What is a Somersault in Gymnastics? (guide)

One of the most captivating moves in gymnastics is the somersault which is also commonly known as the salto. A somersault is a skill that involves a complete rotation in the air while maintaining control and form. In this article, we will explore the different types of somersault, their variations, common mistakes to avoid, and how to improve techniques.

So, let’s jump in!

backwards somersault

Table of Contents

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article does not replace the need for professional coaching or spotting in a recognized facility. Somersaults are dangerous when performed incorrectly.


Gymnastics has always been known for its awe-inspiring moves, and saltos are no exception. Whether you’re a gymnast yourself or an admirer of the sport, understanding what a somersault is can deepen your appreciation for the athleticism and precision required to perform such skills.

What is a Somersault in Gymnastics?

A somersault, in simple terms, is a skill that involves rotating the body while airborne. It is a fundamental movement in gymnastics, requiring the gymnast to jump into the air and execute a complete rotation before landing on the ground or another apparatus. Somersaults are often performed on floor exercises, balance beam, vault, and uneven bars.

A somersault rotates without touching the floor or apparatus which makes it different to a Back Handspring as the hands touch the floor.

When performing a somersault from the apparatus a gymnast will use the contact from the equipment to generate lift and rotation in much the same way that a gymnast on the floor will use the bounce generated through the sprung floor.

Types of Somersaults

Somersaults can be classified into different categories based on their take-off direction and body position. Let’s explore some of the most common types of saltos:

twisting somersault

Front Somersaults

Front somersaults are performed by rotating forward. This involves taking off facing forwards into the air and rotating the body in a forward direction, typically landing on the feet at the end. If you are familiar with forward roll on the floor, the front somersault is the same thing but in the air! Examples of front saltos include front tucks, front pikes, and front layouts.

Back Somersaults

Back somersaults, as the name suggests, involve rotating backward. These skills require the gymnast to take off facing backward and then rotate the hips up and over the head. Imagine performing a backward roll in the air and you pretty much have a Back Salto. The shape can vary in the same way that a front salto does for example tucked, picked or layout (straight).

Many gymnasts find it harder to back salto than front salto because they cannot see the floor behind them when they take off.

Side Somersaults

Side somersaults are executed by rotating sideways. This type of salto requires the gymnast to half turn their body to the side during or just after take off. Side aerials and side somersaults are examples of side saltos.

side somersault

Somersault Variations

Within each type of salto, there are various variations that gymnasts can perform to add complexity and artistry to their routines. In order of difficulty, starting with the easiest:

  • Tuck Somersault: A salto executed with a tucked body position, where the gymnast brings their knees towards their chest to create a compact rotation.
  • Pike Somersault: A salto performed with a piked body position, where the gymnast keeps their legs extended and bends at the hips/waist.
  • Puck Somersault: An open tuck shape is sometimes used as a progression for learning the layout. The knees are still bent like a tuck but not brought into the chest. A puck salto is not usually used in competition.
  • Layout Somersault: A salto executed with a straight body position and extended legs, creating a dynamic and visually appealing rotation. Although labeled a ‘straight’ salto, there is often some arching or hollow dishing of the body.
  • Twisting Somersault: Saltos can incorporate twisting movements in addition to the rotational element. Twisting is usually performed in a layout shape.
  • Double Somersaults: Two or more saltos can be performed in one go. Doubles, triples and quads have been performed by Power Tumblers and Trampoline gymnasts but are very rare in artistic floor exercises because of the extreme amount of power needed.

Common Mistakes in Performing Somersaults

While saltos can be impressive and beautiful when executed correctly, they can also be challenging to master. Here are some common mistakes that gymnasts may encounter when performing saltos:

  1. Lack of Height: One of the key aspects of a successful salto is generating enough height to complete the rotation. Insufficient height can lead to incomplete rotations or awkward landings.
  2. Poor Form: Maintaining proper form throughout the salto is crucial for a clean and controlled rotation. Gymnasts should focus on keeping their body tight, maintaining a straight or appropriately positioned body shape based on the salto type, and avoiding any excessive arching or rounding of the back.
  3. Under-Rotation or Over-Rotation: Finding the right amount of rotation can be challenging. Under-rotating a salto can result in landing short, while over-rotating can lead to instability and difficulty in sticking the landing.
  4. Lack of Spotting: Spotting is an essential technique in gymnastics that involves identifying a specific point to focus on during the salto. Not spotting or losing sight of the spot can affect balance and spatial awareness during the rotation.
  5. Insufficient Air Awareness: Air awareness refers to the ability to understand and control body movements while in the air. Lack of air awareness can make it difficult to execute the salto precisely and can result in awkward landings or falls.

How to Improve Somersault Technique

Improving your somersault technique requires practice, focus, and attention to detail. Here are some tips to enhance your salto performance:

  1. Develop Strength and Flexibility: Building core strength and flexibility is essential for executing powerful and controlled saltos. Incorporate conditioning exercises and stretches into your training routine to enhance your physical capabilities.
  2. Work on Proper Takeoff and Entry: A strong and precise takeoff is vital for generating height and momentum in your salto. Focus on explosive leg drive, maintaining a tight body position, and engaging your core during the takeoff.
  3. Master Body Control: Learning to control your body throughout the salto is crucial. Practice body shaping drills, such as hollow body holds and tuck jumps, to improve your body control and awareness during rotations.
  4. Gradual Progression: Start with simpler saltos and gradually progress to more complex variations. It’s important to build a solid foundation of technique and confidence before attempting more challenging skills.
  5. Seek Professional Coaching: Working with a qualified gymnastics coach can provide valuable guidance and feedback on your technique. They can help identify areas for improvement, provide drills and exercises tailored to your needs, and ensure safety during training.

Gymnasts often learn how to somersault using a Trampoline or other types of rebound equipment because they generate way more height and allow the gymnast to focus on technique and shaping.

However, the additional height from a Trampoline also increases the risk of injury when performing somersaults. Professional gymnasts have spotters at the side of the trampoline to throw in mats if it looks like they will land badly.

Safety Considerations for Somersaults

While somersaults can be exhilarating, safety should always be a top priority. Here are some safety considerations to keep in mind when practicing saltos:

  1. Proper Equipment: Ensure that you are using appropriate and well-maintained equipment, such as landing mats and spotting belts, to minimize the risk of injuries.
  2. Warm-up and Stretching: Always warm up your body and perform stretching exercises before attempting saltos. This helps prevent muscle strains and prepares your body for the demands of the skill.
  3. Spotting and Progression: Work with a qualified spotter or coach when learning and practicing saltos. They can provide support, guidance, and ensure a safe environment for skill development.
  4. Controlled Environment: Perform saltos in a suitable training area that provides ample space and is free of hazards. Avoid practicing on hard or uneven surfaces.
  5. Listen to Your Body: If you experience pain or discomfort during training, listen to your body and seek appropriate medical attention if needed. Pushing through injuries can lead to further harm.


Somersaults are captivating and dynamic moves in gymnastics that showcase the incredible skill and athleticism of gymnasts. Understanding the concept of a salto, its various types and variations, common mistakes to avoid, and techniques to improve your performance can elevate your appreciation for this impressive skill.

By focusing on proper technique, body control, and gradual progression, gymnasts can enhance their ability to execute somersaults effectively. However, it is crucial to prioritize safety throughout the learning process. Utilizing appropriate equipment, warming up properly, seeking professional coaching, and practicing in controlled environments are essential steps to minimize the risk of injuries.

In conclusion, somersaults are a fundamental aspect of gymnastics, adding flair and excitement to routines. By mastering the techniques, incorporating variations, and ensuring safety, gymnasts can showcase their prowess and captivate audiences with their remarkable somersault skills.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are somersaults only performed by advanced gymnasts?

Somersaults can be performed by gymnasts at different skill levels. Beginners may start with simpler somersaults and gradually progress to more complex ones as they develop their technique and strength. Beginners would need to be familiar with basic gymnastics shapes and have a spotter at all times.

How long does it take to learn a somersault?

The time it takes to learn a somersault varies depending on individual factors such as athleticism, training frequency, and dedication. It can range from several months to years of consistent practice.

Can somersaults be performed on all gymnastics apparatus?

Somersaults can be performed on various apparatus in gymnastics, including floor exercise, balance beam, vault, and uneven bars. However, the technique and execution may differ slightly based on the specific apparatus.

What should I do if I’m afraid of performing somersaults?

Fear is natural when attempting new and challenging skills. Working with a supportive coach, gradually building confidence through progressions, and focusing on proper technique can help overcome fear.

If you are still really worried – don’t attempt to do a somersault. Focus on more basic moves such as forward rolls, backward rolls and handstands.

Can somersaults be incorporated into other sports or fitness activities?

While somersaults are commonly associated with gymnastics, variations of saltos can be found in activities like freerunning, trampoline, diving, and acrobatics. It is important to receive proper training and guidance when attempting saltos in any context outside of gymnastics.