How to Do a Cartwheel in Gymnastics

Cartwheels are an elementary skill in gymnastics and one of the first moves all new gymnasts learn. When performed correctly, it looks like a pinwheel in motion. The cartwheel is also a building block to more advanced skills. It not only starts the process for elements such as round-offs and walkovers, but it also helps gymnasts learn balance, control and vertical alignment.

This guide will help new gymnasts learn to cartwheel quickly by breaking the skill into smaller, more manageable moves. As with any part of gymnastics, practice, patience and good coaching are essential to success.

Before the Cartwheel

Before you start, make sure you have enough room, since your body may not necessarily go in a straight line. Make sure obstacles are not in the front, back and or to the sides of you.

You should learn to cartwheel on a soft surface, like a gym mat, spring floor, soft carpet, or open grassy field. However, the best place to practice is in a gymnastics facility with a qualified coach assisting you. Many gyms will offer lessons for a small fee to children and adults alike.

Make sure to wear comfortable clothing. Sweat pants with a tucked in t-shirt, shorts or leotards are best. It is also important to practice in bare feet, without socks or shoes. Socks can make your feet slip on the floor or mat, and shoes will alter the distribution of you weight, interfering with your balance.

Once you are in a suitable environment, use the following four steps to learn the move. You will be on your way to the perfect cartwheel in no time!

Step 1: Lunge

Start with your feet together; your body tight and in alignment. Reach your arms over your head, keeping your arms tight to your ears and your core strong. Tuck your bottom under with your hips and shoulders vertically aligned.

Point one foot out in front of you in the direction you plan to cartwheel. It is best to start out by placing your strongest foot in front, which is usually the same leg you use to kick a ball.

Step down on the front foot and lean forward into a lunge position. Keep your arms over your head and in-line with your torso.

Now you are ready to put your hands on the ground.

Hot Tip: Continuous Motion

A cartwheel is a continuous motion. Thinking of it as a hand, hand, foot, foot process can help to learn the skill.

Step 2: Hands Down

Once you are in the lunge position, transfer your weight onto the forward leg while simultaneously placing your hands side-by-side on the ground.

The cartwheel is a split hand movement: The first hand placed on the floor should match the forward leg. For example, if your left leg was the leg in front, your left hand should land on the floor first. The palm of the hand should align with the shoulder, and the fingers should face away from your head.

Step 3: Handstand

As you place the first hand on the floor, kick the back leg into a hand stand position. Almost immediately after it’s kicked, place the second hand on the floor and kick the second leg into the air.

The hands should be side-by- side, shoulder width apart with all the fingers facing away from the head. Your body should be in a sideways handstand position with legs apart and forming a “V” in the air. Remember to keep your legs straight and your toes pointed.

Step 4: Step Down

The feet come out of the cartwheel in a split leg format: The first leg to come down is the last leg to go up. As you bring that leg out of the handstand, the first hand placed on the floor naturally lifts up off the ground, following the continuous motion of the body.

The second leg and hand will also move easily with the body’s momentum. The second leg lands behind the first leg, just as the second hand lifts off the ground (following the first hand).

You complete the cartwheel by landing in a lunge position with the opposite leg (from the starting lunge) in front. Keep your arms raised above your head with your shoulders and hips square.

Control the Cartwheel

Learning to perfect the cartwheel will take time. Eventually, and with a lot of practice, the cartwheel will become a key element in your gymnastics routine. Once you learn to control the skill and make the movements fluid and vertical, you will be giant step closer to achieving your gymnastics goals.

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