Bend v. Sit

Bend v. Sit

Bend v. Sit

Over the years, I have learned that there are many ways in which basic back handspring technique is taught.  There are 5 essential steps to the back handspring approach: bend & swing, fall, jump (also known as “standing fast”), and the snap (or more accurately, pulling to handstand).  However, there is one very specific difference in the way coaches will teach the initial or starting position.

Many of the athletes I’ve worked with over the years have been taught to “sit” at the beginning of their back handsprings.  Put simply, this means that when they start in the standing position, they then proceed to drop their butts into a seated position.  I’ve found that this is fundamentally flawed when teaching back handspring technique, especially to new tumblers.  And here’s why:

When we sit, we place our weight and balance back into our hips.  When performing a back handspring, we want our backward momentum to happen in the “fall” portion of the approach.  By sitting and placing our weight in your bottom, you prematurely put your momentum backwards and “force” your fall.  This can cause athletes to skip the fall, causing them to “undercut” their back handspring.

This is why I prefer to teach my athletes to “bend” instead of sit.  By bending, you keep your weight centered, with your chest over your knees over your toes. This will accomplish 3 things:


It will keep you from skipping the fall, which comes after the “bend & swing” in the 5-step approach.


It will provide you with a more explosive jump (“stand”).  Keeping your weight centered in your toes & thighs instead of your butt and falling from a bent position, you will also allow your body to jump (“stand”) into a hollow body position, which will lead into a proper arch-to-hollow succession thereafter. 


Finally, it will allow you to have greater control over your fall and help to keep you from undercutting.

The back handspring is a “corrective” skill, meaning you intentionally fall into the skill and correct yourself from falling by standing fast into a hollow body position.  Sitting puts your weight into your heels and butt, two places you do not want your weight when jumping into your skill. You want your jump (“stand”) to come from your toes.

To some this might seem like a minute (pr. “my-NOOT”)  difference in instruction, but to me, it’s the details that make the difference between an “ok” tumbler and an exceptional, detail-oriented athlete. 

Coach Lain is a mental performance and tumbling technique coach from Northern California. Specializing in fear management & psychology, as well as deconstructed movement, he helps student-athletes and coaches better understand their fears in an effort to outperform them confidently and consistently. His podcast, The Fear Less University™, features special guests each episode who lend their wisdom and expertise to help discuss, dissect, and examine some of life’s greatest fears. His second and newest podcast, the Coach Lain Inspires™ Inspirecast, seeks to provide listeners with a daily dose of inspiration.

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How to Outperform the Fear of Doing a Back Handspring: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Outperform the Fear of Doing a Back Handspring: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Outperform the Fear of Doing a Back Handspring: A Comprehensive Guide

“In tumbling, we train the motion. Not the mind. That is because the body can be regimented, but the mind cannot be bridled.”

Coach Lain


Ah…fear. It’s something that is biologically programmed into every human being. We ALL experience it. It’s innate, chemical, hardwired into our very being! It’s something you can’t avoid, something that is always there, whether you like it or not. And yet, as pesky as it may seem sometimes, it’s something we need in order to provide us with a healthy balance of risk and reward.

You see, many people are mislead into thinking that they can “get over” their fear, that there’s a step-by-step process to killing, defeating, or eliminating their fears. But I ask you, if fear is something that, as I said above, “hardwired” into our physiology, then how is it something we can kill, defeat, or eliminate? If fear is apart of our understanding of risk and reward, how is it something that we can get over? The answer is simple – you can’t.

We can’t “kill” or “eliminate” fear. In fact, that is the antithesis of how we should be thinking about our relationship with our fears.

Cinematic Illustrations

If you’re a Marvel movie fan like me, then you’ve undoubtedly seen Captain America: Civil War by now. There is a scene in the movie between Vision and Scarlet Witch in which Vision is helping Scarlet to understand her fear. You see, Scarlet Witch was recently responsible for the deaths of almost 2 dozen civilians as a result of her losing control of her powers, and now she feared what might happen if she tried using them again. To help console her, Vision points to the yellow Infinity Stone in his forehead, and tells her that he doesn’t know what the nature of the stone is or the true power it yields. When she asks him if he is afraid of it, he replies:

“I wish to understand it. The more I do, the less it controls me. And who knows, one day, I might even control it.”

Vision, Avengers: Age of Ultron

And that, right there my friends, is how you OUTPERFORM ANY FEAR…understanding. “In the absence of specificity, fear thrives.” You see, we spend most of our time trying to fight our fears. We even have something as humans called the “Fight or Flight Syndrome”. We have hormones coursing through us that initiate such responses in the face of perceived threats that cause us to either fight, flee or freeze from a seemingly dangerous situation. It’s human nature to fear and fight against that which we don’t understand. But UNDERSTANDING is the key to not allowing these autonomous, physiological responses to rule us and cause us to freak out when there are no clear and present dangers or threats to our wellbeing.

But most people don’t take the time to understand it from that perspective. Because the “warrior mentality” or the “beast mode” mentality is to dominate, control and overpower any obstacle in our way, a lot of us are taught to fight against our fears, as if they were some foreign entity trying to invade our body. But they’re not foreign at all. Fear is biologically intertwined with our humanity. So instead of trying to fight something that is connected to us at a molecular level, why not, instead, seek to understand it.

Here’s another cinematic example for your consideration: Beauty and the Beast. Think of the relationship between Belle and the Beast, and how it evolved over time. At first, though she wasn’t necessarily afraid of the Beast, she didn’t understand him. Likewise, the Beast didn’t understand Belle. Therefore, she and the Beast were in constant contention with one another, butting heads and constantly at odds.

So how did they go from “barely even friends” to a “tale as old as time”? When the Beast showed his selfless side to save Belle in the woods from the pack of ravenous wolves, she started to see that there was more than meets the eye with him, and began opening her mind up the possibility that he was more than just a “savage beast”, that there might be more to his humanity than to his feral visage. You see, when Belle and the Beast began to take the time to understand one another, thinks began to change for them. The Beast, both literally and figuratively in this case, could not be championed or tamed. Instead, it was through understanding that he was re-humanized by Belle’s love and friendship. 

Think of your fears as the Beast. Your fears are a part of you that only need to be understood. As Vision seeks to do with the Infinity Stone, if you can learn to understand your fears, you can better learn to not let them control you or rule your actions. Fear is a choice, a product of thoughts that you choose to create in your head, based on anticipations of an outcome that may or may not happen. Tim Ferriss, best selling author of The 4-Hour Work Week and one of my mentors (we haven’t met yet, but I trust we will soon), put it best on an episode of his show, The Tim Ferriss Experiment:

I think most importantly it’s not about overcoming your fears, it’s constantly FACING your fears, BEING PRESENT with your fears, so that you become comfortable with discomfort.

Big Will on Fear

One of my other mentors I have yet to meet, and lifetime role model, Will Smith, has had much to say about the concept of fear and how we deal with it. His 2013 movie, After Earth, starring son Jaden Smith, placed facing your fears at the center of the plot. There is a scene where their two characters are separated by hundreds of miles and Jaden’s character, Katai, is all alone in the wild. Will’s character, in an effort to give his son both comfort and strength, lays down the truth about fear to him. 

There is another Will Smith video I’ve shared in the past that everyone who struggles with fear needs to see. In it, Will shares a personal experience that led to a revelation about fear and how to understand it better. Check it out:

The problem with fear is that it lies. God placed the best things in life on the other side of terror.

Will Smith

Do you get it yet? Fear is not to be tamed, beaten, overcome or ruled. To truly enjoy your life and live with fear in a healthy manner, we must understand it. So now, you’ve made it this far, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! How do you get over YOUR fear? Here are 4 simple steps you can take to help you understand and learn to control your fears and get back to performing your skill confidently:

STEP 1: Identify and Understand 

I ask my athletes “why” they have lost their skills because I know they’re not using their logical minds to identify the problem. They’re reacting from a very emotional place where they are being told to flee in response to a threat or danger, whether real or perceived. Therefore, if you can identify the actual reason you’re afraid, you can then confront it. It’s very important for you to be completely honest with yourself during this period of exploration; denying the problem and pretending you’re not afraid, or choosing not to admit you’re afraid only makes matters worse.

Be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “I’m afraid…” tell yourself exactly what you’re afraid of.  Just try it, say “I’m afraid of [fill in the blank],” out loud to yourself. Did you feel that little twinge in your gut? That’s your brain and body already going into “defense” mode to protect you against that which you’ve acknowledged being afraid of. For instance, “I’m afraid of falling out of the air like a stone mid-skill and breaking my neck.” See?!  Sometimes hearing yourself dictate your fears out loud will help you realize just how silly they are!

STEP 2: Acknowledge, Accept, Utilize

This is a huge step as this is the part where most athletes will turn against themselves! Once you’ve identified and taken steps to understand your fear, it’s time to learn to utilize it to your advantage in a positive, active way, through acknowledgment and acceptance.

Fear is something no one likes to talk about. But, there’s also power in acknowledgment that allows you to take back control from the thing that you’re afraid of. By acknowledging your fears aloud, you’re taking the power away from keeping it a secret, from the shame and embarrassment. You’re also giving yourself a chance to accept it as a truth, no longer denying that you had a problem. But you have to say it with conviction. You have to acknowledge it with unwavering belief. It’s ok, so you’re afraid. It’s not the end of the world. You can outperform this.

“One day or day one. The choice is up to you.”


Ok, now that you’ve acknowledged and accepted your fear, it’s time to turn that which once burdened and inhibited you into FUEL!!! It’s time to UTILIZE your fear for as a positive motivator!

As a deconstructionist, my first step in helping an athlete toward recovering from a devastating mental block or fear is to walk her through the skill step by step. This is how I coach both new and experienced athletes anyway, but it also lends itself well to working through a fear or mental block. Deconstructing a skill is a great approach because it allows you to slowly revisit the skill together. It is during this process that you can learn (1) at which point in the process the athlete is experiencing her fear (in varying degrees), (2) how firm of a grasp the athlete has on her technique to begin with, and (3) if there are any discrepancies or disconnects between comprehension and execution. Usually, I find one or a combination of those three to be true for each athlete I’ve ever helped work through a fear or mental block.

Deconstructing a skill into “micro skills” is great because it allows the athlete to gain confidence in fully understanding their technique and the sequence of events that add up to performing the skills as a whole. It also engineers success points, which are surefire confidence builders. These mini goals or steps of exposure help the athlete to see the challenge as being more accomplishable, and allow them to slowly work their way through the skill from a standpoint of completing small tasks gradually, instead of “trying to swallow the elephant whole”.

So far, we’ve learned that acknowledging and accepting our fears can help us utilize them toward engineering success. However, if you’re afraid because you’ve been dropped by a coach, parent or spotter, or have been taught poor technique, understand that’s a very real problem that needs to be addressed immediately, which brings us to the next step…

STEP 3: Take it Back to Basics to Make Sure Your Technique is Solid

Tumbling is deeply rooted in physics and is therefore formulaic. That means that if you practice proper technique every single time you perform your skill, you should get the same outcome every time. Now if your outcome is you repeatedly falling or getting hurt, you know that there’s a problem with your formula! So go back over your technique and tweak the parts that are causing you frustration, pain, or fear. Remember that Aristotle said it best, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Therefore, it is practice, repeated, consistent, technically-sound practice that breeds confidence. You will gain more confidence in yourself and your skill when you practice with proper technique over and over again. For your reference, here is my 5-Step Back Handspring Process (patent pending):

When you’re performing these unnatural skills and are getting hung up on the emotional responses you’re having to performing, it’s better to focus solely on performing the technique and allowing science to take care of the rest. Remember, the fear will be there whether you choose to focus on it or not. It is a biological response from your body’s control center, your brain, sounding the alarm that something you’re doing isn’t right. It’s a natural response to an unnatural performance. If you place your body in the proper positions and allow gravity, inertia, friction, force and momentum to do what they do best, you’ll flip, twist, and tuck and back on your feet before you know it! And if you still need that extra push to help calm your nerves, there’s nothing wrong with saying a little prayer asking God for peace of mind and trust ;D

STEP 4: Never Be Afraid to Fail!

It’s a shame that in our culture and many cultures around the globe, “failing” and “failure” are given the same meaning, when in fact, they represent two completely different ideas.

You see, to fail is to learn, to take an experience and apply what one learned from that experience to your future endeavors. Especially when one is attempting to accomplish the same goal on a different “try”, a past “fail” can help teach you obstacles to avoid, situations to expect, and how to solve problems that might arise. If nothing else, failing teaches us what NOT to do second, third, or hundredth time around. It is Edison who, after finally getting the light bulb to work after some 10,000 failed attempts, is famously quoted as saying:

“I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas A. Edison

Edison also said, “Our greatest weakness lies in our giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to always try just one more time.” And that is the difference between “failing” and “failure”. Where failing means that you learn how not to do something and will apply that newfound knowledge to your next attempt, “failure” is when you throw in the towel and give up. Failure is quitting, and if you were going to quit, why start in the first place? It was Napoleon Hill who said, “When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and most logical thing to do is to quit. That is exactly what the majority of men do.” Don’t fall into that majority, BE THE EXCEPTION!!!

Now, fear alone is one thing, when you’re dealing with being afraid of an irrational outcome to a skill or from getting hurt trying to perform the skill before. But the “Fear of Failure” is an entirely different beast. I’ll be going over this concept more in a future post entitled “The Pressure to Perform”, but for now, let’s talk about it in the context of how it can inhibit your performance.

Fear of Failure, or “atychiphobia” as it’s known by its scientific name, is literally a debilitating fear one develops from not wanting to fail. It is a fear that can stop us from doing the things that can move us forward toward achieving our goals. Now, psychotherapy articles say that this phobia comes from  many causes, including: over-demanding or strict parents, an early childhood public embarrassment (getting pantsed in the cafeteria or laughed at during “show & tell”), or bullying and abuse. While these are all true, I think it’s extremely important that we don’t rule out the cultural implications of what it means to “fail” again. Some might argue it’s simply semantics, but I’ve come to learn in my coaching that the rhetoric we use to describe our actions, feelings and communicate our expectations plays a HUGE role in our understanding of an expected outcome. Parents, learn how to communicate to your children in the way that they are most receptive! Take the time to understand their personality, their “love language” (how they both communicate/show love and how they receive it), and the type of learner they are. Having this knowledge will DRAMATICALLY influence your interactions and dictate the type of output they produce when setting out to accomplish a goal. Teach them the difference between “failing” and “failure”, that not reaching an expected outcome DOES NOT MAKE THEM A “FAILURE”.

It’s interesting: the first definition of “failure” in the dictionary is “a lack of success, as in an unsuccessful person, enterprise or thing” (not sure what an “unsuccessful THING is, but I’m guessing you’ll know it when you see it, haha). Now in today’s modern vernacular, this means that one has failed at life. To be unsuccessful is to be someone who sucks at what they do. Ok, it doesn’t mean that literally, but it’s interchangeable in meaning (like so many other American words, phrases and slang terms). But if you look up the word “success”, it’s defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” So to be “unsuccessful” literally means “to not accomplish an aim or purpose,” which coincides completely with a definition of what it means “to fail”, or, “to not meet a desired outcome”. Therefore, to be called a “failure” is only to be called an “unsuccessful person”, which is to mean you’re someone who didn’t meet an expected outcome. You are only a true, complete and utter failure, when you let your failure become final and quit. Otherwise, you’re simply a person on a journey toward success.

fail·ure (/ˈfālyər/)
lack of success.
the omission of expected or required action.

Teach your athletes to know the difference between failing at a task and learning from that failure, and letting that failure dictate their efforts. It’s perfectly fine to fail, because these instances teach us about ourselves: what we’re able to handle, how we cope with failure and loss, and how bad we want it! Just like Big Sean says, “If you’re a real one, then you know how to bounce back!”

You see, in order to succeed we must first fail. Ironically, it is this very fear of failing that keeps us from trying in the first place. But as Savanah Walker, one of my former athletes who struggled with both fear and anxiety, so eloquently put it once, “You’ll never truly grow as an athlete if you never fail.” She’s exactly right too! Without failure, we can never learn, adapt and make the changes necessary in our technique, approach or thinking that will allow us to succeed. If you can not only learn from your failures, but also learn to identify and understand your fears, trust in your coaches and technique, and dismiss the false evidence appearing real, you’ll be able to accomplish great things.

STEP 5: Practice, Practice, Practice 

I said it above but it bears repeating: consistent, repetitious practice with proper technique builds confidence! The more confident you are in your technique, the more confident you’ll be performing (or attempting) your skill! The more confident you are in your ability to perform you skill safely, the easier it will be for you to control your fear, especially if you’ve taken the time to understand your fear better!

Wrapping Up

I often say that good coaching doesn’t adopt “The Nike Approach” to tumbling, you can’t “Just do it.” And that’s unfortunately the stance I feel too many coaches take when coaching their athletes. They expect athletes to be able to take a skill like the back handspring and do it after a few poorly articulated explanations. Many coaches, though talented, expertly trained athletes themselves, don’t always make the best coaches. And tumbling, being an extremely mental activity, requires a coach who can break down both the physical and the mental aspects of the skills they’re teaching.

The psychological side of tumbling is very real, and though many coaches are aware of it, they’re unsure of or unable to clearly and effectively articulate how to help their athletes understand it. Tumbling is 80% mental and 20% physical. The brain will do whatever it takes to keep your body safe, and the brain feels safest when you’re body is doing something it understands. Tumbling is not natural, and therefore, is a constant battle between your brain’s comfort & understanding and your body’s training. 

I care SO MUCH about all of my athletes and their physical safety, as well as them building confidence within themselves to tackle tough obstacles.  The lessons and methods outlined here can apply far beyond the realm of tumbling.  Learn to identify fear and F.E.A.R. in your daily life and begin employing these steps to vanquish it from your life entirely. Remember, “danger” is very real, and although it is our brain’s natural response to danger, fear at the end of the day, is a choice.

If you, your athlete or your team struggles with fear of performing their tumbling skills, or if you suffer from fear in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me! #coachlainhelps

Coach Lain is a mental performance and tumbling technique coach from Northern California. Specializing in fear management & psychology, as well as deconstructed movement, he helps student-athletes and coaches better understand their fears in an effort to outperform them confidently and consistently. His podcast, The Fear Less University™, features special guests each episode who lend their wisdom and expertise to help discuss, dissect, and examine some of life’s greatest fears. His second and newest podcast, the Coach Lain Inspires™ Inspirecast, seeks to provide listeners with a daily dose of inspiration.

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5 Simple Steps to Take When You Get Frustrated with Your Back Handspring

5 Simple Steps to Take When You Get Frustrated with Your Back Handspring

5 Simple Steps to Take When You Get Frustrated with Your Back Handspring

You’ve had enough. You’ve been practicing and practicing for weeks…months…years and you STILL don’t have your back handspring. You’re getting pressure from your parents, your coaches, your teammates and even yourself, all of them wondering what’s taking you so long and why you can’t get this seemingly simple skill (though I’d like to see them try it ;P) Your parents are upset because they’ve spent hundreds, maybe even thousands, of their hard-earned money on private lessons, clinics and classes. Your coaches are impatient, because they need you to get your skill to add you to the amazing tumbling section they’ve choreographed. Your teammates are upset because you’re holding everyone up. And finally, you’re beating yourself up because you know EXACTLY what you NEED to do, but you just can’t seem to make your body and your brain communicate properly. 

So what do you do?

First, you stop beating yourself up. Plain and simple.

Next, you take a deep, cleansing breath and follow these 5 simple steps. I guarantee you that at the end of the process, you’ll have a different outlook on your back handspring development and will be on your way to getting the skill on your own.


Remind yourself that everyone is different and learns differently, at their own speed and pace. Though the mechanics of the back handspring are universal by design, the way it’s taught and learned varies from coach to coach and athlete to athlete.


If flying like Superman were a possibility, and there were people who were able to learn but it took you forever to get it, would you beat yourself up about that? Seems a bit ridiculous, no? Similarly, remember that tumbling, as a discipline, is not natural by any stretch of the imagination. It’s possible, but not natural. Everything we do on the spring floor (or basketball court or football field) is a learned behavior. It’s not something that comes naturally and therefore has to be carefully nurtured, consistently practiced, and constantly monitored to ensure your technique develops properly. So stop being hard on yourself, it’s going to be alright!


Stop focusing on your frustration, the emotional response you have when attempting your skill, and start focusing SOLELY on the technique! Most likely, your stagnation is being caused by a flaw in your technique, most often from improper instruction. By shifting your focus from your frustration back onto your technique, there won’t be a moment where you’re not focusing on what your body is or is not doing, helping you to hone in on what the problem might be.


Get someone to take video of you performing the skill in slow motion. Slow mo captures everything the eye (or more accurately, the brain) misses in plain sight. This will allow you, much like athletes in many other sports, to analyze your movement frame by frame. You can see exactly what you’re doing incorrectly, and come up with a sequential plan of correction.


Finally, find yourself an exceptional technique-centric coach who can help you pinpoint your mistakes and poor habits, and get you back on track toward progress. I actually offer Remote Coaching Services, which allow you to get a top-notch private coaching experience even if you don’t live in the Bay Area. Check out how it works here, fill out the form, and let’s get started today!

There are so many factors that play into your development as a tumbler, you don’t need to let frustration and self-deprecation be among them. Frustration is much like fear – as an emotion, it’s a concentration blocker. Learning to ignore the emotion by focusing more heavily on the procedural elements of the skill will help you to not let the frustration and fear rule you and take up valuable learning time.

For more help, contact me today! Let’s talk about what you’re going through and how we can get you over that wall!


Coach Lain is a mental performance and tumbling technique coach from Northern California. Specializing in fear management & psychology, as well as deconstructed movement, he helps student-athletes and coaches better understand their fears in an effort to outperform them confidently and consistently. His podcast, The Fear Less University™, features special guests each episode who lend their wisdom and expertise to help discuss, dissect, and examine some of life’s greatest fears. His second and newest podcast, the Coach Lain Inspires™ Inspirecast, seeks to provide listeners with a daily dose of inspiration.

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5 Things You Are Doing Wrong in Your Back Handspring…and How To Fix Them TODAY!

5 Things You Are Doing Wrong in Your Back Handspring…and How To Fix Them TODAY!

5 Things You Are Doing Wrong in Your Back Handspring…and How To Fix Them TODAY!

Ahh the back handspring…It’s funny isn’t it. For some, it seems to come easily, like second nature. For others, they struggle for years to understand what about the skill is causing them so much grief. And still for others, they “had it” at one time, and then a bad experience (whether a coach who missed a spot or a slip on the football field) sent them back to the beginning, leaving them overcome by fear and doubt.

One thing I can assure you of, no matter who you are, is that the back handspring IS NOT A NATURAL SKILL. So whether you’re looking at some crazy tricker on Instagram pulling BHS’s out of nowhere, or you’re a novice yourself struggling with “where do I start”, the fact of the matter is that we all deal with the same emotions and feelings about the BHS. This is because we all have brains that have had thousands of years to develop feelings about things it deems “unsafe” to its existence. That’s right, the brain has a “default” mode, and it’s only comfortable with those things that it feels are safe or natural. And guess what…the back handspring…it’s not natural.

I’ve taught hundreds of athletes how to do their back handsprings. But more importantly, I’ve taught hundreds more how to approach the skill safely without hurting themselves. Over the years, I’ve developed a 5-step system for teaching the skill. In this post, we’ll go over those 5 steps by revealing the opposite of those steps that you’ve most likely been taught or taught yourself to do, and how you can fix them TODAY!

So let’s jump right in shall we?


1. Sitting as opposed to “bending”

​I’ve covered this quite extensively in a previous post, but it definitely bears repeating. There’s much more to this step than a rhetorical faux pax. The rhetoric we use in coaching and understanding skills plays a HUGE role in how our athletes execute their skills. The brain takes in WAY too much information daily for it to process at full power like we’d like it to. Heck, we only use 10% of our brain’s capacity, so what do you expect. Don’t get me wrong, the brain is an amazing super computer that God created, but it still gets overwhelmed. Therefore, it takes shortcuts and recalls information it’s learned before to help us make faster, informed decisions. These are called “schemas”, or mental shortcuts, which cut down on processing time and make memory easier & faster. So word association and rhetoric become increasingly important in decision making. This is why I’ve changed the way I call out directions during tumbling skills to my athletes. If you want them to execute the way you expect, you have to give proper direction right? 

If I tell you to “sit” right now, what are you going to lead with? You’re going to drop your weight into your bum and lead with that. When beginning your back handspring, you don’t want to set yourself up for failure by leading with poor technique. This technique has been taught by cheer and gymnastics coaches for decades. I’m not saying it’s “wrong”, but I do believe it’s fundamentally flawed.

If you fix your approach, stop sitting and start bending to explode through your knees and toes, I guarantee you’ll see a significant improvement in your standing BHS technique TODAY!

2. Not “falling”…because let’s be honest…who wants to do that!

Our brains have 1 function: self-preservation. We’ve been told our whole lives not to fall, be careful you don’t fall – heck, that’s why we practice “trust FALLS” for team building exercises. The brain HATES falling because it’s not safe. Falling back into your back handspring takes trust. Your brain has to trust that you know what you’re doing, and you can convince it of this by practicing proper technique.

Again, rhetoric plays a HUGE part in how our brains communicate with our bodies and it only benefits you to be as specific as possible when playing the mediator between the two. 

Likewise, you have to stop telling yourself the wrong things to do. It’s not “sit”, it’s bend; it’s fall; it’s “reach” instead of throw; it’s “hands” instead of arms; it’s “stand through your toes” instead of “jump”; it’s “arch to hollow” instead of “snap to the ground”. Physics is a remarkable thing, and the role it plays in tumbling gets downplayed A LOT. A back handspring should not be a difficult skill if we (1) change the way we teach it and (2) change the perception of its execution.


3. Throwing your head and arms from the shoulders, not leading with your hands

When you have a lesson with me and hear me yell “reach” after you’ve bent and fallen, you know that I mean to (1) “snap” your arms from your shoulders and (2) lead with your hands. You want your hand placement in a BHS to be on point every time, so why are you focusing on your arms? When we throw something, is it not true that we’re more focused on the object being thrown than the arm that’s doing the throwing? I get it, us coaches say “throw” your arms to signify the speed with which we want your arms reaching back. But check this out. When we say “arms”, our brain’s default association goes straight to the bicep, that’s what we think of when we say arm. “Oh, my arm hurts” is something we hear when we see folks grabbing from the elbow up, not their wrists. If our wrists hurt, we say wrists. If our elbows hurt, we say elbows.

Now, check this out: what’s at the end of your arms? Your hands. What’s closer to your shoulder: your bicep or your hands? Exactly. So when you have to get your hands from down by your hips all the way to above your head in a split second, what has the farther distance to travel? Your hands! So, when you’re thinking about reaching into your BHS, don’t think about throwing your arms. If anything, think about throwing your hands! So it’s not unlike throwing a ball now, where your main focus is what’s being thrown. Since it’s our hands that have the farther distance to travel, we’ll subconsciously work harder at getting them up and behind our ears than we would had we just been focusing on our arms.

4. Not “standing” into your skill all the way through your Big Toes

That’s right, stand! Throughout this article, we’ve talked a lot about word association and the role having good rhetoric plays in the understanding and proper execution of a skill. When we say “jump”, your brain thinks of a full bodied motion. But in BHS’s, we want tight, controlled motions that focus on explosive, centralized power. Case in point, at this point of your BHS, your legs are bent, your weight is in your toes and your hands are behind your ears. For you to do a full bodied jump at this point would cause you to drop your bum, put your weight BACK into your heels and drop your head back looking “up” for the ground. In other words, you’d have horrible technique that would put you at greater risk of injury.

Again, this is where rhetoric comes in. If I tell you to stand as fast as possible to get yourself off the ground, and make sure you stand all the way through your toes – you’re still inherently “jumping”, but it’s a much more focused power. That’s the type of take-off you want going into your BHS. 

5. Snapping down through your lower back instead of changing your shape!

Ah the “snap down”. How many of you have been tossed aside and told to practice these off a panel mat? I admit, I used to have a lot of girls doing this while I focused on another group during tumbling class and I kick myself for it now. Haha! Well, here’s my issue with snap downs. When you’re performing them by yourself, when you haven’t had the proper training for your upper body and core strength (and let’s face it, most novice all-star or MS/HS cheerleaders haven’t), snap downs get practiced poorly. The focus becomes less about “snapping” properly and more about getting your feet to the floor. The snap down drill off a panel mat causes athletes to (1) use their lower backs for power and support (which is horrible for your lower back) and (2) teaches them that the “snapping” motion comes from the hips, since most will pivot at the hips to get their feet to the floor. In some bad cases, it causes athletes to use their knees to initiate the snap. ALL WRONG, haha!

This is why I’ve once again changed up the rhetoric and tell my athletes to snap from “arch to hollow”, using their “bum and tum” the whole time. 

Again, physics is remarkable. We forget that when we’re in the arched position coming out of our skill, we have a ton of momentum helping us over. We don’t have to finish the skill entirely on our own. We have momentum, force, motion, Newton’s Laws to help us finish the skill, haha. If we simply focus on snapping our bodies THROUGH OUR CORES from an arched position (which is an “allowed” position, not a forced one) to a hollow body, we can literally coast through the rest of the skill!


These five key problem areas are the foundation upon which I’ve built my 5-Step Process for teaching a back handspring. These are the 5 most common mistakes athletes make in approaching the skill, and the 5 most poorly explained motions by coaches. Learning anything new takes time, consistent practice, and the reinforcement of proper skill and execution. However, we can truncate a lot of that practice time by focusing on key problem areas and breaking the movement down into easily digestible fragments. This is the core of what Tim Ferriss teaches in his books, podcasts, and TV show! 

I stand by my coaching technique wholeheartedly. If you make these 5 key changes in your technique, I guarantee you’ll see a significant improvement in your training right away! What’s more, you might even finally be able to get that last piece of the puzzle and conquer your back handspring! 

Remember, no skill should be performed without the supervision of a qualified coach. Do NOT try these techniques on your own. I hate to say it, but it’s necessary these days, but Coach Lain is not responsible for any injuries that result from reading this article and trying these steps, either alone or with a coach.

All the best to you in your training! If you need help, don’t hesitate to contact me below or what’s better, book me to come to your team or gym and show you these principles in person!


Coach Lain is a mental performance and tumbling technique coach from Northern California. Specializing in fear management & psychology, as well as deconstructed movement, he helps student-athletes and coaches better understand their fears in an effort to outperform them confidently and consistently. His podcast, The Fear Less University™, features special guests each episode who lend their wisdom and expertise to help discuss, dissect, and examine some of life’s greatest fears. His second and newest podcast, the Coach Lain Inspires™ Inspirecast, seeks to provide listeners with a daily dose of inspiration.

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