How To Do A Gymnastics Cartwheel

The cartwheel is a basic gymnastics skill that everyone can learn very easily. It’s a fun skill that can turn into a great family activity. Even Mom & Dad can learn a cartwheel using our tutorials below.

Two Basic Cartwheel Variations

Let’s start with the two basic types of cartwheels in gymnastics. The side cartwheel and the front to back or lunge to lunge cartwheel. As you try to learn or teach your child a cartwheel… make sure you have a soft surface such as a gymnastics mat.

Side Cartwheel

The side cartwheel is always the first cartwheel that I teach as a coach. This is not a cartwheel that starts in a lunge position… rather… you start and finish sideways. The 4 basic steps for a side cartwheel are below…

Side Cartwheel GIF

Step One: Start Sideways

Start sideways if you are doing a side cartwheel. Look to the side and create an imaginary line with your mind. You will be reaching to the ground with your lead hand and placing it on the line. Your lead hand is not always your dominant hand for writing.

Put Your Hands Down Sideways

Whatever leg you move towards… then same hand will go down first (for example… if reach towards your right leg… then your right hand will go down first). Once your first hand touches… then the other hand will go down. Your hands should be on the ground approximately shoulder width apart.

Kick Your Feet Over Your Head

As your first hand touches the ground… the far leg will be kicking into the air above your head. As your second hand touches the ground… your feet and legs will be over your head in a straddle handstand position.  Make sure you don’t have your knees bent when you are upside down.

Land Sideways

As your first foot touches the ground… your hands will start to leave the ground so you can stand back up. Since you are performing a side cartwheel… stand up to a side facing position

Lunge To Lunge Cartwheel

Cartwheels that start and finish in a lunge are slightly more complex than the side cartwheel. This is the type of cartwheel you want to practice if you want to get a good roundoff.

Lunge to Lunge Cartwheel GIF

Start In a Lunge

Unlike a side cartwheel… a cartwheel from a lunge starts facing forward. Your front leg should be bent and your back leg should be straight in a lunge position. Your arms should be raised up above your head.

Put Your Hands Down Sideways

As you kick your back leg in the air… reach for the ground with your hands and place them down sideways one at a time.

Kick Your Feet Over Your Head

As your hands go down… jump the second leg off of the ground so that both legs are now moving above you in a straddle position.

Land In A Lunge

The leg that started in the back will come over and down to the ground first. Just stand up on it and finish in a lunge facing the way that you started.

Important Concepts

Weight Transfer

Learning to transfer the weight from the feet to the hands is a very important concept that must be learned. Below are some very basic ways to practice weight transfer…

Animal Walks / Movements

Two of the best animal movements for the cartwheel are the bear walk and the donkey kick.

Baby Cartwheels

Doing small cartwheels or sideways donkey kicks over a panel mat is also a great way to practice weight transfer and build up towards higher cartwheels.

Handstands

While we are not going to cover handstands in this article… they are a great way to work weight transfer. I would recommend learning a 3/4 handstand before working on the cartwheel.

Rhythm (Hand… Hand… Foot… Foot)

Make sure you get things in the correct order with a good rhythm when you are practicing cartwheels. If you start with your…

  • Left foot in front = left hand… right hand… right foot… left foot
  • Right foot in front = right hand… left hand… left foot… right foot

While this isn’t really that difficult to understand… some athletes struggle with the rhythm of a cartwheel. By just explaining the order or counting 1… 2… 3… 4 out loud while they practice can really help.

Strength & Flexibility

The strength and flexibility required for a cartwheel are both very basic. For strength I would recommend the ability to do about 5 push ups and the weight transfer drills shown above.

As far as flexibility goes… I would just say warm-up and stretch out before you begin.

Even though strength and flexibility required to do a cartwheel is limited… the stronger and more flexible you are… the easier it will be. It will also allow you to move to more advanced cartwheel style skills such as the roundoff and the aerial cartwheel.

Cartwheel Machine

When teaching new athletes to do a cartwheel… I use what I call a “cartwheel machine”. All I do to create a cartwheel machine is draw four arrows and two triangles on the carpet with chalk like shown in the image below…

Cartwheel Machine
Cartwheel Machine GIF

I honestly never use cartwheel mats or little pictures of hands and feet when teaching cartwheels. Little arrows are much easier for young kids to understand than hands and feet. When you create your own cartwheel machine… you can easily customize it to the size and ability of the athlete as well. A taller athlete will have the arrows more spread out… an athlete that is better at their cartwheel will have the arrows closer to a straight line than a beginner.

Tip: If you don’t want to use chalk on your carpet at just use some athletic tape. Just be sure to take it off so it doesn’t ruin your carpet.

Practice… Practice… Practice

Once you have the basic concept of a cartwheel… you just need to practice. If you would like to progress fairly quickly… then I would recommend practicing your cartwheel at least 3 times per week. I would do 15 to 20 cartwheels each time you practice. Doing 50 cartwheels per week should help you improve quickly.

Remember not to push through any pain. Be especially aware of pain in the wrists and elbows.

Cartwheel Drills

There are hundreds of cartwheel drills that can be used to fix various problems or learn various stages of the cartwheel. As an experienced coach I would caution against too many drills. Most athletes learn this skill by practicing it with just a few drills.

Make sure whenever you are using a drill you have a purpose for it… not just because you saw it online. Each drill should be used to fix something or learn something. A drill with no purpose is a waste of time.

I’ll look for some cartwheel drill videos and post them in the comments of this article. If you have any cartwheel tips… post them in the comments as well.

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Please post drills & tips for cartwheels here.​

If you know a good Youtube video or social media post about cartwheels... please comment with the url.​

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Here is a basic cartwheel "how to" video...

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Here are some great drill videos...



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Here is a basic gymnastics class with kids learning how to do a cartwheel...

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