Many gymnastics coaches do not assign enough sport specific conditioning or understand the mechanics of the cast on bars. When the gymnast attempts to cast before her shoulders are in the correct position, her body goes out rather than up. She also has less momentum if she attempts to cast after her legs reach the front support position with her feet behind her. The gymnast’s legs do not have as efficient a cast as she does when she leans forward to see her knees before she casts.
A gymnast must see her knees before she attempts to cast. Her body must go from the pike position to nearly straight (hollow) position rather than from straight to arched for a proper cast handstand. In other words, a gymnast must get her shoulders over the bar before she attempts to kick her legs for the cast. She must compress well and lean forward enough to place her shoulders in a planche position. Many gymnasts do not understand the concept of keeping their feet in front of the bar (or seeing their feet) out of the kip before the cast. This is mostly a timing issue, but also a lack of understanding of the momentum and body shapes. With the cast handstand, if the timing is correct it will be much easier to form the correct shapes.
An arch in the back is not the proper body position for a cast to handstand. Many gymnasts arch because they are trying to cast from an already straight shape rather than from the compressed shape. Coaches should not allow their gymnasts to cast with an arch because that can easily become a bad habit which is very difficult to correct.
So many gymnasts also struggle with this skill because they lack the upper body strength required to lift their body. The cast handstand is a simulation of the front lateral raise exercise that many exercise enthusiasts perform with only with a fraction of their weight. As a fitness trainer, I have seen many female clients struggle with less than 5%-10% of their body weight during this exercise. Even the more advanced fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders only use a fraction of their body weight with this exercise. A gymnast must be able to open the shoulder angle completely with a little momentum and enough strength to lift most of her bodyweight.
Perhaps, knowing this, the gymnastics coach can help their young gymnast progress toward their goal, the cast handstand, by allowing small increases in strength when using dumbbells or a toning bar for conditioning. A great step would be to use extremely light weights, such as wooden dowels to teach the mechanics of the cast. Once the mechanics are mastered, the young gymnast can graduate to a 1.5 – 2 pound dumbbell in each hand. Take precautions! Many children, although they have recently become accustomed to literally tossing their body weight around during gymnastics training, have no experience using weights for strength training.
Here is one very useful gymnastics drill that simulates the cast handstand.
The Straight Arm Cast / Lift Drill: Have your gymnast sit on the floor with their knees bent and back against padded wall. Next, have them hold two very light dumbbells with their palms facing the floor and the weights resting on the floor until they are ready to begin the exercise. Instruct your gymnast to raise their arms forward and upward toward the ceiling, simulating the cast to handstand. (front lateral raise) Once at the top of the lift, allow your gymnast to lower their arms\the weights by bringing their hands forward then to a low front position. Be sure you instruct your gymnast to keep their elbows nearly straight, but not locked on this drill. Once your gymnast has done an assigned number of repetitions, have them perform a tight hollow cast on bars. Remember, it will take time before your gymnast will build the strength to literally lift their body weight using this very small muscle group.
Here is another very useful gymnastics drill is using fitness bands or surgical tubing as the resistance.
Band Cast: Wrap a therapy band or surgical tubing around the base of very sturdy equipment, such as beam, vault, or bar base. Have your gymnast lie on their back and grasp the band or surgical tubing. Their feet should be closer to the base than their head and instruct your gymnast to bend their knees. Once your gymnast is in place, instruct them to hold the band very tight as they pull the band from their thighs toward the ceiling and then up toward their head while keeping their arms straight and close to their body. At this point your gymnast’s hands should be touching the floor and their arms should be close to their ears. Once they have completed the top portion of the exercise, allow them to return to the staring position. Instruct your gymnast to return the band slowly going toward the ceiling and then down toward their thighs. This should also closely simulate the cast to handstand.
After performing these drills frequently, your gymnast should become more accustomed to the feeling of lifting their arms forward and then up towards their head for the cast handstand.
Next, spot your gymnast for some cast handstand drills on bars. Have your gymnast start in a front support on the bar. Once they are in place, instruct them to cast. First, have them bend at their hips and lean forward. Instruct your gymnast to look for her knees. Once she can see her knees, instruct your gymnast to kick her legs up toward the wall behind her. Instruct her to push her hips off the bar and then push down on bar with her arms and upper body. Remember, your gymnast must remain tight and hollow throughout the skill. Be sure your gymnast leans well over the bar and be prepared for her to collapse if she lacks the strength necessary. Hold the front of her shoulder to prevent her arms from bending in addition to spotting her legs. Most gymnasts have a tendency to cast back and not up because they fail to lean forward enough. Once your gymnast’s hips are off the bar, you can catch her shins and hold them in the tight and hollow position. Make any corrections necessary at this point. Once you and your gymnast are comfortable with this position, instruct and help your gymnast to rock forward (planche) and back to gain strength in her abdominal and upper body muscles. Once your gymnast is comfortable remaining tight and hollow while you rock them forward and back, lift your gymnast up to the handstand. (Take precautions! Make sure your gymnast can remain tight and you are strong enough to spot.) You may need to add each step over the course of several weeks or months, depending upon the gymnast’s individual strength. After the correct handstand position has been attained, return your gymnast back to the bar in a front support position. Eventually, your gymnast should be able to perform several repetitions each turn.
Remember, good form is just as essential during casts as with all other gymnastic skills. The cast handstand takes a great deal of time and effort to achieve, but it can make the difference between the state champion and everyone else. There are more gymnastics drills and conditioning exercises for the cast handstand in the book, “Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning Exercises.”
Always keep safety in mind while training. Please remember that you are responsible for your own personal safety. If you are a coach you are responsible for the safety of your athletes.