I don’t like the term “snap down” because it only describes some of what is going on in the skill. The lower body including the hips, legs, and feet do “snap down” to the ground in the end of a back handspring. But just as importantly, the upper body, arms, shoulders, and torso need to “block” off the floor and “snap up”. These movements should happen simultaneously with the body as one unit. For this reason I am always sure to make a note to my athletes that when I refer to “snap down” the full name is “snap down/snap up” but that for conversational purposes it will be shortened.Since the back handspring is such a complicated skill involving dynamic movements from many large muscle groups, your question will not have one simple answer. Instead will require multifaceted response that takes into account the many different muscle actions and how they can be improved individually.
The Core:First off I will look at the core. The core refers to the muscles that make up the torso including abdomen, back, and hips. It is imperative that your athletes have a strong core because it is what connects the upper and lower limbs making them work together. Proper core strength will also work with the upper and lower body to enhance the power behind their movements. This will not only help in a back handspring but will improve all elements of cheerleading.
Some great ways to improve core strength are with exercises such as tuck-ups, v-ups, arch-ups (also called supermans,) hollow body holds, crunches, side crunches, and the iso-hold (also called a plank.)
Most of all, its important to make sure you athletes not only have a strong core, but are engaging their core in the skills which progress to a back handspring. Focus on the handstand. Make sure your athletes are engaging their abdominals and glutes. Have them draw their belly button as if pulling it to their spine. Also have them “squeeze their cheeks as if holding in a fart.” (On a side note I would not advise saying the last one while they are in a handstand as it usually makes them giggle and fall over! haha)
As I said earlier the upper body will be “snapping up” during the end of a back handspring. The muscles used for this motion consist mostly of the shoulder, arms, and upper back. In the second half of the back handspring the arms should remain by, or slightly behind the ears maintaining an “open shoulder angle.” The shoulders should remain elevated and tight to allow the athlete to spring, or block, off of the ground.
One way I demonstrate this is to have my athletes understand this concept is to have them stand up tall with arms up and pretend to reach up for something that is on a shelf too high for them. The lift they feel though their shoulders and core is what they need to feel throughout the entire back handspring. I go on to further explain how when you are tight in your upper body by lifting like this your body will react to the floor similarly to how a basketball would by bouncing it. When you are not tight you are like a flat basketball and will lose your power when tumbling.
To strengthen the shoulders, again handstands are amazing since they are very similar to the movement in a handspring. I have my kids start in a pushup position with their feet on the wall and walk up the wall while pushing through their shoulders. Other exercises include explosive exercises such as pushup pops. Really anything that will get them inverted and putting weight on their shoulders will help.
One I find helpful is the handstand pop. Have the athlete kick up to handstand and bock to pop forward a short distance. This will promote the immediate block motion during the back and front handspring.
The lower body is consists of pelvis, legs, and calves. In the second half of the back handspring the pelvis will be tilted slightly forward creating a tight arch position. The legs will be straight the knee with the quad muscle engaged, as well as the toe pointed with the calf engaged. This is the result of a complete and powerful jump. From here the toes will snap down under the body as the hips will close from a tight arch position to a tight hallow position. It is important to note that the glutes must remain engaged to not allow the hips to overly close making the athlete pike down.
A good exercise to strengthen the muscles used here are “leg drops” have the athlete lay on their back while lifting their legs up to to a 90 degree angle. Have them drop their legs slowly to 6 inches off the ground and lift back up. If that’s easy have them do it on an elevated surface with their legs hanging off of it. This will provide a greater range of motion for the exercise.
A great drill for this is the handstand snap down. Have the athlete kick up to a handstand. After balanced have them open their hips and shoulders slightly to resemble the end of a back handspring. Then have them quickly snap their hips, and toes under then while standing up into a rebound.
Putting It All Together
The last thing I want to touch on is a drill that will help build power in the back handspring after all the basics have been learned and the skill can be done successfully and confidently.
*Before I tell you what it is I have to give credit to @
CoachDerek who I learned this drill from last year when we coached together at Woodward.*
Have your athlete perform their back handspring up an incline. This will make it harder to perform. They will have to jump harder, swing harder, block and snap harder in order to get over. Much like when someone runs up hill, your athlete will find that doing their handspring on the flat floor will feel easier, be stronger, and faster.
Again, that should only be done after the athlete has mastered the skill with correct technique. Even then, you might want to spot the first one your athlete tries since it will feel a quite different.
Anyways, I could go on forever and probably write a book on this. But as you can probably see from about half way through this post, when my paragraphs begin to lose their elaborate details, I am getting tired of writing for the day. Let me know if you have any questions.
Hope I helped answer your question,