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Jumping for Your Back Tuck



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This week I had MANY tumblers asking about how to improve their back-tucked saltos. (A.K.A. "Back-flip & "back-tuck") and their back-handsprings. In this article, I'm going to focus on the "GYM-jump" as it applies to both skills. In the following Q&A session, you'll see the correspondence with a fairly advanced tumbler, Jenni. Remember, you are welcome to email me any and all your tumbling questions at Coach@CoachWayne.com be aware that I may use your letter in an upcoming edition. If it's not acceptable to use your letter, let me know quickly.



Hi Coach Wayne,

Here are the answers to the questions you recently sent me:

How long have you been working on your back tuck?

I've been working on my back tuck for about 5 months now.

Do you use a benchmarked-standard jump into your tuck, such as a "gym-jump", or do you just jump in differently each time?
To be quite honest, I'm not really sure. I jump in pretty much the same way every time. My approach is pretty consistent. My main problem is that I don't "ride" the jump up enough. Also, I have trouble grabbing my legs to pull them over in order to rotate because my spotter gets in my way, however, I'm not quite at the point where I feel comfortable without her there. (I'm getting close, but I can't quite do it without a spotter yet.)

Are you using any matting or pads when you practice? If so, what kind?
When I practice, I usually just stand on the spring-floor at the gymnastics center where I attend weekly. When I'm at cheerleading practice, however, I place a folded panel mat on top of a thick crash mat. I stand on the edge of the folded mat and do my back tuck on my own. Because the panel mat sits about 6 inches higher than the crash mat, I am able to do the tuck without spotters, but I still throw my head back.

I don't know if this helps anything, but if you could give me some tips, I would be greatly appreciative. See, when our cheerleading squad performs at the pep assemblies this year, I wanna have something that I can show off, ya know?

Thanks again for your help,

It's a common error to "toss" the head backward in a back-tuck.

That is an incorrect form. It tends to cause the chest to open up which results in a slower (risky) rotation throughout the salto. To encourage a ROUNDED back and HOLLOW chest position, you should keep your chin as low to your chest as possible. If you already have a bad habit of tossing your head backward, an easy correction is to practice ALL your tucks with a tennis-ball held under your chin. Rolled up ball of socks work also. Remember, the TUCK is a "blind landing." You shouldn't see where you are going. You should be looking at your FEET throughout your tuck. When you see your feet about to land on the floor, you open up and STAND on your feet... but you KEEP looking at your feet until they are firmly planted on the floor. It'll be easier to grab your knees on your tuck if your chin is down, too.

Your spotter should NOT be interfering with your knee-grasp. Possibly s/he will limit the swing of your arms during the preparatory jump (gym-jump) but your hands and knees should be very accessible. If that spotter (the person helping you) is getting in the way of your knee grasp, you may need to try another spotter.

Jenni is describing "Down-hill" tuck exercises.

She's standing on a mat and jumping down-hill to the floor. It's a way of cheating the flip & is appropriate if you're a beginner, working without a strong spotter.

I'd recommend that she challenge her body and increase the difficulty of the exercise, rather than cheating the skill. She's advanced enough for that. Her brain & body hasn't yet learned how to synchronize an AGGRESSIVELY, HIGH jump.. with an EXTREMELY TIGHT tuck. SO... here's how you teach that to your brain.

Practice UP-HILL tucks!

Yes... use the same 6" folded mat, but instead of jumping DOWN off of it... start by standing on the floor and flip UP ONTO the mat. You will DEFINITELY need a spotter, but it's a great exercise.

You are, in fact, adding difficulty. This, HOWEVER, FORCES you to jump as high as possible before you begin the tuck. And, because you know you are landing UPHILL, you will know that you MUST tuck more tightly than EVER before.

Inevitably, the first 5 attempts will be embarrassingly BAD. But you'll get the hang of it. Just make the commitment to complete 25 of these uphill. Jump high, tuck tight and spin it around to land on your feet. To spin quickly you'll have to maintain the proper position of your head/chin also. Tossing it back is no longer an option. LOOK at your toes the ENTIRE time!

After completing your first 25, you aren't through. Raise your standards again. Add a second mat and flip uphill 12 inches! Then go for 18 inches. Remember, you are doing these with a spot and yes, you'll land on your knees quite often. But every once in a while you'll really get it. You'll perform a perfect back tuck and land on your feet 12 or more inches above the floor. It's AMAZING.

Most importantly, you are CREATING the HABITS of EXCELLENCE. You are habituating your body to EXPLODE as high as possible in the jump, and to tuck as tightly as possible in the spin. Those habits, once they are integrated (100-200 repetitions) will serve you well. After you've worked so hard to make it UPHILL, when you remove those mats and ONLY have to land on EVEN ground, they'll seem like a CAKE-WALK. Then you'll be ready to perform them in public without a spot! Now you can use your tablet to help build specific strength for superior tumbling, click to find out how.  

One last tip, if possible, during your practices.. use extra heavy shoes for training. During performances go into your lightweight shoes or socks only. The extra weight of the shoes will force your muscles to grow more powerful during rehearsals so you'll be better prepared for performances.


In both the back-tucked salto and the back-handspring, it is VITAL for you to have a MAGNIFICENT jump. I suggest a standardized jump. Standardized means it doesn't change from day to day, jump to jump.


both arms swing rhythmically, the head stays low
eyes focus on the feet throughout the skill
you MUST see your toes the entire time
feet remain together
hips remain slightly tucked under (not arched)
the back remains slightly rounded... chest hollow... THE WHOLE TIME!
From a squat position, hold your arms behind you and then swing them forwards so that the fingers will almost touch the floor.
JUMP as high as possible. EXPLODE off the floor.
these are not lazy jumps... these are 'LEAP TO THE MOON' jumps!!!!!
Swing the arms overhead as hard as possible.
KEEP LOOKING at your toes!!!
As your body straightens, reach as high as possible, squeeze the feet together
point your toes, straighten the knees
ride the JUMP as high as possible.
when your feet touch the floor again IMMEDIATELY return to the squat, allowing the arms to swing freely downward again. They'll swing and reach behind you at the lowest point of your squat.
This is an extremely rhythmic, steady swing/jump exercise.

The TRICK is to repeat 25-50 of these in a row...(and that can be VERY challenging/exhausting) but more importantly, to make sure you apply MAXIMUM effort in EACH jump. You do NOT relax or cut-back until you've completed the last one.

That standardized "gym-jump" can be applied to the back-tuck and the back-handspring. 

A wise gymnast/tumbler will perform 2 or 3 of those jumps before EACH attempt (during practice/rehearsal) at the beginning of the Tuck or Handspring.

In other words... when you are working on your handspring. Before you lean & sit to spring to your hands... FIRST, perform 3 SUPER HIGH gym-jumps. Ditto on the tuck.

Rapidly, you'll have MEGA-strong legs and a consistently/reliably POWERFUL jump. This will make your handsprings and tucks MUCH safer, easier and more beautiful.

These and other similar exercises to strengthen your JUMPS (like kangaroo leaps!) are reviewed in DETAIL & demonstrated in my "Better Back-handsprings" video. If you don't yet have a MASTERFUL back-handspring, you should have your own copy of this video to work-out with each week at home.

Have fun, Be safe & PUSH hard!


You may also be interested in the following:
(FLASH player permission is required to view animations.)
Back Tuck Progressions
Benchmarks of Excellence
Cross Arm Spot
Gymnastics Jump
Jump, Set, Tuck
Lunge to Handstand
Round-Off Hand Placement
Straight Body Fall


CoachWayne was the Head Coach for the Savannah College of Art and Design Cheerleading team and Executive Coach of Olympic Gymnast Zuzana Sekerova. His articles, videos, and books have been used by students and instructors worldwide since 1991. Coach Wayne is available for tumbling instructor certification training. For booking information, coaches/owners should text or call 912.238.1747.



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