Back Walkovers and Backbend Kickovers

Subject: Back Walkovers and Backbend kickovers

Hi. Well, my problem is that I have to have a back handspring for cheerleading and at my gym they tell me that I almost have it but now that I have a new instructor I have to get my back bend kick over and back walk over. Please tell me the fastest ways to have these.

Thanks so much.

In one sense, backbend kick overs and back walkovers are a progression for back handsprings. They obviously go backwards, turn over and require supporting bodyweight on the hands. There is one big difference – back bend kick overs and back walkovers require much more shoulder and back flexibility than a back handspring does. In back handsprings an athlete can literally jump past a certain amount of shoulder flexibility limitations.

We tend to teach the skills simultaneously with the more flexible athletes getting back bend kick overs and back walkovers sooner and the stronger athletes getting their back handsprings first. But we are not the ones teaching you, so here is what you need to do to get bend kick overs and back walkovers as fast as possible.

First before we talk about how to get those as fast as possible, let’s cover the basics. For any of these skills you need to be strong enough able to support yourself in a handstand position. You should be working handstands daily. We have our athletes compete holding handstands for time, walking handstands for distance and counting the number of walking steps on their hands and doing handstands for time and handstand push-ups against a wall. At this stage, if your handstand is weak, we recommend 25 – 100 handstands per day. (You said you wanted to learn fast).

We also recommend all cheerleaders do strength training and/or weight training. Weight training is more suitable for teenage cheerleaders rather than younger cheerleaders.

After strength, the main problem with learning these skills is developing sufficient flexibility in the shoulders, lower back and legs (splits). If you are not flexible enough, you will never learn the skill. When you are flexible (and strong enough), you can learn it in a day. If you can’t yet do a walkover, your problem must either be a strength or flexibility problem.

It has been proven time and time again that the best, most effective time efficient method of learning any skill, including back bend kick overs and back walkovers, is to be strong and flexible enough to do the skill before you try to learn it.

If you are not sure which (or if you need to work on both) test yourself. For strength, if you can hold a handstand for three to five seconds and or walk about five walking steps on your hands, you should have enough minimum upper body strength to do a back walkover.

A back bend test will give you an idea of whether you have enough shoulder flexibility (although if you are strong enough and cannot do a back walkover or back bend kick over), you are most certainly not flexible enough.

A back bend good enough to do a back walkover should have the shoulders straight above or past the hands. This is what you will need to have in order to do a back walkover and back bend kickover.

It seems fairly likely that your problems stem from a lack of shoulder (and/or lower back) flexibility. This is all too common a problem. And repetitions of back bend kick overs and back walkovers with or without a spot are likely not the best way to improve flexibility and strength levels, certainly not fast enough for what you want to do.

We are going to recommend a number of drills, skills and exercises that can and will increase your daughter’s flexibility level, but first we have some safety cautions. Doing too back walkover type skills and exercises without having sufficient shoulder flexibility can cause too much stress on the lower back. This can lead to any number of injuries including stress fractures and create short and/or long-term back pain.

The flexibility for back walkovers is a combination of shoulder flexibility and lower back flexibility. It would be wise to develop shoulder flexibility first in order to avoid over-stressing the lower back. Any lower back pain is an indication that sufficient shoulder flexibility has not been developed and the lower back is being overstressed.

We recommend that you first work on partner shoulder stretches and when you have made significant progress in improving shoulder flexibility, you can work on some of the lower back stretching exercises.

Partner stretching allows the shoulders to be stretched farther than just working in a backbend can do and targets shoulder flexibility rather than back and lower back flexibility. Stretching should be done carefully and just to the point of pain, but it will not be uncommon for gymnasts doing partner stretching to experience some pain. Make sure you are communicating. Stretching for periods of time from a minimum of 10 – 60 second sets is desirable and effective.

Improving flexibility is a function of time. The more time you spend working on it the faster you will improve. If you sit in a split for 24 hours straight, it will most likely be flat down on the floor by the end. Of course you may not be able to walk, but you will have your split down.

The lesson to be learned is that you will need to spend time working on your flexibility if you want it to improve. The harder and longer you work, the sooner you will reach your flexibility goals. You can get flexible enough in a few days or a few weeks if you spend enough time working on your flexibility each day.

The most effective way to improve flexibility is usually partner stretching. A partner can use their weight and strength to stretch your shoulders and legs farther and faster than you can by yourself. This will speed your progress.

You should choose a partner who is your size or larger and is as strong or stronger than you. Match your size and strength closely if you are going to be helping your partner stretch also.

Partner Stretches

WARNING: Improper techniques in partner stretching may cause injury.
Partner stretching may not be appropriate for very young, relatively untrained or relatively inexperienced athletes. Care must be taken with all partner stretching done by inexperienced athletes.

WARNING: We do not recommend doing partner stretches to increase lower back flexibility.

Don’t Put Excess Stress on Joints

On all partner exercises where the partner is pushing or pulling on the arms, they should be holding the arm above the elbow to avoid excess pressure on the elbow joint. The same is true for leg split exercises. It is often best to help with partner leg splits by pushing above the knee if the force is at all putting any sideways pressure on the knee.

Partner Shoulder Stretches

  • Partner Shoulders – sit in pike, arms straight out behind. Partner lifts upper arms and picks gymnast up.
  • Partner Backbend – have one partner grab ankles of other, go up in backbend, partner pulls shoulders, lift lower back.
  • Front prone, arms by side and lift. Pull on upper arms and stretch shoulders.
  • Front prone, arms straight by ears and lift by pulling on upper arms to stretch shoulders.
  • Hands clasped behind head, pull elbows together.
  • Arms straight to side, pull together behind back.
  • Hands clasped behind back, pull elbows together.
  • Front prone shoulder stretch (arms by ears, lift arms above elbow).
  • Lift leg while in split (left, right, straddle).
  • Push on shoulders stretch (hands on medium or high beam).
  • Kneeling split stretch (left, right, straddle).
  • Partner shoulder stretch on stall bars or beam (gymnasts place hands side by side with head tucked under chin to the chest). Partner pushes down on the shoulders
  • Back to back – partners stand back to back, One partner grabs the upper arms of the other who is holding their arms straight up by their ears and lifts them off the ground by bending forward stretching their shoulders.

Another effective but not as quick a shoulder flexibility exercise utilizes a stick (like a cut-off broom stick). Athletes inlocate/dislocate (move stick over the head forward and back) holding the stick in all of the possible grips (regular grip, reverse grip, elgrip, invert grip) holding the stick with the hands as close as possible. Ideally you will go straight over the top, but twisting the stick from side to side still will help.

Athletes may hang from a bar with their hands together and head forward chin on chest to stretch shoulders.

Partner Leg Split Flexibility

(you should do both your right and left splits to maintain an even body balance. Even though you don’t need to do straddle splits to learn walkovers, it probably is still a good idea to do straddle split exercises for your cheerleading career).

  • Partner Wall Splits – Stand against wall, lift leg, partner pushes leg as high as possible.
  • Wall Side Splits – Stand sideways against wall, lift leg to side split, partner lifts and pushes leg as high as possible.
  • Back Prone Partner Leg Splits – Lay on back, lift one leg. Partner anchors bottom leg with their leg and leans weight on upper leg.
  • Partner Seated Straddle Split – Sit in straddle split facing wall. Partner pushes split with feet on your buttocks.
  • Partner Straddle Split – Get in straddle split on floor. Partner pushes down on split.
  • Back Prone Straddle Splits – Lay on back, straddle legs. Partner leans weight on upper legs.

Once shoulder flexibility has been improved, a variety of lower back exercises can also be done. You may do the following individual shoulder and lower back exercises:

  • Shoulder Flexibility
    • Bridge, push shoulders over and past hands.
    • Kneel, Front shoulder stretch, full extension.
    • Wall front shoulder stretches.
    • Shoulders at full extension (Sit in pike with arms and hands as far back and close as possible).
    • Shoulders at full extension, leg lifts – bang knees to shoulders (Tuck, pike and stalder).
    • Kip to backbend.
    • Kip through handstand to backbend.
    • Valdez to backbend.
    • Backbend and hold.
    • Shoulders at full extension.(Sit in pike, slide out straight arms as far behind as possible with hands together)
    • Inlocate, dislocates.
  • Lower Back Flexibility
    • Rocking backbends.
    • Torso – circles (left and right).
    • Reach into backbend.
    • Backbend, lift legs and arms. (Right, Left.)
    • Backbend, drop hips.
    • Walking Backbend races.
    • Set-ups (Front and side prone arch ups) (front and side).
    • Twisting Set-ups.
    • Leg Overs – (Back prone, 1-2 legs up, lift leg(s) and drop (Left and right).
  • Leg Split Flexibility
    • Splits (left, right, straddle).
    • Straddle split, rock all the way forward and back.
    • Split, lean all the way forwards and arch back, bend back leg and touch head. (In both left and right splits).
    • Slide to splits (no hands).
    • Helicopter splits (Swing leg, split to split).
    • Walking splits (no hands).
    • Lift, arms by ears, split to split.
    • Over-splits (feet up on mat).
    • Jump to splits.
    • Straddle jump to straddle split.
    • Back prone dynamic straddle splits.
    • Scales (Right. Left) (Front, back and side).
    • Scales with relevĂ© (Right, Left) (Front, back and side).
    • Scales on toe (Right, Left) (Front, back and side).
    • Split jumps (Right, Left and Straddle).
    • Punch, Punch Split jumps (Right, Left and Straddle).
    • Straddle toe touch jumps.
    • BarrĂ© split stretching (Right, Left and Straddle).
    • Straddle split push-ups.
    • Splits (Right, Left and Straddle) between two mats.
    • Straddle split, one foot on mat, 1-arm pushups (Right, Left).
    • Needle scale (Right, Left).
    • Needle scale kicks (Right, Left).
    • Handstand forward roll through straddle split to front prone (no hands).

All cheerleaders should spend at least 10 minutes a day working on flexibility. For more rapid improvement like you are trying to make, an hour or more of partner and hard flex workouts are recommended.

Once you are strong enough and your shoulders and good side split are flexible enough, you should be able to learn to do a back bend kick and back walkover in a matter of a few minutes. You will most likely be able to do the back bend kick over first and then later a back walkover.

Good luck and if there is anything else we can do for you, please let us know.

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9 Responses to Back Walkovers and Backbend Kickovers

  1. Sarah Symone says:

    seriously.. That was good help but, how can you learn how to do one SAFELY. cuz i have absolutely NO time in my schedule to get hurt. Oh and my knees are a little flimsy … i injured them a while back how could i help that.

  2. Coach John Howard says:

    We would never post anything that is not completely safe. Never had a major or career ending injury ever while I was coaching, so safety always is number one with me.
    As far as an injury goes, your doctor should have already prescribed the rehab work you should have done to recover safely.
    In general, make sure you are not doing any knee exercises, like seated hurdler stretches that stretch your knee and knee ligaments sideways. That loosens the support structure for your knees, which could contribute to a serious injury.
    In general, weight lifting programs strengthen muscles, ligaments, tendons and even bones, so a weight lifting program should be on every serious cheerleaders training program list.

  3. Hannah says:

    I have a back handspring – actually I have a triple back handspring. I have right split and front straddle. I have a back bend walkover but I am tight and it is not elegant.

    What should I be doing to loosen up my shoulders to get the elegant look? I am 10 and the gymnastic instructor said sometimes once you get my age that girls never loosen up. Do I stand any chance of making the walkover look better?

    • Coach John Howard says:

      While it is easier to improve flexibility when you are between ages 6 – 9 years old, you can always improve your flexibility at any age. It may take more work than when you were younger, but it certainly can be done.

      Passive type Shoulder Stretching – Bend over, hands close together with head between arms on chest high object like chair back and stretch shoulders down as far as you can and hold. The farther you go and the longer you hold, the more flexible you get.

      Active Shoulder Stretching – Standing or laying on your stomach, throw your straight arms back as far and hard as you can, stretching your shoulders. You could do this with a weight, but I would only use something that ensures you don’t lose your grip and throw the weight (and hit someone, break a window, or even throw it and hit yourself – Ouch – lol).

      Feet Up Backbend – Do a regular backbend with your feet up on something very stable like a couch, 2 -4 feet off the ground. Push your shoulders back as far as you can and hold.

  4. Banana says:

    I did it! Yeah!! :D

  5. Nikki says:

    Hey that did not really help but well why would you be doing a back hand spring if u do not know how to do a back bend kickover

    • Coach John Howard says:

      Back handsprings require two very different sets of physical capabilities. Backbend kickovers require a high degree and more of shoulder, back and leg flexibility than back handsprings. A strong, but somewhat inflexible cheerleader can learn a back handspring before developing the necessary shoulder flexibility to do backbend kickovers. Learning backbend kickovers as a progression to learning back handsprings is certainly one of the common learning progressions, but not the only one.

      Before learning any cheerleading skills, tumbling and high level stunting, the ideal training method is to develop sufficient strength and flexibility first. That also leads to the fastest rate of cheer skill learning progress. However, that is not the standard training system in the sport, where skills training tends to start first.

  6. Madalyn Alexis says:

    This is a lot of help but… whenever I go to do a backbend kickover I do a backbend, then try and kickover. I get into the handstand position but I always fall back. I can do the splits and hold my handstands for 5 seconds. Is the problem strength or flexibility? Thanks:)

    • Coach John Howard says:

      Almost always the problem is shoulder flexibility. Use passive, active and partner shoulder stretching to fix the problem. Also work backbends with your feet up off the mat 2 – 4 feet and use your feet to really push back on your shoulders. Good luck!

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