A split leap is an important skill in gymnastics, and one that you should master. A split leap is usually part of the dance in both your floor and beam routines. I’m going to tell you some drills and exercises you can do to help you learn a beautiful, perfect split leap.
As a beginner gymnast, you will start doing a split leap requiring only a 90° split in the level 3 floor routine. By the time you are a level 5 gymnast, you will need to be able to do a split leap with a 150° split on floor. Starting as a level 6 gymnast, you will need to be able to do a leap, split or jump with a 180° split. So needless to say, a split leap is a skill you should spend time learning how to do perfectly.
The first step to learning how to do a perfect split leap, is to master a split jump. A split jump is what a split leap should look like in mid-air. A split jump is off two feet, while a split leap is off of one.
One other tip for doing beautiful split leaps is to leap into the leap. This means that if you are taking several steps into your split leap, the last step should be low and long, like a leap. The low and long step you take before the leap is a punching step. This step helps you punch off the ground so you can leap higher.
Study Done on Improving Split Leaps
As I mentioned in my article about Flexibility in Gymnasts, there was a study done by Dr. Sands to try to increase a group of elite gymnasts’ flexibility. The skill they used for measurement was split leaps.
In the study they began by measuring the degree of split of the gymnasts’ split leaps with video. Then the gymnasts began a training program where they used therabands to add resistance to the following moves. (They added resistance because they are elite gymnasts, these exercises should be completely mastered without resistance before attempting to add it.)
- Kicks forward
- Kicks sideward
- Kicks rearward
- Straddle jumps
- Split jumps
They slowly increased the amount of repetitions and sets. At the end of the study all of the gymnasts had improved their split leaps along with their jumps and kicks. Kicks and jumps are included in the drills you should master below.
Muscles You Need for a Split Leap
Legs: You need strong legs in order to do a beautiful split leap, because your leg muscles are what help you punch off the ground to get high in the air. Your legs and hip muscles are also what pull your legs up off the ground into the split position they should be in while in the air.
Exercises You Can Do at Home for a Split Leap
Squats: You need to have strong legs to push off the ground in order to do a perfect split leap. One exercise you can do to strengthen those muscles is squats. To do a squat, stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart. You can either do squats with your feet pointing out (with them slightly at a diagonal angle) or your feet pointing forwards. The squats will work different muscles depending on which way your feet are pointing. 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.
Kettlebell Deadlifts: Kettlebell deadlifts are a hip-pulling exercise just like a split leap. In order to do them, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Place a kettlebell between your legs, in line with your ankles. With a straight back, looking in front of you, bend from the hips, and reach down to pick up the kettlebell in between your legs. Your shins should be vertical and your lower back should be flat. Then pushing through your legs, return to a standing position.
Split Leap Drills
Splits on the Floor: Practicing your splits on the floor will help you practice the correct shape, since your legs should be in a perfect split in the air.
Step into a Standing Split Against a Mat: One good drill you can have your gymnast do is to stand next to a thick mat against the wall. Then she should step forwards and kick her leg up into a split position resting against the mat. The foot she is standing on should be in relevé. This is shown in the video above.
Split Jumps on Trampoline: Split jumps on trampoline help your gymnast practice the position she should be in in the middle of the split leap, along with the motion of pushing her legs up into that position.
Kicks: Practicing both front and back kicks are important for learning to do a perfect split leap, as evidenced by the results of the study by Dr. Sands. If you think about what happens in your split leap, your front leg is doing a similar motion to a kick, while your back leg is doing a similar motion to a back kick. So it’s important to practice both front and back kicks on both legs. You can do these at home standing next to the back of a couch or chair, using it to rest your arm for balance. The video above shows a kicking complex by famed coach Mary Lee Tracy that you can practice at home. The sequence is a front kick with one leg, front kick with the other leg, then front kick with the first leg, back kick with the second leg and a fouetté.
Tools for Learning a Split Leap
Developing Leaps and Jumps for Gymnastics Video by Tammy Biggs: This video by the amazing coach Tammy Biggs has tons of drills for learning how to do great leaps and jumps. I’ve seen her put on presentations at conferences and I always leave with actionable tips, and you will do the same with this video.
8-Inch Mat: An 8-inch mat can be used to do the split leap drill where you step against a mat propped against the wall.
Kettlebells: Kettlebells are useful for doing strength exercises with resistance.
Therabands: Therabands are useful for adding resistance to kicks and jumps once you have completely mastered them without resistance.
If you work on strengthening your muscles with the exercises above, and practice the split leap drills, I feel confident that you should be on your way to learning and improving your split leap. And once you’ve mastered your split leap, you can move on to learning how to do a switch leap.