Starting the straddle

The move that most people hate is the straddle. Some call this the middle split, others the side splits, others, names that cannot be published.

It is one of the key positions in gymnastics (along with others).

Just as a test, Im going to trial several types of Straddle development .

Before I start, for a matter of record  on the floor with my legs wide apart , my straddle angle was 145 ( 31st January 2014)

35 Degrees to go.

The 1st thing I did was to lie on the floor with my bottom against the wall and let my legs open. After 2 sets of 30 seconds, I re-measured the angle and it was 160.

For the next  30 days ,  Im going to do 3 x floor holds of 1 minute trying to keep my heels down and edging my hips forward, and 3 sets of wall straddle. Static stretching (like this)  is very unpopular in therapy circles.

so over the next 3 weeks, I laid on the floor, with my bum against the wall, and pulled my legs down.


On the 18th of February , after warming up and doing  several 3 step run ups to a front tuck, my adductor popped. The damage was deep into its attachment to my pelvis. It was so painful that it took  6 days for the  bruising to appear. Im still hobbling

adductor bruise

So, stretching, especially if you are old, needs to be gentle…..

scapular strength

I had a nasty injury last week so this blog fell quiet.  I did however get to spend some time with the world famous Stuart McGill, so I’ve had some time to think about back posture and to merge those thoughts with gymnastic practices.

Over the weekend, I saw compulsive evidence that the lordotic posture is ideally protective of the back. In gymnastics we  often use a kyphotic posture, but this posture may not be the best for back health. Sports are frequently fun: they are not necessarily healthy.

At this stage, Ill accept the kyphotic posture is essential, but, why not try and train as much as we can in a lordotic posture to promote back health. At the time I was thinking of training straddle lift to handstand,  This is often trained as  a vertebrae by vertebrae pull. Coach Sommer argues for  a “jefferson curl” where the trainee lowers a bar by flexing through the spine.

One of the factors in  the straddle lift is a strong shoulder pull, so I slung this exercise together to train shoulder strength, while maintaining a neutral spin

you can start with the arms further back
If you load with dumbbells , you may need your arms to go a bit wider


Drills that substitute weights for gymnastics are not ideal, so this is an extra, cannot get to the gymnanstic gym, drill. it does strengthen the shoulder and preserve the back

Getting a leg over, helps your bar muscle up

If you are sad like me, you really do spend hours leafing through old books. After a while you begin reflecting on the bar muscle up. Its not an easy skill, and it requires a fair bit of specific strength, and a helpful “crunch” at the crucial moment.

In the learning stages, maybe  lever yourself up with  a leg and practice popping that elbow into the air as your leg wooshes down.

Thanks once more to the gymnasts of old!

My love of wallbars

I think I got to use some wall bars in an early PE lesson, probably 45 years ago. Since then, wall bars were something that stood unused in school gyms.

It was a delight to have Alex Jerrom bring them back into my consciousness. We got a small set for Crossfit London at Bethnal Green E2 and now, almost daily. I try and do something on the wall Bars.

Many people are now discovering that wall bars are an essential part of developing body weight  exercise and gymnastics. Its great to see the Coach Sommer recommends them too.

I see lots of publications making the rounds, pretending to promote new and creative wall bar exercises. Im lucky to be an avid book fan, so rather than fritter a fortune on line on badly researched E-books, I get to go to my library.

I love “Gymnastik Atlas” by  J.G. Thulin. published in 1928. Im going to try and work through the  Wall bar exercises that are scattered throughout this amazing book

Here is  a great Hamstring stretch. It helps develop your pike. Notice how the gymnast has walked his feet as near to his hands as his flexibility can stand. The crouch position takes the stretch off, straightening the leg, puts the stretch back on

wall bar hamstring

Starting the bridge

The reality is that you don’t need a bridge, but, its something you can work on at home, so why wouldn’t you? Im not a fan of bridge training in the gym, as gym time tends to be valuable and there is a lot you should be doing.

If you can improve your flexibility as a break from sitting down and lounging around the house, I think you should.

This this my bridge  on the 31st Jan 2014. In all honesty it has been better in the past. My regime to improve this will be 3 x10 second hold a day.

So, here are the results on 7th February ( same year)

Not brilliant, but, my arms are straight . It shows what can be done in 7 days. Don’t give up!! Most days I tried 3 x 10 seconds. I’ve never counted 1-10 so fast!

I’ll add other drills soon

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Diagnosing my round-off issues

Here is the grim truth. Apart from my lunge problems, I have a “where my hands go” problem. Green is where my hands should be, blue is where they go.

So 1st port of call when fixing your round off is to draw around your feet and try a round off with your hands covered in chalk.

It gives you grim feedback. If your ego can cope!

You can then take a video clip and watch the disaster in “SLOMO”

This, is surely, partly to do with shoulder flexibility

So here is how to begin to fix it.

1) Position specific work

hold the position against the wall

Try this yoga type exercise

2) generic Shoulder flexibility work

I’ll add a link once Ive finished the video

Its the tucks again!

A useful exercise using a swiss ball and some parrallettes. Hold the tuck, and squeeze it in. Then extend out into a straight shape, then pull it back in. Repeat.

As you get better, focus on lifting the hips in the tuck, but do squeeze the knees into your chest. Notice in the tuck your back is rounded.

The importance of conditioning the tuck

One of the crucial abilities in gymnastic tumbling is the ability to pull your knees into your chest and make a ball: The Tuck.

If you cannot, or won’t, ‘Tuck” your tumbles will be  open,  slow and difficult to land.

This means that you must get your  calves  to stick to your hamstrings and your knees to your chest with a rounded back . The G force of most tumbles will try and rip this shape apart. Make sure you can squeeze the tuck both through body control ( abs, chest and leg compression) and by pulling your knees in by grabbing your upper shin’s. As much time as you spend dish and arching, allocate to the tuck, especially if you are open  and lazy in your front and back tuck. On the whole, get this shape with the head sort of  neutral, not  massively strained back ( you are preparing for both a front and back tuck).

If you were taught the basics properly, you will be used to this position in your forward rolls. As an adult, most gymnastic teachers will shy off demanding that you properly tuck in your rolls, and thus leave you unconditioned. The forward roll will put you into a tuck by the nature of the move, but its more a “flop into place tuck” than one you have worked for. I’ll post more later, but hold that tuck in  a variety of positions.

IMG_1591 OIMG_1592

Round-off: failure to land in a lunge

This is a major problem for me and other adult (learner)  gymnasts. In order to round-off , the  leading leg needs to be able to support a deepish lunge position that allows the energy to be transferred forward. Quickly. Then snapped straight, to drive the leg up to catch the other one up.

Its  a problem frequently overlooked and seems to haunt those who have done “proper” exercise. A “proper” exercise lunge ( or the split jerk in Olympic Weightlifting) will demand an upright torso, and probably the heel down on the leading leg.

It is aimed at keeping energy centred, not “rolling it” forward.

You need to be able to direct the lunge forward with a knee bend and not prematurely straighten it.

For now, start building a bit of static “round off lunge” position into your life. It is true that you will never hold the position as the energy is going forward, but when I started to correct this position with my coach, I found that I could not hold this position. I’ll blame a dodgy adductor muscle for now, but the reality is, if I couldn’t hold it, why would I be able to jump into it? The front foot is more on the ball of the foot than the heel, and my shoulders are forward, Neutrali(ish) spin.

Add this to your practice. Once you have it you can begin to turn your upper body away in “proper” preparation of the round off.