Starting gymnastics and beginning to learn some gymnastics skills is a lot of fun. If you were anything like me as a child you’ll have already been having fun learning handstands and cartwheels in your backyard by throwing your body around in all sorts of funny looking positions. Back then I didn’t have a coach but I copied my friends, had fun and began to fall in love with the idea of being a gymnast. When I first went to the gym I saw a girl doing a back hip circle and It looked so exciting! I wanted to spin around the bar like that so badly.
What is a gymnastics skill?
A gymnastics skill is the performance of a single gymnastics movement. Each gymnastics skills will require you to learn a number of different body positions and also build up the strength to lift, push or stretch your body in a certain way. One example of a gymnastics skill is a cartwheel.
To perform a cartwheel you need to shift your weight from one hand to the other while turning your legs and holding certain body positions throughout. Each gymnastics skill you learn is likely to have a number of different movements, physical and technical abilities to learn in order to perform that one gymnastics skill. Gymnastics skills can be combined to form a gymnastics routine.
What are the basic skills a beginner needs to learn in gymnastics?
I know you are keen to jump straight into performing gymnastics skills but first make sure you warm-up and learn how to do a few simple stretches.
When you start learning gymnastics in a recreational gymnastics class, the skills you learn first will be a little bit different at different gyms. With this in mind I have chosen a set of gymnastics skills which I think will help make your entry into gymnastics easy but also offer enough of a challenge to keep you practising and offer a foundation to build on when you move up to the gymnastics levels and learn more challenging skills.
It is a good idea to start learning basic floor skills before attempting to use different gymnastics apparatus because floor skills will give you the basic abilities you will need on different gymnastics apparatus. The first skills you should learn are how to practice warm up and conditioning exercises, how to land safely and how to fall without hurting yourself.
Learning to Land properly
When you begin gymnastics most coaches will teach you how to land safely. To land safely in gymnastics is to land in a position that stops the landing hurting your body. You will be taught how to make the landing soft by bending your knees positioning your feet roughly shoulder width apart and positioning your arms forward in a way that helps you keep your balance when you are landing at speed or after a full body rotation off apparatus.
How to fall safely
You might be thinking that you really don’t want to fall and hurt yourself and I completely understand, I once felt the same way. But, learning gymnastics is going to involve some falling which is why it is really important to listen to your coach and learn the correct skills for performing a safe fall and not hurting yourself. Falling doesn’t need to be scary once you know how to do it safely.
Basic gymnastics positions for beginners
There are a number of basic position in gymnastics. You will find that it is a great idea to learn the Tuck, Pike and Straddle positions because you will need them all the way through your gymnastics levels in many beginner and advanced skills.
The tuck position is a basic position found in gymnastics. You have to hold your knees and bring your legs close to your body. When you become a more advanced gymnast you will hold this position in the air during more advanced routines.
The Pike position is where your arms and legs are stretched out in front of you. When you master this skill during an aerial routine you will have to try to bend your hips as close to a 90 degree angle as possible to score maximum points.
When I started gymnastics I didn’t have the flexibility to perform the straddle very well. It took me some time to increase my flexibility and be able to open my legs in front of me while position my arms open wide in the correct position. The straddle position is more challenging then the pike or tuck because to perfect it takes time, lots of stretching and practice.
A list of the basic beginner gymnastics skills
The forward roll is one of the most basic gymnastics skills you can learn. Even if you haven’t practised gymnastics yet you have probably tried to do a forward roll ( roly poly ) for fun. Learn this basic skills and you can learn the straddle and pike forward roll variations that are basically the forward roll in slightly different positions.
Learning a gymnastics skill that requires you to move your body backwards over your head is scary at first. Once you learn the correct position for your arms you will see how quickly your arms work to push you up and over to complete the backwards roll.
I’m sure you have already seen a handstand if you haven’t tried to perform one yourself. The handstand is often learnt by starting in a push up position and using a raised or inflatable gymnastics mat to start with your legs in a raised position and then use a wall to walk your feet upwards and push into the handstand position.
There are lots of ways to learn a handstand but walking up a wall is a really popular technique for helping you master the handstand skill.
The cartwheel skill is one of the most popular in gymnastics because it is a lot of fun to perform and feels great to master. Beginners always come to my local gym with some idea of how to perform a cartwheel.
You can purchase cartwheel mats like the cartwheel mat pictured below to help you learn the correct hand and foot position but you can also use string and other soft objects you find around your house to help you learn the cartwheel, or read our step by step guide to learn the cartwheel.
I would always recommend progressing from the cartwheel to the roundoff. The roundoff is similar to the cartwheel and starts with a very similar hand position. From this position you need to use a lot more strength and power to push off from both hands equally to make sure your body lands upright with your feet together in the correct finishing position.
After mastering the roundoff it’s time to try out your first aerial skill. An aerial skills is where both your feet and hands are off the ground at the same time so no part of your body is touching the ground for a short amount of time. At first the back handspring is a little scary because you have to jump backwards and land onto your hands.
Luckily you can use a gymnastics air barrel or your coaches hands to support your back while you build up the confidence and strength to master this skill. It really is an awesome feeling and great achievement as a beginner being able to do a back handspring.
What next after mastering these beginner skills in gymnastics.
Well done if you’ve mastered all of the above skills. If you haven’t already learnt the basic bar, beam and vault skills consider learning them next. Now you have mastered these floor skills you are no longer a complete beginner and it’s probably time to consider working towards gymnastics level 1 and learning the skills required to attend and compete in gymnastics meets.
The USGA gymnastics level system provides a good structure for advancing through gymnastics but some gyms also like to use AAU levels. Both offer great stepping stones for moving up from beginner level to intermediate and elite level gymnastics.