Round-off Flip-Flop Backs

The round-off flip-flop back tuck is usually the first airborne backwards tumbling pass a gymnast learns. It also stands as a basic building block for harder skills such as layouts, twisting, and double backs.

First, before a gymnast can begin working on back tucks, he or she must be able to master the round-off flip-flop. Even more preferable is a fast and solid round-off to 2 flip-flops. This is important because the back tuck requires speed, power, and good body position. (Tips focusing on the round-off flip-flop can be found in the Back Power Tumbling article.)

Once that's been mastered, now you're ready to begin work building towards the back tuck. Because this is a fairly big step up from back handsprings, you should follow the drills and steps that your coach gives you. This can be very dangerous if you don't have supervision. And because of that, I will only state a few key preps and drills.

At this point, you should be comfortable with connecting two or more back handsprings to your round-off, and you should be able to finish the series in a good, tight punch straight up. In fact, that is the first drill. Do a round-off, one or two flip-flops, and punch as tightly as you can. Be careful though. If you don't have control on your punch, you may continue to fly backwards. Be sure to have a spotter.

Next, lie on your back on the floor. Begin this drill by squeezing your body tight, with your arms by your ears. Then quickly, without using your upper body for leverage, tuck your knees and throw your legs over your head so that you automatically do a backward roll. The thing to concentrate on here is lifting your hips. This is what will give you the rotation to get around. Tucking your knees to your chest will do little for the rotation so be sure to know the feeling of lifting your hips.

If you are having problems with this last drill, such as not getting enough speed to roll around, it might mean that your stomach muscles are not strong enough. In addition to this drill, be sure to do some extra abdominal conditioning.

You should also begin to work on doing standing backs. Even though you may not actually be able to do these by yourself before getting your round-off flip-flop back, it is good to start learning the technique of the back tuck before attempting to do one out of a round-off back handspring. You should start doing them off a spotting block onto a 8-incher. But first, work on just jumping straight up and landing on the mat. Swing your arms down as you bend your knees, back up to your ears as you jump off the block, and stretch out your body as you do the straight jump to the mat. The next step requires a spotter. You stand on the floor in front of the spotter, swing your arms and jump straight up as you did on the block, but your spotter lifts you up a bit as you tuck your knees to your chest. You don't actually flip over -- after tucking for a second or so, the spotter lets you back down to where you started. This will help you get the feel of going from a straight body position to a tuck position.

A good drill for getting the feel of a back tuck is to do the rolling drill described above, but on top of a spotting block. Your shoulders would be on the edge of the block when you lie flat. Then, as above, tuck your knees to your chest and lift your hips over your head, but keep going so that you roll off the block and land on your feet on a mat that is set behind the block.

Back tucks should travel backwards only slightly. They shouldn't go straight up, but they also should not go straight back. Ideally, you should come out of your back handspring in a hollow body position. Now, if you were to tuck while still in this hollow position, you would either greatly undercut the back tuck, or you will not rotate. So, you must get your body to continue traveling backwards. You have lots of momentum coming from your round-off flip-flop, and according to inertia, your body will still want to continue traveling in that direction. Normally, if you were doing another flip-flop, you would stick your feet in front of you to maximize that backward momentum, right? Unfortunately if you were to do this into a back tuck, you would keep flying backwards and get very little height. But you don't want to go straight up either. So, this is where you need to snap your upper body from the hollow position to an open-shoulder, open-hip position. You might want to think of this as a slight arch, but it is very slight. You still want to maintain a tight alignment.

One drill you can do to work on this is to do a round-off back handspring and punch up onto a stack of 8-inchers. Start off with one or two, and you should be able to punch out of your round-off back handspring such that you land no more than couple feet past the front edge of the mats. When this becomes easy, add more mats.

My gym didn't have a tumble track when I was training, but in the past few years, I've seen the value of such a piece of equipment. If your gym has one, it is a great place to learn round-off flip-flop backs because you can get a lot of height without too much effort and focus more on the technique of the back tuck. Keep in mind, however, the timing is very different on the tumble track so you will have to learn how to modify the timing of your back handspring when you switch from floor to tumble track and vice versa.

Of course, NEVER attempt to do a back tuck unless you are closely supervised by a coach and spotted when you are first learning them. Going into the air upside down is potentially very dangerous. But if you are truly ready, and have good back tumbling foundations (i.e. good round-off back handsprings), your coach will let you know when you can start learning back tucks. It will take time, lots of practice, lots of drills, and definitely a lot of tries. Good luck!