Pullovers are one of those basic gymnastics skills that look like they should be super simple to learn (see also: cartwheels and backward rolls), but can take many months of practice to master. Thankfully there are some great drill progressions that make a pullover easier.
Coach Carly's Five Favorite Pullover Progressions (And a Bonus Drill)
There are a couple pre-requisites that must be accomplished before a pullover attempt. First, the gymnast must be able to hold their chin up to the bar with elbows tight to their sides, with or without a small amount of assistance. Second, the gymnast must be able to hold themselves up in a straight-arm front support on top of the bar.
1. Chin Up Tuck Hold
This drill requires some upper body and core strength. The gymnast holds their chin up to the bar and lifts their knees up to their belly to hold a tuck position. It is best to be able to hold this position for several seconds before standing again. The benefit of starting in a tuck position instead of straight legs is that it helps the gymnast build the strength needed to do the pullover in a progression that will still make them feel successful.
2. Chin Up L Hold
This one is almost exactly the same as the above drill. However, in this drill the gymnast lifts their legs straight to a pike position with their chin on the bar. This will more closely mimic the action needed to do a pullover with correct form.
3. Chin Up and Walk Toes Up a Wall
This drill helps with the first part of the pullover, which is often the trickiest part to master. They gymnast holds their chin up to the bar and walks their toes up a wall to kick their legs over the bar. Many gymnasts will get stuck hanging upside down on their bellies on the the bar at this point, which brings us to the next progression.
4. Chin Up Pullover Walking Toes Down a Wall
Once the gymnast has mastered the above progression they can move on to this drill which makes use of the chin up L-hold. The gymnast performs a chin up L-hold and lifts their hips up to and over the bar. Next the gymnast rotates their hands to be on top of the bar, and walks their toes down the wall to finish in a front support position.
5. Pullover Inside a Donut Mat
Once the gymnast has mastered a pullover both walking up and walking down a wall they can move to this drill. The gymnast starts standing inside a donut mat with their chin on the bar. Next they jump their feet together onto the side of the donut in front of the bar. Then they jump their feet up to an L hold to lift their hips up and over the bar. Next the gymnast rotates their hands and pulls their feet down towards the side of the donut behind the bar to lift to a front support.
Bonus Drill: Pullover With a Sponge Under Chin
It is very common for gymnasts to throw their heads back when they are attempting a pullover. My favorite way to combat this bad habit is to ask gymnasts to hold a sponge under their chin. This helps my gymnasts to feel the correct head position, as well as feeling the incorrect head position when they drop the sponge.
Pullovers are one of the most exciting skills for our beginner athletes to master. It is one of the best feelings to see your athlete who has been struggling finally accomplish their goal. My biggest tip is to keep encouraging your athletes. Let them know that this is a tricky skill that can take months to learn. When you notice frustration taking over it's always okay to take a break.