The backward roll is one of the most recognizable beginner gymnastics skills. It is also one of the skills that really tends to psych people out. I’m here to tell you that learning a backward roll can be easy and stress free if you use the progressions listed below.
A quick note on backwards rolls and progressions in general: progression-based learning is extremely important in gymnastics. All basic skills are really just the first brick in the palace of gymnastics skills.
My Five Favorite Backwards Roll Progressions
Backward rolls, if learned correctly, will turn into back extension rolls, back tucks, and beyond. This makes learning each skill correctly the first time around essential to being able to eventually perform the more advanced skills.
1. Rock and Roll
This drill is super simple. Anyone can try it. Start from standing with hands flat by ears like you are holding a slice of pizza in each hand. I like to call this “pizza hands.” Squat down with knees together and roll back until hands touch the floor by your head. Next roll forward to return to a standing position.
2. Flap Jack
A favorite drill of my preschool gymnasts. We use a trapezoid block during class, but I always hear from my gym parents how their child is now "flap-jacking" non-stop off the couch at home. Lay on your back on a block. Scoot until the top of your head and your hands are flat on the floor. With legs together, pull both legs over your head to finish in a standing position on the floor. This drill also helps learn the pushing motion needed to perform a full backward roll. You can roll backward all day long, but if you don’t push with your arms you are going to get stuck folded up like a lawn chair on your back.
3. Backward Roll Down an Incline
Now is the time to smoosh together our first two progressions to create a delicious backward roll sandwich. I like to start my kiddos off on their backward rolls by going down an incline. This takes away some of the fear associated with rolling backwards and makes it easier to roll over. Start by standing at the top of the wedge. Now we are going to repeat our Rock and Roll drill by squatting and rolling backwards down the wedge. Instead of stopping, you are going to push into the mat when our hands touch. In the same motion, pull your legs over your head like the Flapjack drill to land on your feet.
4. Backward roll off a panel mat
This is similar to the first three drills but is a little more challenging than a backward roll down a wedge. You are going to start standing on the panel mat and squat to roll backwards. Hands and head should touch the floor (similar to the flapjack), pull legs over your head and push with arms to stand up on your feet.
5. Backward roll with a spot
Now is the time to try a backward roll on the ground or a padded flat surface. The first couple attempts will most likely benefit from a safe “spot” or help from a coach. The coach should stand or kneel next to the gymnast. Coach should reach in to lift the hips while the gymnast is rolling over. Never try to push a gymnast over when doing a backward roll. This push can put pressure on the neck resulting in an injury. It is always best to wait for a spot from a trained coach.
And there it is! Each progression is definitely going to need many many tries before progressing to the next step. Make sure the gymnast is completely comfortable and has mastered each progression before moving to the next drill. Have fun, be safe, and keep on rolling!