Are you (or your kids) having trouble getting started with the cartwheel? Are you unsure how to practice it effectively without falling on your face?
The cartwheel is a fundamental gymnastics skill that certainly takes some skill and determination to master.
Today, I’ll be dissecting and explaining the steps to executing an effective cartwheel, no matter where you’re at in your gymnastics journey.
You’ll learn about:
- The cartwheel and its background
- Cartwheel technique
- Different types of cartwheels, including both side entry and front entry
- What to look for when teaching someone to cartwheel
Let’s get started.
The cartwheel is:
- Synonymous with Gymnastics;
- An inverted skill, generally learnt after the handstand;
- Performed on floor and beam;
- Builds to its variation, the round off – which is the gateway to higher level gymnastics. The round off can be done on vault, beam, floor and bars (True! YouTube Aleftina Priakhina bars circa 1986-1987).
All cartwheels follow the rhythm Foot-Foot-Hand-Hand-Foot-Foot, but may have variations in direction and hand placement.
It’s important for continuity in gymnastics, that the front leg for a cartwheel should be the same front leg for a handstand.
This isn’t to say athletes should not train both legs – it’s a good mental challenge – but gymnastics is a sport that relies on ingrained habits and consistency, and same-leg dominance is part of preventing skill confusion.
All cartwheels should be…
… as tall as possible;
… have straight limbs with muscles squeezed;
… a wide straddle split with pointed toes;
… have fast turnover;
… and as straight body alignment as possible.
Gymnastics uses progressive steps to teach skills, so athletes should learn all variations.
All cartwheels should end up being able to be performed on a straight line or beam, but following a semi-circle shape is a great way to start!
All diagrams show a left leg cartwheel and the arrow indicates the direction of travel.
How to cartwheel
SIDE ENTRY CARTWHEELS
The Star Cartwheel
This is generally the first cartwheel an athlete will be taught, and at Artemis Gymnastics we teach these in our Foundation Gymnastics classes.
This cartwheel uses side-to-side rotation (the sagittal axis of rotation). It is one of the few skills in gymnastics that uses this rotation (other notable skills are side saltos).
It has a nice circular motion, identical to a ‘German wheel’.
- Athlete stands side on in a star shape – rocking side to side can help build momentum to kick over;
- Athlete reaches for floor with first hand, quickly followed by the second hand;
- Athlete briefly shows star handstand;
- Athlete keeps rotating over by pushing off their hands and places feet back on the ground one at a time.
The Speed Cartwheel
Speed cartwheels are useful for linking cartwheels together.
They generally have different foot directions – turned out feet to assist the constant rotation, and avoid the athlete having to pick their foot up and place it down again (generally a deduction in gymnastics, as the ‘series’ is then ‘broken’).
FRONT ENTRY CARTWHEELS
There are two types of front entry cartwheels:
- Front entry, star finish; and
- Front entry, (½ turn in cartwheel), front entry finish. This is the ‘Beam’ cartwheel and the best type of cartwheel for gymnastics.
We teach these cartwheels in Artemis Gymnastics’ JETs classes.
Front Entry, Star Finish
This entry looks like a handstand whilst the athlete is lunging, but a late 1/4 twist makes it become a cartwheel. It’s also usually the time “T hands” are introduced.
They help the athlete turn their body.
The ‘Beam’ Cartwheel – Front Entry, (½ Turn In Cartwheel), Front Entry Finish
This is the same as the front entry, star finish cartwheel, except for the crucial difference is that the athlete is going to add an additional ¼ turn, in order to finish the opposing way to which they started.
In essence, a beam cartwheel has a ½ turn in it, and this turn should be completed by the handstand part of the cartwheel. This allows the athlete to step down as if exiting a handstand.
It also makes it much easier to stay on balance on beam when using this method.
TEACHING YOUR CHILD TO CARTWHEEL
In order for your child to cartwheel effectively, you need to ask and ensure they are doing the following:
- Are they using the right sequence (F-F-H-H-F-F), and putting the correct hand down for the leg they have in front?
(If it’s a right leg in front, the right hand should go down first, and vise versa).
- Are they pushing off their hands as hard as they can? Are their arms as straight as they can be?
- Are they kicking with their legs, and stretching them as tall as possible? If a leg bends to push, does it straighten quickly?
- Are they looking at their hands?
- Is the skill travelling, or staying on the spot? It should travel.
- What are they telling themselves to do? If they are falling, how are they telling themselves to land? If the answer is “I don’t know” (or a puzzled expression), it may mean that they are not giving their body instructions. Without instructions, the body doesn’t know what it should be doing! So, a nice request like “Hey, body – let’s land this cartwheel standing up on my feet!” can help cement the instruction in the brain and give clarity and purpose to the next attempt.
And remember to provide a safe environment to practice cartwheels in, away from sharp objects – outside on grass or in the gym is best!
The Artemis Gymnastics club begins with Foundation gymnastics programs and extends into our JETS programs. It is open to all children aged 3 – 10 years of age.
Much like the steps to learning a cartwheel, our coaches will take each gymnast through a sequential learning experience to develop balance, coordination, strength, flexibility and confidence when learning to execute gymnastic skills.