Wednesday, February 20, 2013


   Have you ever wondered if toe shoots (sole circles) may be easier for some of your gymnasts to learn than clear hips?  Do you have talented gymnasts who struggle with free hips?  My personal experiences would have me answer yes to both of these questions.  I have talented gymnasts on my team that seem to struggle with understanding the technique required to perform a good clear hip, which leads to poor performance of that skill.  Over the last few years, I've increased my efforts to teach sole circles and stalders.  The results have been good and I now believe, without a doubt, that some girls are destined to be more successful with toe shoots and stalders than with free hips. 
   The new competitive structure for the 2013-2017 cycle will create more opportunities for gymnasts to use these skills earlier in their career.  As coaches, we want our athletes to be successful.  Including toe shoot and stalder training along with clear hip training will create more chances for our gymnasts to succeed in the mid-levels of our sport and to carry stronger in-bar skills into the higher levels.  To help with that effort, I've posted some of the drills and progressions I've been using for these skills.  Feel free to use the ones you like and please post comments about what works for you.

You'll notice that a large portion of these progressions involve using straps.  We take advantage of a low strap bar and a high strap bar (if I had space for two or three of each I would put them up).

Step into "Monkey Giants" in straps

This is where it all starts.  The girls love to do these.  Fall with a tall body (straight legs), bend legs to circle faster on the upswing.
Cast into "monkey giants" (straddle entry)

Cast into "monkey giants" (split entry)

Jump into "monkey giants" (split entry)
When the girls learn to swing faster, they will make these stoop circles with straight legs.  At that point it is time to teach them how to get their feet off the bar properly.  A word of warning:  a gymnast will never learn a backward sole circle to handstand by circling to a stand on the bar and jumping off (just like they will never learn a press to handstand by jumping to a handstand).
The best advice at this point is to take small steps.  The goal is not to get to a handstand (yet).  I use the term "glut shoot" (referring to the gluteus maximus) instead of toe shoot so the girls understand the importance of opening the shoulders and getting their hips up, rather than shooting their feet up and maybe leaving their shoulders closed, which is a weak position (picture a head stand with straight arms).
Glut Shoot from a cast (split entry)

You may have already noticed that I prefer the split entry.  My girls seem to like this entry best and have had the most success with it.  They have transitioned well into stalder work even after doing split entry for sole circles.  Here are two stations I use to help them learn the split, late drop.  What generates a fast circle is keeping the back leg as far from the bar as possible for as long as possible.
Split Entry Drill on panel mat
Split Entry Drill on low bar
Multiple Glut Shoots in a row
I like to have the girls do these before allowing them to go to handstand.  It has helped with straight arms and better shapes.
Multiple Sole Circles in a row

Giant, split entry to "monkey giants"
Giant, split entry to sole circle backward
We've been working hard on this gymnast's shapes, therefore, I'm not allowing her to go to handstand yet.  She has a tendency to shoot her toes early and not get her shoulders open, causing bent arms and an arch.  Focusing on the finish shape rather than the handstand is helping.
Cast glut shoot on low bar
Video to come later
Cast sole circle to handstand on low bar
Video to come later
Cast to multiple sole circles to handstand on low bar
Video to come later
Giant, split entry to "monkey giant"
This gymnast splits a little early on this turn.  Ideally the giant should pass the handstand before the motion for split entry begins.  I tell my girls to "cross the top before you drop."

Giant, sole circle to handstand, giant (with a spot)

Giant, sole circle to handstand
This is the gymnast who has been working hard on her shapes coming out of the sole circle.  You can see that she isn't opening her shoulders early enough, causing bent arms and an arch.  She's getting close to what we want, but it still has too many deductions to compete.
 If a gymnast has gone through the progressions for a backward sole circle to handstand, she will most likely have success with a backward stalder providing she has these two pre-requisites:
1.  Good flexibility
2.  The ability to do multiple press handstands in a row
Stalder drop in from "monkey giant"
Ask the gymnast to put their heels over the bar on the downswing and compress through the bottom.  The noodle is a target for the glut's to hit, teaching the gymnast to lead with the hips on the upswing.
Cast to stalder drop in with wedge for target.
Stalder to stand from "monkey giant" (multiple)
I like this turn.  The girls can do a lot of rep's in one turn and staldering to a stand reinforces the technique of opening the shoulders before the hips.  This will help with straight arms and better shapes in the end.  I come back to this drill when the gymnast has problems with her stalder.
Stalder circles in a row
Giants to stalders on strap bar
These videos show two different levels of proficiency.  The second girl has had less experience with the skill and is dropping in too early, making a handstand at the end of the skill difficult.  But, I prefer her current shapes over a bent arm, arched handstand.  She will eventually have a stalder that looks more like the first gymnast.

Stalder circle to clear front support
Stalder, Short blind
A few more notes
*We spend approximately 75% of our time working sole circles and stalders in the straps. 
*If the skills can't be performed well in the straps, there is no need to try them on a regular bar. 
*Straps allow for lots of repetition with little wear and tear on the gymnasts hands. 
*From a coaching standpoint, seeing 3 or 4 toe shoots or stalders in a turn on the straps is better than seeing 1 per turn on a regular bar (at least in the learning phase).
*When we run into problems with these skills on the regular bar, we always go back to the strap bar to fix them.
*We begin working "monkey giants" on a low strap bar at level 4.
*The girls in these videos are level 7, 8 & 9.
An option for level 5 bars (2013-2017)
A sole circle backward to clear front support, stalder circle backward to clear front support or clear hip to clear front support are the 3 choices available in the first half of the level 5 compulsory routine in the new 2013-2017 structure.

1 comment:

Simon Kay said...

Mark, thanks for clarifying the start of bars for the 2014-17 season the instructions are confusing but your thorough guide has made this really simple. Thanks so much for putting this together.