How to Teach a Cartwheel
How to teach a cartwheelHave you ever tried to cartwheel, or tried to teach a cartwheel, and come unstuck?

We have recently been asked by many of our Head-Over-Heelers for the tricks with how to teach a cartwheel. Is there a secret ingredient? A fast-track pass? Or is it as simple as the timeless mantra of practice for perfection? We sat down with Head Coach Gemma Coles, who agreed to reveal her sage insight, and put the matter to rest once and for all.

What is the most successful way to teach a cartwheel?

Well, the answer is that there isn’t one go-to method. There are many ways of how to teach a cartwheel, and each prospective gymnast will find different approaches easier or harder to achieve. I usually start with one technique, and if the student is having difficulty, I’ll adapt the lesson to a different style.

How to teach a Cartwheel – which techniques do you use?

There are 3 main techniques that I tend to use when thinking about how to teach a cartwheel: the arc on the floor, the sideways bunny jumps, and the cartwheel over the bench.

Using an Arc on the floor
  • Place a skipping rope on the floor in an arc.
  • Ask the gymnast to place his/her feet on the line, followed by their hands somewhere in the middle, and then kicking off with their feet to land at the other end of the rope.
  • As the gymnast improves, bring the rope straighter and straighter until they can do it in a line.

(This technique is the one that we use in our app. You can access the cartwheel tutorial for FREE by downloading the app here.)

Sideways bunny jumps along a line of mats
  • Set out a line of mats and ask the gymnast to bunny hop sideways along, making a hands then feet pattern.
  • Progressively/slowly encourage the children to lift their feet up and over their heads.
  • Once they are competent,  start the gymnast facing one way placing hands in the opposite direction  (to the side) with fingers pointing behind themselves and repeat the bunny hop action, placing their hands in a hand-hand-foot-foot patten.
  • Encourage the gymnasts to make a rainbow shape with their hands above head.
  • Practice lots of times to gain confidence and encourage legs to be lifted higher and higher until straight and toes pointed.
Cartwheel over bench
  • Place a bench over a line of mats and ask the gymnast to bunny hop over the bench from side to side.
  • Ask the gymnast to slowly lift their legs higher and higher, and then encourage one leg at a time.
  • The gymnasts will naturally have a side which feels easier for them. Let them change the direction that they face so that they are always able to use their dominant side.
  • As they improve, encourage straight legs and pointed toes.
  • This is also a great activity for gymnasts that are already proficient cartwheelers, as it encourages leg strength and a nice high kick.
  • Once the gymnast is competent, move the cartwheel down onto the floor.

Gymnasts naturally have a good and a bad side to do their cartwheels on. How can a beginner recognise their ‘good’ side?

Everyone naturally steps forward with their dominant leg. I would ask the gymnast to stand still and step forward. 9 times out of 10, this is the leg they will lead a cartwheel with. However, there are some exceptions to the rule: in just the same way that some people are ambidextrous, some gymnasts will be just as comfortable using either leg.

If a dominant leg didn’t present itself initially, I’d resort to good old-fashioned trial and error: ask the gymnast to repeat cartwheeling exercises a number of times using a single dominant leg, and then switch to see if there is a noticeable improvement or regression.

Are there any simple mistakes to avoid when learning a cartwheel?

I often see gymnasts landing a cartwheel facing forwards and dropping to land really low, or land on their bottom, and this can easily be rectified by teaching a front-to-back cartwheel. That is, encourage the gymnast to start facing forwards and finish facing backwards in an upright position.

The other error I often see with cartwheels is the gymnast placing their hands in the wrong direction. Their feet must be sideways, and their hands must be placed facing the opposite direction to their feet.

What are your top tips for the perfect cartwheel?
  • Keep your arms glued to your ears all the way through the cartwheel.
  • Kick straight legs and pointed toes high above your head.
  • Practice makes perfect!
Once a gymnast can do a cartwheel, what can they do to advance the skill?

Advanced cartwheeling can look really neat. The skills I would move onto after mastering the traditional cartwheel would be a one-handed cartwheel, cartwheels which start and finish in different directions, and cartwheeling on a beam. (These skills can all be found in our books and DVDs).

We hope this guide to cartwheeling is a handy resource for all you up-and-coming gymnasts, but if you still have questions about pulling off the perfect cartwheel, feel free to send us a message! And if, after reading this, you’ve cracked the cartwheel, Gemma would love to see the evidence! Be sure to tag @ColesGemma in your videos on social media!

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