I stumbled upon an article on twisting that got me thinking about something that I had not emphasized before. The article mentioned the arms going a little bit wide when setting for a twist. Not horizontal wide, but maybe a little more than shoulder width. This instantly made sense to me because I often talk to the kids about increasing spin and rotation. I ask them if they have ever spun around in a chair with their arms and legs out and what happens when they pull them in tight. They all usually answer that they spin faster. I started to emphasize a high, wide arm position when taking off for twisting forward and backward. It has helped with the kids that like to twist early and it has also helped a lot with those tricky double fulls and rudis that like to fall backwards. Try it and see if it works for you!
I have sat through so many lectures and had so many discussions on twisting that it can make my mind numb just thinking about them. There are sooo many different opinions about twisting. Which way? How do you determine which way? Is one way better than the other? Does anybody really have the answers?
My answer to that is… No. I don’t think anybody really has all the answers. Kids can be screwy sometimes when it comes to twisting. What matters most, in my opinion, is that the kids can twist and twist well.
Here are some of my thoughts about twisting. I will begin with the cartwheel, roundoff, and the usual level eight bar pirouette. All of these skills are change of direction skills and don’t count as twisting to me. Why do we do a roundoff? To turn around and tumble backwards. Why do we do a cast handstand pirouette on the low bar? To get your requirement and turn around so you can do your high bar. These skills are stand alone, in my opinion.
Now this is where things get confusing. Let’s use a round off for example. My left hand goes down first on the floor, which way did I twist? My belly turned to the right. It is technically a right twist. I know lots of coaches say that you should twist right because of this. I disagree. The round off is a skill to turn around, but I do use the hand placement to determine twisting direction. I want left handed round off children to turn left, front and back. The main reason I really have a preference is because of what the elites are doing now. The round off, one and a half, step out through to… You know what I mean. That pass is super common and I love it. You can do this type of connection with arabians, halves, and one and a half twists. If I round off left but twist right, I will have to do a right round off out of my twist so I can step out.
So for me, left round offs twist left and right round offs twist right. Forward and backward twisting should be the same in my opinion. You have to be really careful to train your eyes to see which direction the kids are twisting. Watch their bellies to see which way they turn. My background is in trampoline and tumbling and I did a lot of multiple flipping and twisting. It is easy enough to get lost when doing skills like this. I was fortunate to have a wise coach who made sure I learned to twist the proper directions and I didn’t have much of a problem when I did multiple flipping and twisting. I watched many other athletes struggle because they would get lost doing skills like half in, full outs or even half in, half outs. I know not all of our athletes will be able to do skills like this, but it made me more particular about twisting.
On to bars for now. I said the level eight pirouette was just a change of direction for me but some coaches use it to determine which way a child should do a blind change or a giant full. I have my left round off athletes pick up their left hand and turn and vice versa. That is for no huge particular reason other than I think kids tend to be a little stronger with that arm because it is on the ground first, and sometimes more violently, in round offs. I don’t have any hard facts to back that up, but I haven’t had a problem with left round off kids picking up their left hand and turning it for their level eight pirouettes. I mentioned that some coaches use the level eight pirouette to determine which way you should blind or giant full. The thought process is this. If I am use to picking up my left hand on the level eight pirouette then when I do a giant full you want to end up turning the last half on that same arm. This would mean I would giant full to the right, and blind change for that matter. For me… that’s too much. I know there are plenty of coaches that have had success doing this, but I don’t prefer it.
For me, blind changes are sort of layout arabians. Lefties go left and finish their twist before handstand. A giant full is like an early full twist. Lefties go left. To me… that makes things simple. The eight pirouette is basically a cartwheel, the blind is an arabian, and the giant full is a… full. I want twisting dismounts to twist the same direction, I want geingers to turn the same direction , and I want overshoots to turn the same direction. That is… lefties go left, righties go right.
So to recap. Everything goes the same direction, except the cast handstand pirouette and cartwheels and round offs. This is my perfect scenario. Right now in my gym, this is the way everybody does all their twisting and pirouetting. I, admittedly, stay away from the floor and beam dance, but I know that the girls do some different directions on their leap and jump connections. I don’t feel like that is a big deal because you aren’t inverting. That is when the kids can get crazy.
I feel like no twisting post would be complete without a how to. The most simple things I have ever heard have also been the most effective. Al Fong said, “Layout, land, jump half turn. Half, land, jump half turn…” He did this all the way to three and half twists. The other simple answer is a little bit more of a funny story. In 2008 I was able to attend National Congress in Philadelphia. Valeri Liukin was doing a lecture on bars and this was, of course, when Nastia was wowing everybody with her high flying and wonderful pirouettes. A lady raised a hand and stood up to ask a question. She said, “How did you teach Nastia to do all of those pirouettes?” Everybody seemed to hold their breath, waiting on the most insightful and amazing bit of information ever. Valeri stood there with sort of a funny look on his face and said, “On the floor.” I remember sitting back in my chair and thinking… well that’s too simple. He has to do more than that. But no. He went into his lecture and showed all of the pirouetting drills that he did on the floor and floor bars, against the wall, and on low bars or high bars with spot, eventually.
We adhere to these things pretty strictly in our gym. Bar pirouettes are taught on the floor or on the floor bar first, twisting is taught with a landing and then a jump half turn, and beam things are taught on the lines on the floor. If there are problems, we always go back to the floor and work on it. Simple is usually best. For example, learning to twist. A strong layout is a prerequisite, in my opinion. We start on the trampoline with layout, land with arms up, bounce half turn. Once they are comfortable we move on to trying to do the turn just before you land. If successful, we repeat. When they don’t do it right, they go back to land, bounce half turn. We keep going back and forth and then give them manageable advancements like back with a half, land with arms up, bounce a half turn. We do this for front and back twisting. The reason I like this is because it is really simple to determine which way is left and right when you are on your feet and it teaches them to turn late in the beginning. Tom Forster said it best, “When we teach them to do it late, it becomes early. When we teach them to do it early, it becomes earlier!”
The one small problem I have had with the land, bounce a half method is the double full. I have seen some issues with front double fulls also. That little tiny extra half can make things so much harder. I believe a huge problem is that kids get excited because you said to do a double and they go really hard, landing on their backs or faces depending on which way they are twisting. For these skills you need to teach the kids how to stall the flip. I like to teach my kids to try to set a really high, slow back layout with a quarter twist. I want them to set their arms a lot wider than normal as well. The reason for this is I want them to take care of the high, slow layout and initiate their twisting. The wide set is so when they wrap in tight they can accelerate even faster. Think about spinning in some sort of office chair with your arms and legs out really wide. What happens when you pull them in tight? You spin way faster. Same principle. I see a lot of double fulls that are still twisting as they are landing. They usually end up at the one and three-quarter point when they land. If you watch the twist, the full is really fast, the next half is pretty slow, and the last half doesn’t even make it around. That is why I want them to initiate the quarter, or half, twist as they set the high, slow layout. When they wrap from wide to narrow, they will spin fast and be able to finish their double full much quicker.
One very large common problem I see is the wrap itself. I see all these kids at meets or at camps nervously preparing to do their full and frantically practicing how hard they are going to throw their arms in crazy positions. The full is attempted and usually all they did was drop their shoulder back and down and do a scary full, landing with their chest down after piking it down. First of all this rehearsal drives me nuts and is non-productive. Second, go watch elite trampolinists. Their twists are with their arms locked at their sides. No crazy diving positions or windmill/hurricane arms. My personal thoughts are that the arms do nothing except accelerate the twist by helping the body become more narrow. The body does the twists, the arms assist. As I learned to twist I had a wise man teach me to do fulls and double fulls with my arms out straight to the sides, with my arms up above my head, with my arms locked to my sides, and even with my fingers in my ears. As scared as I was when I first attempted these twists… they were well worth it. I was never the model for athleticism or gymnastics ability, but I could twist quads front and back into pits without much of a problem when I was competing.
As for the arm position there are two people that have explained it really well that I liked a lot. Tom Forster said that you should teach kids to lift and pull in to twist. Think about standing on the ground with a rope in front of you. Reach up and grab the rope with two hands and pull yourself up to where your hands are. Your will stop pulling when your hands are at your chest. I hope this gives you the idea of what Tom meant. He demonstrated it during his clinic and it made sense when he showed it. Reach up and pull down into your chest. The other one was Marvin Sharp. He teaches his athletes to twist like a top. Stand on your feet, put your knuckles together and your elbows out to the side at shoulder height. The hands are in tight to the body and the elbows are out. What spins as good or better than anything? A top. Wide, but still tight, at the shoulders and elbows and narrow at the feet. Not that I count for anything as an athlete, but I twist this way and I have noticed that a lot of the best twisters twist this way also.
I think that the most simple way is the best way. I recommend teaching bar pirouettes on the floor and making sure that everything goes the same way, except the cast handstand pirouette. I recommend teaching front and back twisting with the land bounce half turn method and don’t be afraid to go back and forth in the steps until the kids are comfortable. I recommend that twisting be the same direction front and back, so keep a close eye on that. I also recommend having your left round off athletes twist left and vice versa. I DO NOT recommend trying to reteach somebody who has already been twisting for long while or who does it well. If you do decide to reteach twisting, you should find some creative way to make them think it is their idea to relearn how to twist. It will make the process a little easier.
If I can think of any other twisting information to add onto this I will, but that is all for now. Remember. Round offs are transition skills, as are the cast handstand pirouette. Neither are twisting. Everything else can, and should, go the same direction. That is… in my opinion, at least.