A front handspring on vault is an incredibly important gymnastics skill because some gymansts perform it from level 4 all the way through level 8. While the deductions get stricter as a gymnast progresses through the levels, the skill remains the same. It’s also the basis of some more advanced vaults. So it’s in your best interest to learn how to do a front handspring on vault, and master it early.
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Front Handspring Vault Phases
There are 5 steps or “phases” in a front handspring vault.
Run: The first phase of the front handspring vault is the run. You need a fast run to give your front handspring power.
Pre-Flight: After your run, you will hurdle and jump onto the springboard. The hurdle step should be a low step. You want to be traveling horizontally instead of vertically. The pre-flight phase of the front handspring vault is when you bounce off the springboard and are in the air before your hands land on the vault table. It’s important to have the proper body shape when landing on the springboard so your body quickly rebounds into the air on its way to the vault table. Your legs should be slightly bent, your butt tucked under and your core squeezed.
Support: The support phase of the front handspring vault is when you are in a tight-body handstand on top of the vault table. You want to hit the vault table somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees above horizontal. From the handstand position, you will block with your arm and shoulder muscles off the vault table. This phase should be very fast. You want to hit the vault table in a straight body position and immediately repulse off of it.
Post-Flight: The post-flight phase is from when you block off the table in the handstand position, until your feet hit the ground. You want your vault to be very dynamic, and evidence of this will be if you land a good distance away from the vault table.
Landing: After the post-flight phase, you want to try to stick the landing.
Muscles You Need in Order to Do a Front Handspring On Vault
Legs: You need strong legs in order to run fast and punch off the spring board into the air.
Arms: You need strong arms for a front handspring in order to block hard off the vault table and propel yourself into the air.
Core: You need strong core muscles to keep your body tight throughout the front handspring.
Exercises You Can Do at Home
Squats: You can do squats, and also squat jumps to help strengthen your legs for punching off the springboard. To do a squat, stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart. Make sure your feet are pointing forwards to work the same muscles you work when you hit the springboard in your front handspring vault. Keeping your back straight and your core squeezed, lower yourself with your weight on your heels. It can be easier with your arms extended out straight in front of you parallel to the ground. The goal will be for your thighs to become perpendicular to your calves, but only go as far as you can while controlling the movement. With the weight of your body in your heels, push against the floor and raise yourself back to a standing position in order to complete the repetition. If you would like to do squat jumps, once your thighs are perpendicular to your calves jump off the floor and then stand up to complete the repetition.
Lunges: To do lunges, stand with your legs together and your hands on your hips (or if you are using weights with your arms beside you). Your back should be straight and you should be looking in front of you. Step one foot forward and bend both legs until your back leg is almost touching the floor and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Make sure your front knee is above your ankle, and that your back knee doesn’t touch the floor. Stand up and repeat with the other leg.
Crunches: Crunches can help strengthen your core muscles. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head lightly with your fingertips. Using your core, lift your upper-body slightly off the ground. Lower your upper-body back to the ground to complete the repetition.
Planks: Planks are another great exercise for strengthening the core muscles you need for a front handspring vault, and at the same time practicing the straight body position you need.
Front Handspring Vault Drills You Can Do at Home
Sprints: A vault runway is at least 25 meters long, so practice sprinting for a little less than the whole distance, 20 meters. You can measure out this distance in your backyard. The first time you sprint write down how long it takes you in seconds. Then keep practicing and try to improve your time. If you know where your coach wants you to start running on the runway, you can sprint for that distance. But regardless, you want to work on improving your run. The run is what gives your vault power.
Handstand against Wall: Having a perfect handstand position is really important in the front handspring vault, because you won’t be able to block hard off the vault without it. You need a nice tight body position to hit the vault table and immediately repulse off of it. Practice handstands against the wall or with a handstand homework mat. This also helps to strengthen the arm muscles you need to do the vertical pushing motion during the support phase of your front handspring vault.
Handstand Holds on Parallette: Practicing handstand holds on a parallette is a great drill because this makes the handstand hold drill harder and forces the gymnast to keep a really tight body. Try to do this against a wall or with a handstand homework mat.
Front Handspring Vault Drills You Should Be Able to Do at the Gym
Inclined Handstand Holds: Inclined handstand holds are another drill you should be able to do that help you perfect the handstand position. You can do these with your hands on a springboard and your body slightly resting against the vault table (as shown in the video). You want to be able to hold that perfectly straight shape.
Springboard Jump onto Mat: Similar to one of the level 1 vault options, practice jumping off the springboard and onto a mat. Keep raising the height of the mat as you progress. Focus on your body position as you jump onto the springboard. Your hips should be tucked under, your knees slightly bent, your arms in front of you and your core squeezed.
Handstand Flatback on Mat Stack: You should be able to do a handstand flatback onto a mat stack, or the level 3 vault, before you attempt a front handspring off the vault table.
Handstand Flatback off Vault Table onto Mat Stack: To do this drill, stack mats behind the vault table until they reach the table height. The next drill you should be able to do is to do the first part of the front handspring vault off the vault table and land flat on your back on mats stacked. Focus on repulsing off the vault table in a straight body position.
Tools for Learning a Front Handspring
Handstand Homework Mat: A handstand homework mat is great for practicing the handstand position you need without having to practice against a hard wall. Practicing handstands at home is great for increasing your gymnast’s arm strength and improving her form.
Light Weights: Light weights are helpful for adding resistance to strength exercises.
Parallette: Practicing handstands on a parallette is a great drill for the front handspring vault, since it makes the handstand more difficult and any problems in the gymnast’s form more apparent.
The drills listed above are important steps in the process of learning and mastering a front handspring vault. By strengthening the muscles you need for a front handspring, and practicing the drills to master the steps, you will learn how to do a front handspring vault. And with time, master it!