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The twist is the easy bit

I can recall writing some notes for a British Trampoline Federation coaching course several years ago where I stated. “In any trampoline skill involving twist, the twist is the easy bit!”  I went on to explain that “the difficult bit is creating the right amount of height and somersault rotation in order to provide enough time and the correct body shape in order to make the twist possible.”  This is just as true today and in my recent experience many coaches have not yet fully grasped the significance of the statement when teaching twisting moves.  This article examines some of the issues involved.

Firstly let’s take a look at the validity of the words the right amount of height and somersault rotation......  How can this relate to a full twist jump for example, where there is no need for any somersault rotation?  Well in that case the right amount of somersault - rotation is none at all.  The truth of the statement is borne out when one observes the frequency with which beginners fall off balance when attempting the full twist jump.  This can be a frustrating problem particularly when trying to perform the well known “full twist /straddle/swivel hips combination.  In their anxiety to perform the full twist they inadvertently initiate some rotation around the lateral or the dorso ventral axis as well as the longitudinal.  In effect they are creating an element of somersault rotation during the take off phase which only manifests itself when they fall off balance on first contact back on the bed. (Fig.1)


If we look at the other end of the difficulty range, any performer working to achieve a triffus will tell you that the half twist on the end is not the problem.  It is creating a triple somersault with enough speed and height in order to get into a shape conducive to the production of the half twist in the third somersault.  The principle still holds good for multiple somersaults with twist in each somersault.  Let’s look at one of the backward twisting double somersaults like half in/half out where there are arguably two twisting phases, one in each somersault.  Many gymnasts will perform this skill with the first half twist initiated during bed contact and the second twist relying on a combination of existing twist from the contact, aided by counter rotation and/or tilt.  Both twist elements are dependent on correct body shape to facilitate it.  The initial twist requires a straight body and the second a straight body extending from the form shape, ie. tuck or pike.  Neither of these body shapes can be achieved without substantial height and somersault momentum.  Fig. 2 shows Ye Shuai of China performing a half in half out (piked) following a tucked triff in mid routine.  The take off phase gives no indication that a twist is to be involved because he knows that the twist is the easy bit!


So the story goes on with the same principle applying equally to swivel hips, barani, half Out or half in/half out triff or any move you care to contemplate.

Coaches can be at fault for failing to recognise this principle and often state that so-and-so is a poor twister without realising that the problem lies with the quality of somersault.  Let me also apportion some blame to the trampolinist.  The beginner about to learn a full twist jump has an immediate impression that this is a skill of increased difficulty compared to a half twist jump.  They probably perceive that it is twice as hard as a half twist, after all it’s double the amount of turn around the twist axis!  The logical conclusion is it requires twice as much twisting input.  This thinking usually results in far too much effort being applied to the twist and little concentration on the most important element namely; to minimise the twist input whilst making sure that the body is straight and balanced throughout the takeoff phase.

Both the barani and the full twisting back can be subject to this problem of gymnast perception, particularly because both these moves will be the first occasion that the pupil has tried to combine twist with somersault in a forward and backward direction respectively.  As coaches we must be aware that the pupil will have the new element of the skill dominating their thinking and even causing serious anxiety.  We must expect that their actions in attempting the move or its preps will be governed by thoughts of twist rather than somersault.  This has serious implications for how we protect the early attempts as there is a real risk of massive twist and poor somersault input resulting in a dangerously under-rotated skill.

Another “classic” scenario can occur during the learning of the barani ball out.  The pupil has a competent ball out from a crash dive setup and it is decided to add the half twist to produce the barani ball out. Once again the predominant thought will be about twisting, and the performer, in their anxiety to complete the skill twists either early or at the same time as trying to create the ball out somersault. The best case scenario is that a “baby fliffus” is performed and at worst an overturned, early twisting cradle with head landing!  Even with the “baby fliffus” landing safely, the trampolinist can be seriously “freaked out” by the unexpected, unfamiliar feeling and complete loss of vision involved, resulting in further progress having to be suspended.

Probably the most alarming development of the scenario described above can occur during the teaching of the half out.  The gymnast, one would hope, has mastered the one and three quarter front followed by a clean tucked barani ball out before deciding to progress to the half out.  It must be borne in mind that not only will the thoughts of twisting be at the front of the pupil’s mind but they are about to perform their first ever double forward somersault.  There is likely to be a lot going on in the performer’s mind and the potential for the whole thing going wrong is very high indeed. It should be no surprise if the pupil performs a poorly committed double front and starts their twisting action at the end of the first somersault.  If the “baby fiiffus” experience is disconcerting, then this is frightening and potentially lethal!  It is crucial that a range of safeguards are put in place before the first attempt, not least a comprehensive period of mental rehearsal and visualisation using the one and three quarter front.  Depending on the size and maturity of the gymnast, the overhead rig should be used with a push-on mat in addition, although for lightweight juniors a catch can work well.

Having highlighted some specific examples, I want to return to the generic nature of the point I am making which is that in any twisting move the twist is the easy bit and coaches must prioritise the performer’s commitment to a high well rotated somersault (or double or triple as the case may be) so that the correct shape can be achieved in order to make the twist possible.  I have described the serious dangers involved with getting this wrong and at the very best, coaches and gymnasts will experience frustration and setbacks if they fail to understand and address the issue.

Let me leave you with some positive advice.

  1. Only progress to inserting twist into a somersault when the quality of somersault is consistently high.
  2. Make sure that the somersault has a lot of air time.
  3. Make sure that the somersault shapes precisely (if appropriate) and exits with a positive straight phase telling you that it would be conducive to twist production.
  4. Condition the pupil’s thinking that the somersault take off is everything and that the twist is indeed the “easy bit.”
  5. Always assume that the pupil will get it wrong by putting in more twist than somersault and be ready to protect them. (Physically and psychologically).
  6. Where possible alternate early attempts at the whole move with repetitions of the basic somersault in order to keep prioritising this in the performer’s mind.
  7. If the whole move is accomplished on a given day don’t expect to repeat the move on the following session without a comprehensive revision of the basic somersault.

Next article.

© Jack Kelly