Back when I was a teenager (many moons ago), whenever someone found out I did gymnastics, the very first question they inevitably asked me was: “Cool! So can you like, do a backflip?”
“Of course” was usually my answer, knowing full well that their follow up would be a request to show it off.
You are watching: How to get a back tuck
And show it off I did!
When you learn a standing tuck, you have this urge to do it literally anywhere and everywhere. But if they wanted to see it a second time, it would cost them.
This little scheme resulted in 50% of my high school lunches being fully covered for. It even helped me break up a fight once – I mean, what kid in their right mind wants to take on someone who can backflip? So instead of wanting to put a fist through my face, it was instant friendship!
Basically, to me the standing tuck is not just some backflip, it’s an essential life skill. And today I want to teach it to you using the very methods that gymnasts, cheerleaders, martial artists and break dancers pay me good money for. Trust me, even if you’re just starting or have failed to nail your tuck in the past, you’re going to learn something new. And this time, it’ll stick!
Quick Warning: Please make sure that you do not attempt the techniques you see below without the professional supervision of a coach. Also, me being young and stupid does not mean you should go around doing back tucks everywhere. I will take no responsibility if you hurt yourself. Train smart.
If you’re a gymnast or cheerleader and you currently do not have a round-off back tuck, then standing tucks should be put on the back burner. Ideally, a round off back handspring tuck would be an even better base to start from. This is how I train all my competitive athletes.
The only time I make an exception to this rule is when break dancers, martial artists and parkour guys book a private lesson with me to exclusively learn a standing tuck. If you happen to be in this camp, then you might want to work with a certified coach to learn the round off tuck (it won’t take long and in the long run, you’ll have two skills to show off). Therefore, for the remainder of this guide I’m going to assume you already know how to do a round-off back tuck at the bare minimum.
Terminology GuideRO = Round OffBT = Back TuckSBT = Standing Back TuckBHS = Back Handspring
Phase 1: The Eagle
The absolute first thing I teach is something I like to call The Eagle position. This is crucial since 99.9% of the time athletes learn their BHS well before they get to tucks.
This means they most probably have a habit of keeping their chest upright.
An upright chest position is great if you want to go backwards, but a SBT requires height while minimizing any horizontal distance travelled.
In order to achieve this, you need to drop your chest. Also, just as in a BHS, a SBT requires a very aggressive arm swing and shoulder lift, giving you some added height (more on that soon).
Here are some key points to remember about The Eagle:
Head position stays neutral (i.e look straight ahead, not down or up)Drop your chest (but not so far that your torso is parallel to the floor)Arms go as far back as they canDo not sit all the way down (this is not a squat, so no need to go too low – thighs at a 45 degree angle is all you’ll need)Get into position slowly, but come out of it explosively
Drill #1: Eagle to Straight Jump (15 reps)
Be sure to follow the timing and rhythm exactly as shown. Do not rush it.A Vault is not required, you can used stacked mats or blocks. Just make sure it’s above-waist height.
Drill #3: Eagle To Dead-Bug Jump Back (30 reps)
Notice how I drive my hips into the air and appear to “float” for a second? This is what you’re looking for.Do not drive your knees & hips up quickly here, as it will cause you to rotate and land on your neck. You need to take the fall on your back. We’ll work exclusively on the rotation in Phase 2.Leave your arms up and do not drop them
Important Note Going Forward: Never initiate a standing tuck drill (or the tuck itself) from The Eagle or a hands-down position. Always start while standing on your toes with your arms by your ears. The reason for this is simple: you’re pre-practicing the position you want your body to hit in the air. The order of execution for a standing tuck are as follows: Stand tall > The Eagle > Straight Jump > Tuck. Memorize this.
Hand Placement During The Tuck
One of the worst trends I’ve been noticing over the years is when athletes grab either their hamstrings or the back of their legs during a standing back tuck (or even a RO BT).
Not only is this inefficient and hideous looking, but it gives you almost zero control, doesn’t translate well to helping you learn more advanced skills, and happens to be pretty dangerous.
Don’t believe me? Try out this experiment: While standing, bend over into tuck position, and put your hands on your shins. Now tilt forward as if you’re going to fall on your face but at the very last second, catch yourself with your hands. Chances are managed just fine and still look pretty.
Now go back into the tuck position and grab your hamstrings (behind the legs). Now tilt forward and try to catch yourself at the last second. This time around, you’ll notice there’s about a half-second delay in speed, and it was much harder.
In the world of tumbling, half a second might as well be as long as half an hour. It can mean the difference between saving yourself and falling straight on your face (see my case in point below):
Now granted, the people in the video were doing a lot of things incorrectly, but I’ve seen this exact incident repeat itself one too many times. So put your trust in someone who’s been doing this for a while and grab the shins. You’ll thank me later.
“But Coach, I feel like I need to pull my legs over, or I won’t make it!”
If you lack the core strength to drive your hips and snap your knees over your own head then you’re not ready for a SBT. You can easily test your tucking power by doing a RO BT without grabbing anything and leaving your arms by your ears. If you land short, you know your rotation speed is too slow, and needs work.
So instead of using a Band-Aid solution by pulling your legs over, work on your core strength and hip drive. It will not only improve your tucks, but further down the road it’ll make your layouts and fulls faster, prettier and safer.
Think about it for a second: you can cheat a tuck now, but what are you going to do when it’s time to work a layout double twist? Grab one side of your body and yank yourself over in mid-air? I think not.
“In the world of tumbling, half a second might as well be as long as half an hour”(Tweet This)
Phase 2: Tuck Timing & Rotation
The two biggest differences between a RO tuck and a standing tuck (besides the take off) are:
The speed of rotation.The timing of the “open” during landings.
While the actual rotation technique stays the same, you have much less time to make it over, requiring you to be explosive. This is why one of my favorite transitioning drills is a straight jump rebound to back tuck on a Tumble Trak, as seen below.
Drill #4: Straight Jump Rebound To BT (50 reps)
It’s extremely important to film yourself at this stage because if you’re making any of the common mistakes such as:
Not throwing your arms up and opening your shouldersThrowing your head backDropping your arms during the tuckNot having enough hip drive
…then you want to fix them now rather than later. Once you form a bad habit, it’ll take twice as long to learn it right.
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Drill #6: SBT Without Spot On Tumble Trak (50 reps)
Phase 3: Are You Strong Enough?
As a coach I make it my job to always be honest with my athletes – and sometimes, this requires telling them things they need to hear (even if they don’t want to). So let me just go on record to say that if you have a terrible vertical jump, the SBT will forever be out of your reach.
Unlike a RO BT where you can rely on technique, angles, momentum and a sprung floor to give you the height you need, the SBT requires you to generate power from next to nothing, and therefore, strength has a big role to play in the equation.
I’ve written an entire article on how you can boost your jumping power and I suggest you read up on it. Included in the article is also a conditioning program that you can use which relies on both explosive movements, proper squats and resistance training with weights.
If you don’t have access to weights, here’s a basic leg conditioning routine you can perform with just bodyweight:
Do this program 3x a week, either after your SBT training session or on days you’re not tumbling. Remember, conditioning doesn’t make you stronger right away – in fact it makes you weaker since your muscle fibers are put under stress, and experience micro-tears.
You become stronger once you’ve recovered. And how does your body recover? Well it needs two key ingredients: Sleep & Nutrition.
Don’t expect your muscles to be rebuilt bigger and stronger if you’re missing those two crucial ingredients. Generally speaking, a high protein diet is recommended but you should also know that carbohydrates help spare muscle tissue from breakdown during training. They key with carbs is knowing when to eat, what type and how much. For more details on that be sure to check out The Cheer Diet. It’s been specially designed to help improve the performance of hardworking cheerleaders and tumblers.
Drill #7: SBT From A Raised Surface, No Spot (30 reps)
There are multiple ways to set this up – I chose to utilize both a block and a softer mat on top of a resi pit for this particular athlete. You might have to make do with less equipment but the point is, you need to go off a higher surface that gives you zero bounce.As your SBT starts to get better, slowly increase the landing surface so that it starts to feel more like floor. Once you can land your SBT on a surface that is almost at the floor level, you’re ready for Drill #8.
Drill #8: SBT Into Levelled Pit, No Spot (50 Reps)
There’s a good reason why I’ve suggested doing so many reps – technique is everything, and before you try it on floor, you need to be extremely consistent in your pull.
Drill #9: SBT On Floor With Spot (15 Reps)
Make sure you have a spotter you know you can trust, this goes without saying.
Do not, under any circumstances, under-power or get lazy while attempting this final drill. If you’re too tried, take a break and do it when you have energy. If anything, you want to be extra-aggressive. Tumbling that’s fast and tight is will keep you safe. Tumbling that’s slow and loose will break you.
Last Few Pieces Of Advice
To this day, the standing back tuck happens to be one of my favorite skills to perform. And because I took the time to learn it right, it’s a skill that my old beat-up joints can still manage to do. I also give full credit to the great coaches I was fortunate enough to have in my corner.
At this point, the best advice I can give you is to not rush it, and follow the progressions while doing the recommended reps (or more).
Oddly enough, anytime you mentally prepare to learn a skill by taking as long as it’ll take, you end up learning it rather quickly. Tumbling works in mysterious ways. Good luck, train hard and let me know how you liked this guide in the comment section below. Also, please don’t forget to share this guide with your friends!
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