I really like coaching basic skills, the ones that create a foundation for harder skills. There’s a low chance of injury and I won’t get taken out in the process of spotting, at most maybe a bloody nose (kids don’t know it, but they’re secret masters at kickboxing). Cartwheels are a basic step toward more challenging tumbling skills, so needless to say it’s pretty important to learn.
Learning how to do a cartwheel is challenging for children because it’s a learning curve on body awareness and adjustment. We need to watch for subtle errors that need to be nipped in the butt to land a perfect cartwheel. I would find myself repeating the same errors to other kids, so I made a list of these repeated errors to help all of you either learn or teach how to do a cartwheel.
Legs Bent Too Close
I cringe a little every time I see gymnasts forget to fully extend and tighten their limbs. It’s almost like I’m anticipating an accident, or that one is bound to happen if they don’t learn to extend their legs.
So save yourself the time and wasted effort by extending your legs. Keep them nice and tight with confidence in the continuous motion.
Arms Too Far
This happens when a gymnast will either leap into a cartwheel or simply place their hands way too far making it basically impossible to complete a cartwheel, this is especially prominant in younger participants. They don’t have much depth estimation in their attempts, so it’s best to get a gymnastics mat especially for practicing cartwheels. These mats have obvious hand and feet placements to give them a better sense of where to stand, place their hands, and feet.
Weak Back Kick
I highlighted this title because it is without a doubt the MOST IMPORTANT STEP.
When starting a cartwheel, you’ve got your hands up, foot out, and getting ready to begin the motion. You start to swing your arms down to the ground, but your legs go nowhere.
Why is that?
It’s more than likely the weak back kick created by your initial leg which swings over your body does not have enough momentum to make it to the other side. Who exactly does this more often than not?
I’m sure you already know because you’re familiar with this problem.
Kids do this ALL the time, it’s a bad habit which you’ll have to kick.
Place leading hand in front of the foot used to step out (the “pointing” foot) while preparing to turn your body upside down. Push off the floor with the pointing foot while simultaneously kicking back and over your body with the other leg.
- Do not bend your legs
- Kick hard to keep consistent movement
Legs Are Horizontal
Horizontal leg swinging is pretty much due to weak back kicks, without much momentum your feet will always fail to get high off the ground.
Lazy legs also play a big factor into this mistake. In gymnastics, extending and tightening your legs can make or break a skill, no one wants to see loosey goosey limbs flailing all around, nor do coaches want to spot someone who does this.
All aesthetics aside, tightening your body flows with consistent movement much better and builds power, so needless to say it is definitely necessary and good practice.
Hands Too Close
Again, when learning how to do a cartwheel, you’ll see this mistake in younger ones who are still in the trial and error stage. That’s alright though, anyone who is great at something started out bad.
A good frame of reference is to have the hands more or less a shoulder’s width apart. Having the hands too close messes with weight distribution and all that so it’ll be easy to fall over, and if your hands are too far apart you’ll fall right through and hit your head.
There are very helpful cartwheel mats that have feet and hands symbols to help teach how to do a cartwheel to anyone wanting to learn.
Diving Into It
This isn’t acuatic sports, so try not to pretend it is unless it helps with performance, but I doubt it.
I’ve had several students try and do this. Its best to kick the habit very early on but there’s always a few who are adamant about it, but what kind of coach would I be if I didn’t know how to help to avoid this?
Here’s a really quick and easy solution for this:
Get a cartwheel gymnastics mat.
They’re not very expensive like most gymnastics mats. OR, you can improvise and find objects for hands and feet placements yourself.
Something I learned early on is that kids LOVE games, mention anything about playing a game and they’re all about it. So implement some sort of game into teaching how to do a cartwheel and try not to make them feel like robots learning to do something.
Want to know the best way how to NOT do a cartwheel?
Bend your arms. Yea, try it, it’s pretty difficult.
Now imagine a kid or anyone else learning low level skills, whom don’t have much upper body strength, try and do a cartwheel with their arms bent. Yea, it’s not going to happen. The end.
LOCK those arms in place, they are the foundation of any skill.
How would a building keep from falling if it has a weak foundation? Words to live by.
Not really, but at least you understand my point.
Take some time to let this list of mistakes resonate so you can look for ways to teach how to do a cartwheel correctly!