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What Is the Vault in Gymnastics? Learn Simone Biles’s Vaulting Techniques and Vault Drills for Every Gymnast

Written by MasterClass

Aug 20, 2019 • 6 min read

Running down a long runway, launching into the air with a round off and backhandspring, then performing a salto over a four-foot high table is part of the vault, one of the fundamental exercises in gymnastics. In Olympic gymnast Simone Biles’s MasterClass, learn about the gymnastics vault and practice her drills for honing and perfecting your vault.

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Gold-winning Olympic gymnast Simone Biles teaches her training techniques—from beginner to advanced—so you can practice like a champion.

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What Is the Gymnastics Vault?

The vault in gymnastics is both an apparatus (a piece of gymnastics equipment) and a main event in both men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics. In women’s competitive gymnastics, like in the Olympics, the vault is first event, followed by the uneven bars, balance beam, and the floor events.

How Is the Vault Performed?

For the vault event, the gymnast sprints down a narrow vault runway that’s 82 feet long, launches onto a springboard, and vaults off a four-foot-high vaulting table. Judges evaluate for proper form, fast repulsion (how quickly the gymnast springs off the board or table), the height and distance achieved, and the number of flips and twists in a vault. If they are an elite gymnast, chances are they will perform a Yurchenko entry, which means a roundoff onto the springboard and back handspring onto the vault table.

Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles’s signature vault, called “the Biles” or “the Biles on Vault,” includes a Yurchenko half-on entry (“half-on” means she adds a half twist between the springboard and table) and a front layout with two twists off. The Biles on vault is one of two skills on vault that has the highest difficulty score (6.4) in the Code of Points.

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Basic Vault Drills

Both elite and junior gymnasts master complex skills by drilling the same movements over and over again until they are committed to “muscle memory.” Simone Biles’s drills for the vault will help you improve your valuable vaulting skills, like your vault entry and your dismount. Be sure to use plenty of gymnastics mats to land safely.

Front Handspring Drill
It’s useful to learn a front handspring for any front vault. This helps you work on the shape of the preflight.

  1. Start on the tumble track trampoline.
  2. Bounce to your knees in a nice, rounded shape. Make sure to keep your core engaged.
  3. From there, bounce to an angled handstand (at about 45 degrees) in a “preflight” position.
  4. Return to your knees.
  5. Repeat: Knee, bounce, knee, bounce, either moving all the way down the trampoline or staying in one place.

Yurchenko Preflight Drill 1
This drill helps you work on the roundoff and bounce off. It also helps you learn to get your chest up off the board quickly. That way, you’ll be able to do a perfect straight jump while still traveling back, and land on your feet on the stacked mats. Using mats will help you build to a Yurchenko.

  1. Place a springboard in front of stacked mats. A combination of mats, like a whale mat with a few eight-inchers on top of it, works well. The mats should be close to the height of the vault. Make sure the u-pad is around the board.
  2. Round off onto the board, and rebound with feet together.
  3. Land standing up straight on the stacked-up mats with your arms by your ears. (If you don’t get your chest up quickly, you’ll land on the mats on your bum.)
  4. Once you’ve mastered the above, try the same drill again, but land all the way on your back.

Yurchenko Preflight Drill 2
The focus of this drill is to practice the body shape into the preflight. It simulates how you should enter your back handspring and helps assuage any fear (since there’s no vault there for you to run into).

  1. Place a springboard in front of stacked mats. A combination of mats, like a whale mat with a few eight-inchers on top of it, works well. The mats should be close to the height of the vault. Make sure the u-pad is around the board.
  2. Round off onto the board.

Basic Landing Drills
Depending on the vault you’re practicing, you can do these into the foam pit first and then add landing mats in the pit, so you’re learning how to spot the floor and absorb the landing.

All skills build on the basics. These drills are useful for beginners and seasoned vets.

  • If you can’t yet do a backflip off the vault, just stand on the vault and jump off to familiarize yourself with “sticking” the landing.
  • You can also jump off backward to practice landing.
  • Once you can do a flip, practice a plain back tuck or a plain front tuck off of the vault.
  • Upgrade from there: standing layout, then a full.

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Advanced Vault Drills

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Gold-winning Olympic gymnast Simone Biles teaches her training techniques—from beginner to advanced—so you can practice like a champion.

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Even when you’ve reached an advanced level with your vault skills, it still helps to practice the preflight, which is everything that happens between the springboard and the vault table. If you have a strong roundoff and a strong entry into your back handspring, you’ll be able to do almost anything off of the vault with time and practice.

Everything in the postflight depends on the preflight. Postflight is everything that happens after you’ve touched the table. All skills will be dependent on your body position: Your shape and an engaged core will determine which way you flip, twist, and fly.

After you’ve learned a strong entry, you can take the skills you’ve already mastered on floor—a roundoff back handspring layout, say—and work them into your vaults.

For advanced vaults, the main thing that changes is what happens after you’ve blocked off the vault table. Right now, all advanced vaults begin with a Yurchenko entry, but you can always add a half twist, like Simone Biles.

Postflight Drill
Try this drill into a foam pit.

  1. Turn the mats sideways so that they’re close to, but not touching, the vault and stacked up as high or higher than the vault.
  2. Do a roundoff back handspring onto the vault.
  3. Once your feet touch the mats, push off into a back tuck or layout. (The tumbling mats help you learn where the backflip will occur and allow you to separate the handspring and back tuck into building blocks.)
  4. Take the mats away, and do the flip directly out of the back handspring. You’re already in the pit, so it won’t hurt if you fall.

Off The Vault Drill
This drill will help reinforce the twist off the vault for a Yurchenko. It’ll also help you find the floor so you know how to land out of it.

  1. Start out standing on the vault, facing the direction you want to land.
  2. Do a handstand onto the vault.
  3. Then step down onto the vault, and jump off to do a layout. Try again with a half, then a full—or more if you can.

This drill will help you with body awareness while practicing your landing in a safe and comfortable landing area.

How to Become a Better Athlete

Want to become a better athlete? From training regimens to mental preparedness, learn everything you need to enhance your athletic abilities with the MasterClass All-Access Pass. Gain exclusive access to video lessons taught by world champions, including Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, World No. 1-ranking tennis player Serena Williams, and six-time NBA All-Star Stephen Curry.

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