Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Physics of Gymnastics- Front Handspring Vault by: A. White

One of the most basic skills for the vault in gymnastics is the front handspring. A front handspring is a front tumbling skill that begins with a hurdle step and rotates 360 degrees from feet to hands to feet again. A good handspring has to be fast, and should maintain a straight line. This technique is not only quick, but very complex.
Vault Sequence Summary
1. Accelerated run
2. Hurdle to springboard
3. Take off from board
4. Turn over from board to the horse
5. Repulsion from the horse
            The entire vaulting technique is broken up into six parts. Three parts of the technique are called “phases”, while the other three are “transfers”. A phase is period of time as well as the movement during that time. A transfer is used to mark the end of a phase, and a sudden change in direction. In vault, the three phases are the run, preflight, and post flight. The transfers are the punch, block, and landing. The attack on the springboard, also known as the punch occurs after the run. The block occurs when the hands come in contact with the vaulting table after the pre-flight. The landing occurs at the end of the vault. 
Pre-flight to Take Off
            The gymnast first completes an accelerated run and then takes a hurdle step onto the spring board. Next the gymnast makes an arm circle to maximize the force it takes to turnover unto the horse, also known as a vault. The run is approximately 25 meters and represents translational motion. Gymnasts strive to have a good “punch” of the spring board because it increases both their displacement and potential energy.
Post flight
            The post flight is the takeoff from the horse. Gymnasts aim to pop off the horse and use their shoulders to achieve maximum spring from the horse. This causes their shoulders to act as springs, which increases the potential energy and allows the gymnast to perform twists and flips, or land. During this part of the technique the gymnast has rotational, kinetic, and gravitational potential changes. When a gymnast flies into the air their hips are able to trace a parabolic path characteristic of projectile motion. The gymnast’s velocity is directed upwards when she leaves the horse, which is initial velocity. However, gravity on the gymnast caused by downward acceleration causes her height to decrease and allows her to land. During the post flight the goal of a gymnast is to achieve maximum height and horizontal distance traveled. This can be achieved if one changes the angle with which the initial velocity is directed or at which the gymnast leaves the horse with.
(Diagram- A represents the springboard’s compression. B-D are phases of take-off.)
Works Cited
Bakalar, Brian. "The Front Handspring." Gymnastics Revolution. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <>.
"The Front Handspring Vault." Gymnast Corner | The Physics of Gymnastics. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <>.


  1. It's interesting to know all the steps behind gymnastics. Many people often overlook all the factors involved with the sport. The physics behind it is also impressive. Although I'm pretty sure they gymnasts themselves don't go into the physics of their sport, it's cool to look at it from a different perspective.

  2. I think this is very interesting. My sisters used to take gymnastics, so I was a little familiar with the terms, but it is unique to look at through a physics eye so to speak. Is it easier to twist and turn at a faster acceleration and higher jump?

  3. Although I took gymnastics for several years, I do not remember much about it. Thanks Amanda for jogging my memory! I liked how you broke everything and made it very easy to understand. Good job!

  4. After watching the olympics this is a very interesting topic to look at. When looking at the gymnast and all the stunts they perform its cool to look at what happens in terms of physics.

  5. I found this post very interesting mainly because I enjoy watching gymnastics. I use to take gymnastics for a while but I never knew that physics could be involved with each move. Reading this makes me wish I would've stuck with gymnastics and not quit.

  6. Patrick- Yes, the faster and higher the technique is performed, the easier it is to follow through with tricks. The run, or first phase of the technique is also required to have a fast and powerful acceleration by judges. Judges also expect their flight, or jump to be high; this is necessary for proper form.

  7. I thought this was very interesting, my sister does gymnastics and I often overlook how hard everything is when you gain all your power and momentum in one action that has to carry you throughout the rest of a short, complex, period of motion.

  8. It is simply amazing how many physical forces occur during an interval of about 6 seconds. It causes one to have huge respect for gymnasts and all of the work they put into their routines.

  9. I think this too was an intriguing post because you broke it up into several parts, making it easy to understand. I never looked at the physics aspect of gymnastics which is what make this article so interesting.