Sports & Games

37 Essential Gymnastics Moves, Explained: Gymnastics Skills List

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 14, 2019 • 8 min read

Competitive gymnasts, from those at local gyms to those representing their country in the Summer Olympic Games, are required to compete in a variety of settings. In events like the vault, the floor, and the balance beam, gymnasts are expected to perform a wide variety of maneuvers. Here is a survey of some of these maneuvers, divided into their respective categories.

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10 Beginner Gymnastics Moves

If you’re new to gymnastics, or not ready to compete against other gymnasts, start your exploration of the sport with the following maneuvers. Keep in mind that many of these moves must be built up to. Your first time on a bar or a beam should be one of careful exploration. Through practice and gymnastics classes, you can gradually build up to more and more acrobatic gymnastics moves. And don’t forget to warm up with ample stretching—don’t attempt any acrobatic maneuvers until you are limber—and to dress in flexible clothing such as leotards.

  1. Forward roll: a simple forward tumble where one’s whole body is rotated along the surface of the floor.
  2. Splits: splitting your legs sideways or front-and-back such that your whole lower body, including your legs and rear end, is in contact with the ground. Splits can also be performed on a trampoline.
  3. Cast: a semi-plank bar position with your back slightly rounded and your stomach pulled in.
  4. Handstand: using your hands as a base, stand your full body upright and erect with your hands on the floor, your back and legs straight, and your toes pointed upward.
  5. Handspring on vault: essentially a handstand on a vaulting horse that begins with a running leap, a flip into handstand position on the vault, and then pushing off the fault to complete the flip and land on your feet.
  6. Back handspring: a key floor and tumbling exercise involving a backward flip into a handstand position, and then a forward flip back to your original standing position.
  7. Roundoff: a cartwheel-style maneuver that involves a half-rotation, a brief pause in handstand position, and a return to the original standing position.
  8. Turn on one foot: a dance-style pivot used on the floor and beam.
  9. Split leap: literally a combination of splits and a forward leap.
  10. Tap swing on bars: a swing on the uneven bars where you briefly let go of and re-grip the bar.

14 Common Gymnastics Floor Moves

The floor exercise showcases the widest array of moves in both men’s and women’s gymnastics. Some highlights of the floor routine include:

  1. Back handspring: a key tumbling move involving a backward flip into a handstand position, and then a forward flip back to your original standing position. Learn some back handspring drills in our guide here.
  2. Front handspring: the same as a back handspring, only the gymnast starts by running, and moves forward instead of backward. Learn more about front handsprings in our comprehensive guide here.
  3. Front walkover: Similar to a front handspring, but in a front walkover, the gymnast’s legs move one after the other, resulting in a smooth, fluid motion.
  4. Back walkover: the reverse of a front walkover where once again the gymnast’s legs fluidly move one after the other.
  5. Somersault: also known as a front somersault or forward somersault, this involves a forward flip along the floor with knees either tucked or in pike position.
  6. Backward somersault: the reverse of a somersault, with tucked knees and a backward flip along the floor.
  7. Roundoff: a cartwheel-style maneuver that involves a half-rotation, a brief pause in a handstand position, and a return to the original standing position.
  8. Cartwheel: a sideways rotation of the body where a gymnast begins in a standing position, rotates sideways with hands on the floor and legs in a split position, and continues rotating until once again in standing position.
  9. Aerial cartwheel: also known as a side aerial or just an aerial, this involves a cartwheel performed in midair, where hands do not touch the ground.
  10. Aerial walkover: also known as a front aerial, it is similar to an aerial cartwheel in that the gymnast performs a complete revolution without touching the ground. Unlike a cartwheel an aerial walkover involves a forward tumble, not a sideways one.
  11. Straight jump: A forward jump where the gymnast keeps straight legs during flight and when landing.
  12. Scissors leap: Also called a switch leap, this is a forward leap where the legs move in a scissors-style motion.
  13. Split leap: A running forward leap where the gymnast passes through split position while airborne.
  14. Cross handstand: A variant on a handstand where the hands are planted close together on the ground.

Learn more about floor routines and drills in our guide here.

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4 Common Balance Beam Skills

In the balance beam component of women’s artistic gymnastics, gymnasts perform routines on a four-inch wide solid beam. They must present the same grace and execution one might expect if they were performing on the floor.

Many of the same maneuvers found in the floor exercise are also used on the balance beam. Some moves are particularly emphasized on the beam, including:

  1. Front and back walkovers
  2. Front and back handsprings
  3. Split leaps
  4. Saltos, which are maneuvers that involve total body rotation around an imaginary axis. Aerial walkovers and aerial cartwheels are examples of particularly impressive beam saltos. A double salto and triple salto are particularly difficult to execute and can result in a higher score if done properly.

Learn more about the beam, including common beam drills, in our guide here.

6 Common Gymnastics Vault Moves

Compared to the floor and the beam, the vault showcases fewer gymnastics maneuvers. Nonetheless, the vault remains a critical component in determining a gymnast’s overall score in the sport of women’s artistic gymnastics. Here are some key vault moves:

  1. Front handspring: much like the front handspring on the floor and beam, a vault handspring involves a forward flip. A handspring on vault involves a running leap, a flip into handstand position on the vault, and then a push-off to complete the flip and land on your feet. Handsprings frequently feature one-and-one-half twists.
  2. Yurchenko: Named for the gymnast Natalia Yurchenko this move combines a roundoff onto a springboard, a back handspring from the springboard onto the vault, and a backflip off the vault onto the floor. Yurchenkos frequently feature two or more twists. Learn about the Yurchenko here.
  3. Amanar: This maneuver is a variant on a Yurchenko. An Amanar starts with a roundoff onto the springboard, followed by a back handspring onto the vaulting platform, and then two-and-a-half twists into a layout back salto off the table and into a landing. In men’s gymnastics, an Amanar is sometimes referred to as a Shewfelt. (Both Amanar and Shewfelt are last names of prominent gymnasts known for performing this maneuver.)
  4. Tsukahara: Named for the gymnast Mitsuo Tsukahara, this move combines a half turn onto the vault with a backflip. This move is sometimes called colloquially a moon somersault or a moon salto. Tsukaharas frequently feature twists.
  5. Produnova: Named for the gymnast Yelena Produnova, this maneuver is sometimes referred to as the “vault of death.” It combines a front handspring onto the vaulting horse with two tucked front somersaults off of it.
  6. Chusovitina: Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina has two vaulting maneuvers named after her—both are derived from the Tsukahara. The first begins with a handspring forward onto the table, followed by a piked salto forward with full twist off. The second Chusovitina (which is sometimes known as a Rudi, named for another gymnast) features a handspring forward onto the table and a straight salto forward with one-and-a-half twists off.

Learn more about the vault exercises, with some essential vault drills, in our overview here.

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3 Common Uneven Bar Moves

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The uneven bars are perhaps the most unique component of women’s gymnastics since, unlike the floor, beam, and vault, they heavily emphasize upper body strength. Judges pay special consideration to high-flying release moves (including pirouetting) and dismounts. Judges also look for exact handstand positions, with large deductions for any deviations. Here are some iconic uneven bar moves:

  1. Hip circle: A circular move around the uneven bars with hips in physical contact with the bars. Depending on the direction of motion, a gymnast can perform both a front hip circle and a back hip circle. In a free hip circle, the gymnast moves in a circle around the bar but the hips do not touch the bar itself.
  2. Kip: A bar move wherein the gymnast transitions from a gliding or hanging position on the bar to a front support position. Legs remain in pike position, although their swinging momentum is key to propeling the gymnast’s whole body.
  3. Flyaway: A move that begins as a forward swing and release from a bar that transitions into a backflip off of the bar. Gymnasts use a flyaway to change bars or to dismount entirely. Flyaways can be ornamented with multiple twists and flips.

Want to Become a Better Athlete?

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