A backward roll is a basic move that all beginner gymnasts should aim to learn within the first few weeks or months of training. A backward roll is a building block for learning more advanced moves such as back somersaults.
There are many variations of backward rolls that include different body shapes and can be combined with other gymnastics skills.
Being able to perform a backward roll can also help a gymnast fall safely when they make a mistake.
Let’s dive into this!
Table of Contents
- Is a backward roll hard?
- What are the steps involved in performing a backward roll?
- How do you practice a backward roll?
- What are the benefits of backward roll?
- Can you break your neck doing a backward roll?
Disclaimer: Gymnastics carries an inherent level of risk. Information contained in this article does not replace the need for professional coaching in a recognized gymnastics facility.
Is a backward roll hard?
A backward roll can be hard for beginner gymnasts as they often use the head and neck to support themself. It’s also harder than a forward roll as many gymnasts are uncomfortable trying to roll without being able to see where they are going.
With the correct body shapes, technique and possibly some help from a coach, a backward roll can be mastered fairly easily. It also helps if you have a suitable gymnastics mat or cheese-shaped wedge mat.
What are the steps involved in performing a backward roll?
As with all gymnastics skills, break a backward roll done into smaller steps and it becomes easier to learn and spot and fix errors.
What should be the start position in a backward roll?
When a gymnast first learns a backward roll they should start in a standing stretched shape before crouching down into a tucked position. Some coaches will use cheese-shaped wedge mats to start learning a backward roll. In this case, it is sometimes easier to sit down on the edge of the mat as it is like a crouched tuck shape.
However, to truly master a backward roll you should be able to start in a standing stretched shape.
How do you get over in a backward roll?
There are three key points in helping a gymnast rotate over in a backward roll.
- Have the hands facing upwards and placed above the shoulders so that as the gymnast rolls onto the back, the hands contact the floor. This will support the whole body and protect the head and neck by taking weight off them. The elbows should also be pressing in towards the head to ensure the arms stay strong.
- Keep the tuck shape as you roll. Tuck shape is the roundest gymnastics shape and is therefore the one that rolls the easiest. As a gymnast gets more advanced they can begin to roll in pike or straddle but the longer the shape, the harder it is to roll.
- Push through the feet to create momentum. It’s just like a jump so unless you create some power you will simply fall back, hit the mat and stop. Obviously too much of a jump will make you hit the floor too hard so find the right balance of power to master your roll.
What should be the finish position in a backward roll?
To start with, a beginner gymnast should be happy to land on their knees however, you need to land on your feet and then stretch up in a straight body shape to be able to say you have mastered a backward roll.
The next step is to learn to finish in different body shapes. For example, finishing in front support shape, straddle shape or standing pike shape are common variations of a backward roll.
How do you practice a backward roll?
The best mat to practice a backward roll on, has a slope or incline because when you roll downhill gravity helps a gymnast have more momentum. Cheese-shaped wedge mats have been specifically designed for this reason.
To practice your backward roll, sit at the top of the mat, facing backwards and roll backwards.
If a gymnast finds it too hard, there are a few drills they can practice to help.
- Rock back and forwards in a tuck shape.
- From standing, crouch and rock back without going over.
- Practice having the hands positioned back above the shoulders, ready to contact the floor and push off.
- If a gymnast struggles to be strong enough to push off with their hands, they should do some strength work like push ups to help.
Having a coach spot you doing a backward roll will mean they can help take the weight off your hands and protect your neck so if you are struggling to learn a backward roll, investing in professional coaching is a sensible step.
What are the benefits of backward roll?
A backward roll will help a gymnast understand the mechanics of a back somersault. Pull overs and Back Hip Circles on the Bar are essentially a backward roll whilst hanging. It also develops a gymnasts instinct to tuck and roll out safely from other skills they may have performed badly so it keeps them safer
For example, if a gymnast over rotates at the end of a back handspring (or any other backward-facing skill), there is a good chance they will fall backward and land on their head or back. By rolling out they use and absorb the extra momentum until they regain their balance and control, thus avoiding injury.
A backward roll will also help develop strength in the arms, wrists, legs and core muscles.
Can you break your neck doing a backward roll?
It’s unlikely a gymnast will break their neck doing a backward roll however, it is still a real possibility that one should be aware of. It is common for a gymnast to pull a muscle in their neck doing a backward roll (which can be painful) but I have never personally seen or heard of a gymnast breaking their neck during a backward roll. I am sure it has happened – my point is that it is a rare occurrence.
This is especially true for beginner gymnasts who tend to put more weight on their head and neck as they are still learning to get their hands in the correct place to support the weight.
Even more advanced gymnasts will still have their head contact the floor but they have learned the skill properly to keep the pressure to a minimum.
For these reasons, great care should be taken and the right equipment used to learn a backward roll. As I have stated many times, a good professional coach will always be safer than self-taught gymnastics.