with an aerial you have to really focus on getting enough height to still be able to land on your feet. At first it is helpful to try to get a running start and sort of jump with your last step to get as much height as you can.
Before you put your last foot down prior to jumping, raise it into the air and then kick down with it hard, pushing up with it as soon as it makes contact and using all of the momentum to jump as high as you can. Also, you can help this by pushing up with your back leg as well, giving yourself a little bit of a push forward here and not just up, but still kicking up as hard as you can.
When you first start out you will likely not get very far without any hands and will more than likely fall flat the first few times you try to do this. But, as you progress, you will eventually be able to land on your knees. From there you will be able get on your feet with your legs bent, gradually straightening your legs as you perfect it and are able to get the height you need.
It can be helpful to lock your hands together and pull them in close to your chest so that you do not instinctively use them to help you and also so that they do not accidentally touch the ground. However, never tie your hands together to prevent yourself from using them. Doing this could potentially lead to injury if something goes wrong and can at the very least hurt your hands if you try to use them if you were to fall.
Dynamic stretches are also a good way to strengthen the right muscles that you need for doing this maneuver. The gymnastics maneuver known as the front walk-over is also similar in some ways, and by practicing it you can also work on the right muscles for the aerial.
You should also try to always have a spotter with you to help you if you fall. The spotter can be anyone you like, even just a friend or sibling, though having your coach or a more experienced gymnast help you can also provide you with pointers on how to improve.
The person whom you have helping you will be helping you primarily with your balance when you first start the aerial. But, more importantly, they will help make sure that you don’t fall over, especially aiding you as you try to land.
As a final note, some people say that practicing this maneuver while going downhill makes it easier at first. Another option that is sometimes used is to start while on a low platform of some kind or a stack of mats and try doing it so that you land off of the platform. Either of these options can help your starting height to be higher than your landing height.
This can be very helpful at first but should always be done as safely as possible. So make sure that there is a mat or something that can catch you if you fall or have a helper with you. Never try this off of a high platform or onto a hard floor or you might sprain an ankle or worse.
Eventually, once you have mastered doing an aerial on the ground, you can move towards doing it without any running start at all. As the very last step you can even get to the point where you can do an aerial on the balance board. Doing it here is infinitely more difficult, but it can be a great maneuver to add to your routine if you can!
Variations And Other Uses
Aerials can be called by a variety of other names such as an air cartwheel, a side-flip, a side somersault, or even a no-hands cartwheel. There are also a number of variations, some of which differ only in minor ways while others can look quite different.
A tucked aerial is a variation in which your legs are tucked in as well as your arms until you land, while a side somi includes a 90 degree rotation to this. An aerial can also be done backwards which is called an aeriola. Another variation is either called the axe to aerial or the axe kick to aerial and involves raising one foot to shoulder height and then swinging down and making that leg the leading leg of the aerial.
A barani, also known as a free round-off, involves bringing your legs together in mid-air and landing on them that way, while another option is to do the splits mid-air and to land with that as well. Lastly, the gardiner is the maneuver in which your trailing leg moves faster and becomes the first to land; this is also called the aerial switch.
These types of maneuvers are done not only in gymnastics but in other sports as well. Cheerleading, acro dance, tricking, and even certain types of martial arts use this technique; though in martial arts it is more of an effect for movies than it is used in actual matches.