increasing back flexibility

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Apr 3, 2008
My daughter doesn't have the best back or shoulder flexibility. She is very strong and has been since she was little. She is 9 1/2 and competed level 4 this year!!! Bars are her best event and she even has her kip... I think her worrst thing is her back walkover's.. her arms dont stay next to her ears most of the time, they are spread out farther!! I'm assuming this is due to the flexibility issues.. She LOVES gymnastics and wonder if her career is over due to the lack of flexibility in her back!!!! her back tucks look good and so do her front tucks.. it's those darn BWO..... most of all she LOVES gymnastics and is very determined !!! Although this is down the line, I know when she gets to level 6, there might be issues on the beam!!!

I appreciate any help!!

a concerned gym mom!!!!
We dont teach any back flexibility at my gym. We do however encourage shoulder flexibility. We stretch childrens shoulders but you would need a coach to show you how as it is easy to stretch the wrong bit. Children can hold the back of a chair with straight arms and bend at the waist to make a flat back standing pike shape and push their shoulders down themselves at home. Just make sure the tummy stays pulled up and the bottom tucked under or they are just bending their back and not their shoulders.
Hi Jean. Your DD and mine sound very much alike. Both 9 1/2, L4's with lots of higher skills and sometimes too much enthusiasm to advance these talents.

Increasing the range of motion in one's back and shoulders is about stretching. How's her bridge? Are her arms by her ears, legs straight, and shoulders past vertical? The latter is by far the hardest do to with her limited range of motion in her shoulders. When she practices them, have her hold her shape a little longer, but also to use her legs to try to push her shoulders past her hands. As always, tummy in, butt tight.

To stretch the shoulders, she should warm up with lots of small and large windmills in both directions. Also, Arm swings front and back. The arm swings should be as far as she can reach. This action is a dynamic stretch, so don't hold any swings, just swing strong, and close to the body in a variety of directions. Really get these muscles warm and tired before doing any static stretches. Cold muscles don't stretch. They react more like rubber bands. Whereas warm/tired muscles will elongate before retracting.

Once warm, cross one arm straight across the line of the shoulder, holding it horizontal, and using the other hand to push the arm (above the elbow) closer to the body. Hold for 15 seconds, switch to the other arm. Repeat 3 times.

Then, raise one arm, always palm to the cieling, reach over the head as far as she can go, leaning into the direction of the stretch. Hold the longest range for 10 seconds, then switch arms. Repeat 3 times. (can also be done while sitting or in a straddle, the other hand can grab the wrist and pull the arm farther)

Lastly, sitting up on the floor, legs straight in front of her, have her put both arms straight behind, shoulder width apart, elbows locked, palms down. Then slowly lay back, reaching and extending the arms farther behind her. Hold the tightest position for 20 seconds, rest for 15, then do another 20.

All these stretches can be done at anytime -- even during Zake and Cody. But to increase her range of motion, they need to become a daily routine. Just once in a while doesn't really cut it when it comes to shoulders.

(Saftey tip: Don't help with any static stretches like I see some do on You tube. This is dangerous territory.)

Lastly, when she does her handstands, RO, and ROBHS, try to get her to consiously reach her arms up high and close to her ears. This is a problem my dd has as well. Our couch suggests that when reaching up, if she can get into the habit of touching her finger tips together, it will help remind her to get her arms up. It also trains the motion so the hands and fingers look nicer and more ballet-like when doing the skills.

Of course -- easier said then done. Old habits are hard to break.

Hope it helps,

Check out:
It has a nice section on stretching.
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Wow, thanks for all the great tips. To answer your question, when she does a bridge, you can tell she does't have great flexibility. Her arms sorta stick out to the side!! I've been having her do those walking back bends down the wall into a bridge and then have her told the bridge. Tonight, I had her thumbs and index fingers to make a diamond shape and go into a bridge and OMG what a difference and she could tell the difference!! She felt like a feather when I spotted her instead of heavier like it usually does. I will add the exercises you suggested and I appreciate both of you taking the time to help me out!!!

Does lack of this flexibility hamper a gymnast from moving up??

Thanks :)
I know what you mean.
I wish my DD was so determined with learning division as she is with her gymnastics routines.

Does lack of this flexibility hamper a gymnast from moving up??
That depends on the gym. In our gym, it certainly would. The required skills need to be done to at least 75% or greater to the desired form. Bad form is hard to fix if not corrected early on. But again, that's up to the coaches level of tolerance.

Advancements aside: Good flexability also means less chance of injury and an increase in strength. Over-extending can be very painful and could knock her out of gym for long periods while recovering. Flexability take time, effort and a good understanding of good & correct stretching techniques. And while she can do these stretches daily, as long as she's warmed up, she can also over-do it too. Muscles need downtime to repair themselves.

When she does a bridge, you can tell she does't have great flexibility. Her arms sorta stick out to the side!!

Ha. I know that position. :)

Tape two 5' - 6' strips of masking tape to the carpet (or a mat preferably), about a foot apart. Have her aim to keep her hands and feet on the inside edges these marks. She should strive to keep her legs as straight as possible, heals together, feet flat and pointed. Like I said before, work on this first... then work on pressing shoulders past vertical. Few L3-L4 girls can, but those that do also seem to master other skills (esp on bars), much more quickly.

She felt like a feather when I spotted her instead of heavier like it usually does.

That's one of those "ding ding... now we get it" moments.

But.. In my opinion, be careful about how much you get involved with gym skills. Kind of a fine-line there. When my dd practices at home, I'll critique her form, but only if she asks. I don't want to discourage her, or reduce her confidence. Remember that fine line... if your spotting, your coaching. Spotting bridges and handstands isn't a big deal, but that's were I ended it. Leave the acrobatics in the gym with trained, and hopefully certified coaches and spotters. The risk of a serious injury doing gym at home can be enourmous.

Conditioning & stretching at home, on the other hand, is loads of fun if you do it with her!! (nudge nudge..hint hint)

Keep us informed on her progress. I love reading progress reports.
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Lack of shoulder flexibility really hurts a lot of kids from moving past the BWO in L6 or tweaks their back. Back extension roll doesn't lead to optional levels skills as much and is a harder skill to perfect in a routine.

Poor shoulder flexibility doesn't help front tumbling either. It can hinder back tumbling but will hinder front tumbling even more besides pirouetting in a handstand ( turning ).
Yes.....stretching frequently improves ANYBODY'S flexibility (no matter what age!). I've seen several girls master new skills when they focused on stretching more. I think you will be amazed at how much is gained when you add serious stretching to the warmup.

Thanks again for your responses. Her front tumbling so far looks really good.. Her front tuck is good, she's on her way to the front walkover.. her back handsprings are looking really good too.......I started her with private lesson for tumbling that's not at her gym.. I asked this coach, who has a big gymnastics background, about her flexibility.. he said she seems to have very good shoulder flexibility, it seems like it's more back flexibility then anything.. Is this still a concern to move up......

I read somewhere that level 6 would be the hardest to get through if you cant do the bwo on the beam, but once you got past that level, you just keep the bwo out of your routines when you hit level 7.
As far as back flexibility goes, BHS on beam is easier on the back than BWO.

There are a many difficult things about BHS on beam that have little to do with the shoulder flexibility unless it's really bad. Most kids tend to have shoulders closed too much in the BWO and BHS on beam though.
Inadequate shoulder flexibility is generally the problem I see. As a general rule, I focus on the shoulders/upper back rather than overdoing the lower back. A lot of girls do BWO incorrectly, head in the wrong position, jumping back, don't understand the shoulder extension to help pull through vertical. If she can't do a strong bridge kickover, she needs to go back and work on that before the walkover. Otherwise a reasonably good practice thing for this issue is standing a few feet from the wall, back to the wall, lean back until hands touch, walk hands down (get close to bridge or put hands on floor in bridge) and then walk back up to stand. Don't overdo it. There's no point in moving up just have to career ending back injuries.

Tight hip flexors are often a problem. In fact I'd say just as likely to be the issue than the lower back. Seal stretch in limited amounts is okay. Can also stand and pull the heel back towards the bottom - see how her quads are. Not too much, can be hard on knees. Splits and oversplits if she doesn't have them. Make sure it's all square. She can do it with her hands on two phone books or something, legs in the middle. Start completely square and lower down as far as possible.

Shoulder flexibility is somewhat important on beam BHS. But honestly it does not take intense amounts of flexibility to pass through an open handstand position. I have below average shoulder flexibility for an upper level optional and I find it hard to keep my shoulders open on beam but really what probably hurts me more is the tight hip flexors. I have to work pretty hard to leave the second leg "behind". It's hard to keep your shoulders open when you're bringing that second leg over too fast. Any two foot BHS I do on beam or floor is fine.

I know girls that have so-so walkovers on beam and better back handsprings. It's not ideal, but it happens. I have some trouble with BWO on beam because I have scoliosis, but when I was training beam more often I learned to adjust. It was never really a strength, but that happens.
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