My first post!
I have spent 23 years of my life dedicated to acrobatic gymnastics as an elite athlete, a judge, and a coach. I was trained by some of the best coaches in the world and I cannot wait to share that information with all of you!
So why are straddles so important?
Most people want to jump straight into handstands when it comes to starting acro, no pun intended. But the reality is, most professional coaches would never start a beginner with handstands, and they would never allow their high level athletes to stop training straddles. The reasons being:
- Arm bones and muscles were not made to hold a person’s full body weight. It takes time to grow bone and muscle.
- The brains needs time to develop the neurological pathways for using your hands to balance.
- The core strength developed from straddle work is the basis of all further development.
- Straddles teach body compression which is used in most high level entries and dismounts
If it’s so important, why is straddle work so often looked over?
Because it is way easier to do a handstand versus a straddle! If you could choose to hold 50lbs directly over your head or hold it out straight away from your body, I am sure almost everyone would choose the first option. The reality is, straddle holds are hard, they hurt, and they don’t look as Instagram worthy as handstands.
But if you are serious about taking your handstands, hand to hand, or back flips to the next level, straddles cannot be ignored.
Whether you are a beginner or an expert, here is a list of 5 drills to improve your straddles:
1. Wall Sit Single or Double Leg Straddle Lifts
Technique for Single Leg Lifts: While sitting with your bum pushed firmly against a wall, open your legs to a comfortable width (no need for flexibility here), place your finger tips or hands on the floor on each side of one of your legs. Trying to keep your leg straight, lift your heel off the ground using the leg that is between your arms.
Technique for Double Leg Lifts: Starting in the same position, place your finger tips or hands on the floor in-between your legs. Trying to keep your leg straight, lift both your heels off the ground at the same time.
Too Hard? If you cannot press your bum to the wall or cannot left your legs due to tight hamstrings, move away from the wall in small increments until you are able to lift off the ground.
Too Easy? If you walk your hands farther away from your body it will increase the difficulty level.
Amount: This is up to you! I would say start slow and increase as needed since it is an intense hip flexor exercise.
2. Straddle Push-Ups
Technique: Sit on your bum with your legs apart (again no need for too wide of a straddle). Place your hands on the floor in-between your legs. Making sure lift your bum and your heels at the exact same time, press off the ground.
Too Hard? If you cannot lift due to hamstring inflexibility, try sitting on the edge of a sturdy chair or bench with your legs hanging off. Place your hands in-between your legs near the edge of the surface and lift your bum and heels slowly up and down.
Too Easy? Try not letting your bum touch the floor in-between reps, simply lower and lift focusing on keeping toes and bum at the same level.
Amount: Begin with 2×10 and work up to sets of 20.
3. Stalter Downs
Technique: With legs a bit wider than shoulder width, place hands on the floor. Rock weight onto your hands while maintaining contact with the floor in your toes. Drag toes forward and lower bum to the ground so you end sitting in a straddle position.
Too Hard? Try starting in a push up position and tucking your knees to your chest, drag your toes toward your hands until you are in a crouching position. I recommend socks for this to prevent rug burn.
Too Easy? Try the same motion but let your toes lift slightly off the ground so you end, not sitting on your bum in a straddle, but holding your body off the ground in a straddle.
Amount: Try to get through 5 a day at first. As they become easier see if you can increase it to 10.
4. Lifted Heel Straddle Holds
Technique: Find something that can lift your heels about 2-4 inches off the ground when sitting on your bum in a straddle. I use two stacks of dense pillows or my daughters building blocks. Place your heels on the objects and your hands in-between your legs. Simply lift your bum off the ground and hold the position.
Too Hard? Start in the same position only do not elevate your heels. Leave your heels on the ground and try to push your bum off the ground and hold.
Too Easy? Raise your heels higher and make sure your shoulders are pressed down, lengthening your neck.
Amount: Try to hold for 5-10 second increments repeating 2-3 times. As you get better try holding for 20-30 seconds at a time.
5. Straddle Push-Backs
Technique: Sit on your bum in a straddle with your hands in-between your legs. Push your bum backwards, letting your heels drag on the ground. It’s basically scooting backwards. The challenge is only letting your hands move you from in-between your legs.
Too Hard? Place your legs together and your hands next to your hips. Try the same movement, scooting backwards using only the strength in your arms.
To Easy? Lift those heels up and don’t let them touch the ground.
Amount: If you have a long hallway or a long pathway try making it from start to finish only moving like this.
These drills are not my own creation. They are commonly used drills in most competitive acro gyms and represent the cumulative knowledge of many amazing coaches. Thank you to all of my teachers! These drills should take less than 15 minutes each day and will really improve your core strength, balance, and compression <— which is extremely important for some great skill upgrades.