A Simple Start to Gymnastics Most Challenging Skill Combination
The cartwheel is really a simple skill the hides its complexity in a tangle of physical and mental challenges. In the 2 – 5 seconds it takes to complete, your brain has to adjust to moving through different levels and angles, whilst it navigates the muscular, joint and ligament actions to rotate around 2 axis. Is it any wonder we can divide the world into those who can cartwheel and those who cannot?
What exactly is a cartwheel? When we slow it down, it looks a like this >
This highly complex skill looks effortless when gymnasts perform it on the beam or in their floor routines. Within a beam routine it is often a lead up to the next skill. It must be accurately landed on the 10cm wide beam to ensure the performer is in position for upcoming skill, whether it is a forward Salto, or a layout back twisting Salto to land and complete a routine.
The cartwheel rotates the body around the short axis (belly button) of the body. Of the three bodily axis, this is perhaps the most difficult to rotate around. For this reason, many adults declare, “I can’t do a cartwheel.” Of course they should be saying, “I have never learned a cartwheel!”
The second rotation is the hidden one, around the long axis of the body. This axis is our backbone. The body must turn 360 degrees on this axis. When teaching children, long axis rotation is a problem for a large number of them. Slowing the skill down over a block, into a 4 step process changes this very quickly. Younger children really enjoy doing Ninja Turtle cartwheels, with bent arms and legs to get this part of the skill. Once the 360 degree rotation is established, it is easy to focus on straightening the legs. Once the legs are straight, it is straight-forward teaching points to extend through the toes to develop to the next level.
2. Crossing the Brain’s Mid-lines
Rotating around the short axis strengthens the links between the left and right brain hemispheres. Both hemispheres are involved in coordinating this skill. Movement around the long axis, in addition to left and right links, requires neural actions in the perpendicular direction: front to back.
The cartwheel is a skill which strengthens the neural pathways within the brain a body. It is therefore not surprising that it is linked to academic performance and expanded creativity.
3. The Foundations Student’s Must Have
When learning any gymnastics, dance or yoga, diving or balance skill, a student must first have the correct foundations. Skills performed on the feet require teachers to look carefully at what the feet are doing, how they move or are placed and land. Seated skills require the same in the core and how to control the gluteals, hip joints and low back musculature and bones.
Cartwheels require hand balancing, even though it is for a short period of time. Teachers and coaches need first check students ability to carry their own body weight. If this is difficult additional preparatory or physical development skills will quickly improve upper body strength.
A few examples may be the plank position, then raising one leg at a time. Next steps may see students walk feet onto blocks, walls or apparatus to raise the legs and strengthen arms, wrists and finger muscles.
Whilst learning these skills, students are also becoming more familiar being upside down and pressing into hands and fingers. The ability to lock elbows is vital, as may be seen in elite cartwheels such as a vaulting skill that requires spring from the hands.
4.The Physical Links to Academic Learning Ability
When we transport the ability to learn a cartwheel (as compared to the ability to cartwheel) into the classroom, 25 years of primary teaching indicate that a student’s ability to learn a cartwheel directly corelates to their academic performance outcomes.
Watching any class group perform cartwheels for less than 2 minutes highlighted where student’s performed on national academic tests. Discussions with their class teachers verified that students cartwheel learning and development provided a direct link to how they learned new material or were ranked against their academic peers. The accuracy of this anecdotal measure was above 85%.
Applying the Cartwheel Measure to 2 million lessons provided clear correlations to data gathered by Buchele, et al (2018) who studied the attention and concentration improvements in year 5 students.
5.Cartwheel Extensions to Elite and Olympic Level
Once learned, the cartwheel is a skill that takes learners to many different directions. From the world’s greatest goal scoring soccer players, dancers, gymnasts and calisthenics performers. Elite gymnasts propel the cartwheel onto TV screen worldwide every world championships or Olympic games.
Embedded into routines on the floor, beam, vault and double mini trampoline the humble cartwheel is often missed as it propels the performer into another skill. An excellent way to come to a pause, change direction or regain balance, the cartwheel is best understood as a connecting skill. When a cartwheel is modified to include additional rotation, it allows the gymnast to stop, pause or reposition themselves on the floor or beam.
When you next head out to the park or beach, see what occurs when you stretch your arms further in front of your leading foot or place it closer to it. Is your cartwheel slower or faster? Which one is easier to land in a straight line (your imaginary beam)?
Buchele Harris, H., Cortina, K. S., Templin, T., Colabianchi, N., & Chen, W. (2018). Impact of Coordinated-Bilateral Physical Activities on Attention and Concentration in School-Aged Children. BioMed research international, 2018, 2539748. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/2539748