Dynamic Arts - Groundwork


Landings on the ground are almost always feet first, so the impact of landing can be cushioned by the legs. Poor landings put great stresses on the ankles, knees and lower back. When the impact is light, land by placing the feet close to parallel, turned slightly outwards at the toes, and with the heels the same width apart as the hips. Bend the knees on landing, keeping the knees at the same width as the feet. This method minimizes rotational strains on the knee.

Alternatively, if there is little forward motion, land with the feet rotated out at the toes and the knees rotated out at the same angle, something more frog-like in appearance. The hands come down between the feet and can be used to push off again.

When drilling (repeating over and over to improve) moves, be sure to focus separately on each part of a move. In one set concentrate on the launch, in another on the airtime, and another, on the landing. A good landing faces the intended direction of travel, in a comfortable, balanced and slightly tucked position. Try to land without twists between the shoulders, hips and knees. If the landing surface can be chosen, concrete is probably the worst to go for. Soil, sand, rounded or chipped stones and grass all offer a softer, if less clean, point of contact. Always be on the look out for glass, mud, water, and various slimes at your intended landing positions, as a clean landing can often depend upon a clean surface.

Drop (Saut de Fond)

A drop from a high place to a low place, with or without a running launch. Any drop with greater momentum than can be easily and safely absorbed by the legs will require a roll. This is a typical landing from any drop greater than a Traceur’s height, and often a lot less. The roll is used to dissipate the energies of landing over a greater timespan, while allowing the momentum of the body to continue in its line of motion.

The Roll (Roulade)

A roll is not the forward roll of gymnastics. It is the roll used in martial arts where the point of the back in contact with the ground moves from shoulder to opposite hip, rather than along the spine.

There are two reasons for this: Rolling along the spine on hard ground causes each vertebra in turn to strike the ground, causing bruising and possibly dislocation. The second reason is potentially more damaging. On hard ground, a compression wave can travel along the spine, resulting in extreme pressure at the base of the spine at the end of the roll, which can cause severe injury.

To learn to roll, place the left and right feet, the left knee, left hand and right forearm as shown. X marks the spot where the shoulder first makes contact with the ground.

Push off the right foot onto the right shoulder, while tucking the head in, and roll across the back towards the left hip. Many awkward feeling attempts may have to be made to get a smooth roll even from this starting position, but it is worth beginning low down to reduce the risk of shoulder and hip impact injuries, especially on hard surfaces. A more fluid roll begins in a standing position, launching from the right foot, with the left foot rising off the ground to the rear. The sequence of contact with the ground is left hand, right shoulder, a line across the back to the left hip, the outside of the left leg from left hip to left ankle, and finally return to a standing position, first on the right foot before rolling the left from ankle to foot. The line of contact of the back with the ground should be in the line of motion.


If the roll follows a landing - as it most often will - the initial launch is from two feet, with both hands being placed together where the left hand normally goes. This absorbs a little more impact while allowing the energy of the landing to be transferred to the roll with a lower risk of collapse than with only one arm for support.

A diving roll may take you clear over a picnic table. If you can manage an arched position in the air, it will look like you are flying. Diving rolls are best practiced with a soft landing mat or at least on soft ground.

A more dangerous type of roll known as a sacrifice, takes a stiff topple from a small wall, tucking into the roll at the last moment. Do not attempt this on a hard surface until your timing is perfect!


A rotation of the body about the vertical axis, most often in multiples of 90°. Twists are used in combination with other moves, and can be performed with a jump or with only a tiny hop and tight rotation.


A rotation of the person about the navel with two hands or only one hand touching the ground. The three or four points of contact with the ground should be in a straight line.


Balancing on the hands, most often with the body straight and feet hovering over the head. A wholly undynamic exercise, but fun anyway. Try to get into the handstand smoothly and without a kick. This will build the strength to be able to do a handstand at a corner railing or on top of a wall.

To increase shoulder strength, get into the handstand position against a wall, and either hold the position as long as possible, or try doing push-ups. A one handed handstand is possible. After mastering a two handed handstand, lean to one side and lift one hand off the ground. In the beginning, this will turn into a flop or cartwheel, but a gradual increase in duration should be forthcoming.

When lifting into the handstand, lean forward onto slightly bent arms, and lift both feet off the ground together in a controlled rise known as an elephant lift. Alternatively, try to rise from a straddle position to build more shoulder strength.

Sometimes, through no fault of your own - probably smeared grease or water on a poor foothold, or a loose brick at the top of a wall - you will end up in a less than dignified position on the ground. You can heave yourself back to your feet and underline the fact that you shouldn’t have crashed in the first place (onlookers are so critical) or you can get up smoothly. Here are four smooth rises; the first two are from a prostrate or prone position (face down) and the second two from a reclining position (face up).

Pop to feet from prone

Do an explosive press up and pop to your feet, using either knees or toes for leverage.

Roll to feet from prostrate

If you land face down in the foetal position, you can roll backwards onto your feet without pushing off with your hands. It may sound easy but takes a little practice, and looks a little more refined than pushing off the hands. Keep the hands loosely on the top of the thigh near the knee.

Roll to feet from back

From a position lying on the back, tuck and roll back onto the shoulders. Push the feet straight upward until the body is raised vertically above the shoulders and the hands point towards the thighs. This position is called the tranquillity pose, or ananda asana in yoga.

Holding the body straight, fall towards the heels, then at the last moment, tuck the body and roll forward to the feet. Tucking too soon will result in not quite making it to the feet and rolling back into a recline again. Although less likely to cause injury than a gymnastic forward roll, this move should only be done on softer ground.

Shoulder spring, neck kip, kip up, nip up, kick up

Roll back onto the shoulders in a piked position and flip up to feet. Some use hands for leverage; others use their heads. Practice roll to the feet from recline first, as the starting position for the spring is similar to the starting position for the roll. When you are ready to have a go, find a gym mat, thick carpet, or other impact absorber.

Early efforts usually entail pounding the ground with the heels, and only a few repetitions will bruise the heels on hard ground. Don’t worry about early failures, as they will be building the muscles in the back required for later success.

The next group of moves are gymnastic or tumbling skills, and must be learned in an environment which affords some protection against mishap. The best place is a gym with good quality crash mats. A discussion on equipment and the order of learning these moves follows the descriptions.


A forward flick, begun as a kick to handstand, and completed by flicking over to land on the feet. Once you are used to the dynamics of the shoulder spring, progressing to a handspring is only a moderate step, even if you cannot quite get to your feet.

The best platform for practicing the handspring is four gym benches side by side with a crash mat tucked under one end, and a tumbling mat rolled over the whole lot. This very useful arrangement will also serve for the flyspring, round off, flicflac, front somersault, barani and backflip.

The method of nailing a good handspring is to keep the arms straight and shoulders locked, and to get a good flick at the waist. A run up helps, but a handspring from one step is not too much more difficult. In early attempts be prepared for a few bottom landings, which is why the crash mat is so important.

A bottom landing on hard ground can result in crushed or dislodged vertebrae, or a broken back. A support person, called a spotter, can often provide enough extra confidence and a little extra lift for the hesitant. The spotter stands at the junction between platform and crash mat, and places one hand in the small of the back, and the other behind the shoulders. This position allows the spotter to guide and lift, and prevent a roll back onto the platform after a poor landing.


A more difficult version of the handspring, launching from two feet.

Front somersault, front flip (Salto avant)

A traversal of matter over mind, landing on the matter, and often from a raised platform. A good jump and good tuck are all that is needed for a somersault. Practicing on a trampette and crash mat will bring early rewards. A loser (as opposed to a gainer) is a forward somersault off a raised platform, but taking off by jumping backwards and away from the platform.

Backflip, Backward somersault (Salto arrière)

A backward rotation in the air, often launching from a raised platform. The easiest backflip is in a tucked position, but from a raised surface (make sure you have a very soft landing area to practice) a layout is not too much more difficult. After this, come gainers (moving forward while rotating backwards), X-outs and all manner of tricks which are variations on the backflip

Round off, Arab Spring

A move to get into the correct position with enough momentum for a flicflac. Begin as for a cartwheel, with the forwardmost hand rotated to point slightly backwards, then at the centre point, bring the legs together, and flick to land with the back towards the direction of travel.

Flic-flac, flip-flop, flic, backward handspring (Flip)

A half backward somersault, landing on the hands, taking off again and landing on the feet.


A round off without any hands, most often used as a wall dismount. The first part is the same as the first half of a forward somersault, but when the feet are directly above the head, the body is straightened and the shoulder driven in so that the body begins to twist. As with a round off, the end point results in the back toward the direction of travel.


A no hands cartwheel. The launch for an aerial is more in a forward direction than the cartwheel’s sideways launch, although off raised objects, a sideways launch is possible if doing a tucked cartwheel. There are many variations of the aerial. A gymnastic aerial holds the legs straight as shown. Aerials used as dismounts or jumps over objects are tucked. Also, the launch foot can be positioned pointing forward or sideways depending on whether rotation comes from a kick into the move, or from forward momentum.


Online tutorials cover these different approaches.


A horizontal twist. From a running or standing start, move the torso into a horizontal position, and twist. Launch from the feet and allow the legs to follow the spin of the torso. It can be done in a straight or straddle position, B-twist is short for Butterfly twist.


The last two moves are of the same form, seen in breakdancing and gymnastics on pommel horse or on the ground. Breakdance flairs can be used as a fifth way of smoothly getting back to your feet after a wipeout.

Flairs or circles Like a gymnast on a pommel horse spinning the legs in a straddle position and changing from one hand to the other for support.

Windmills or breakdance flairs

Flairs without the hands, rolling around the torso. Flairs are learned by gymnasts on a raised dome or mushroom, which allow the feet to fall below the level of the hands while strength and endurance improve.

Quadripedal walking

More an exercise than a method of moving, walking on all fours, stretched out as in a cat balance (see the railings section) has become popular. It has been inherited from La Method Naturelle, also known as Hébertisme.

Learning to backflip and flicflac

Some people pick up backflips quite easily. Others have a mental block where the brain and body combine to preserve themselves from an apparent head or neck landing. This block can be overcome in a number of ways, depending upon what equipment is available.

The gymnastic approach is to first learn the round off. After a hundred or so repetitions, the move is extended into a flicflac, with a support person placing a hand under the base of the spine, and the other behind the thigh for support. A mastered flicflac can be turned into a backward somersault.

It is of some benefit to get used to the backward motion of the flicflak by lying horizontally on a bed or other raised platform, with the small of the back on the edge, then rolling off backwards and landing in a handstand. Avoid sharp edges which can cause spinal problems.

An alternative approach in gymnastics clubs is to use a trampoline or trampette to learn the backward somersault. In both cases, a skilled support person with either a trampoline harness or a towel wrapped around the somersaulter’s waist is required.

A do-it-yourself trampoline method with no support person is as follows. During these exercises always take small bounces to reduce the risk of injury.

1. Learn to bounce and land in the same spot at the centre of the trampoline. Some trampolines have crossed centrelines for this purpose, others have the manufacturers logo. While bouncing, the left arm should trace out an anticlockwise D shape, with the arm never going behind the shoulder. The right arm will follow its mirror image.

2. Learn the seat drop. While bouncing, drop to a piked sitting position with the hands behind the hips and fingers pointing towards the toes. Bounce back to the feet.

3. Learn the back drop. Rotate a little further than the seat drop, onto the back with the feet in the air and legs around 30-45°. The chin should be tucked lightly into the chest, and the arms raised and straight, pointing towards the knees. Bounce back to the feet.

4. Adjust the back drop, so palms are facing the ground, with the arms parallel and down by the sides. From the back drop, push off with the hands, tuck, and let the body rotate over the head. Only a light push is needed, but the tuck is important. Land crouching on the feet and hands, then later upright on the feet. This move gets you used to somersaulting over your head.

5. Instead of going down into the back drop, bounce on the bottom and feet in a crouch or tuck, with the hands down by the sides, palms facing the ground and fingers pointing forwards. As in 4, rotate the body with the hands and go over backwards, landing again in a crouch or upright on the feet. This move confirms that you can actually do a complete backward rotation.

6. Gradually (over days or weeks) move the rotation force from your hands to your legs, and at some point you will find you have actually done a backflip. This part is the crux of the sequence. At this point, try looking forward upon takeoff, then immediately look over the top of your head to try and spot the landing. At launch, drive your arms up and backwards, and have them above your head ready to cushion incomplete rotations. Taking only small bounces is key to avoiding injury.

7. Improve the backflip until a good upright takeoff and landing are achieved. At this point, try a backflip without a tuck, keeping the body fairly straight in what is called a layout.

8. Try the backflip without a bounce. Move towards the edge of the trampoline to give more space behind you for error, then try the backflip from a standing start.

9. Get into a gym and try without the trampoline but with a crash mat. A thick, soft crash mat is best to begin with. Either use a foam pit, or a trampette and crash mat, or the setup shown in the handspring description, or the top section of a vaulting box next to a crash mat. When you have perfected the technique, moving to harder surfaces will be straightforward.

There are a few important movements in the backflip. The first is to launch into a fully extended, upward dive with the hips pushed forwards. To achieve this, crouch slightly, then jump up throwing the arms directly upwards. At the same time, look at the sky. The second is to tuck as tight as you can, gripping your knees or ankles. Some try to grip the underneath of their thighs, but this is not nearly as effective and usually results in a sloppy performance. The third is to get a good landing. Under-rotation or over-rotation will result in an uncomfortable landing.

Two tucks are possible. One is the foetal tuck, where the knees are brought up towards the chin, and knees held together. An alternative, offering slightly more rotational speed, pulls the knees apart, and legs up to the sides. This tuck is less natural, but is used more in aerial tucks and urban gymnastics.

When launching into the backflip, it is important to look straight forwards and not at the floor. It is also more efficient to jump directly upward and land at the same spot, but while learning, a solid take off and cushioned landing are required. Only a backward jump is possible.

Flic-flacs can be practiced first on the trampoline similarly to the backflip described above in step 8. Be careful: if you master a flicflac on a trampoline and then try immediately on the ground, you will land on your head! The trampoline gives somewhat to absorb the landing impact, in the way that the ground does not. Arms and shoulders must be locked hard.

When the round off, flicflac and backflip have been mastered, they can be linked together in a sequence of that order and practiced together.

A forward somersault requires forward momentum to create the forward rotation, and most important is the tuck. To complete the somersault, a tight tuck is required. While somersaulting, the rotation forces the tuck apart, so strong stomach muscles are required. Do not worry about early failures to complete the rotation, as the effort will be building the muscles required for later success. Achieving a backflip is not an overnight struggle. Expect to take a year or more, and at least a few months to achieve trampoline backflip success. It is a gradual process of building muscle, improving technique and getting used to the movement.