How To Back Extension Roll to Handstand

back extension roll

The back extension roll to handstand is one of the most important basic skills in women’s artistic gymnastics. Taking second to a basic straight body handstand hold. 

Importance of the Back Extension Roll to Handstand in Gymnastics

In my belief the back extension roll to handstand is the number two most important skill in all of gymnastics. This statement comes from an old analysis with the FIG code of points.

 I cannot verify the facts of this statement and would love to know if someone figures out the facts with the new FIG code. My memory is as follows: 

We have to start with the goal of the project. Try to find which one skill relates to or is a “part of” the most skills in the FIG code. This concept lets us find the most important core basics of all skills. Here are results as I heard and remember:

  1. Handstand – Not just balance on your hands but a high-quality straight-line handstand. This includes correct hand placement shoulder width apart, fingers facing naturally forward, correct head position with ears covered by shoulders, eyes on the hands and floor, open, tall, flat, body line.
  2. Back Extension Roll to Handstand (straight arms that are shoulder width apart, hands turned inward, neutral head position, straight body line)
  3. Flexibility or active flexibility skill (Bridge, splits, press handstand) this is where my lack of memory kicks in, but that’s OK because this article is to learn how to do a back extension roll to handstand.

Strength Training in Preparation for the Back Extension Roll to Handstand

This is an example list of exercises to build upper body strength to support the body in the back extension roll to handstand. This list is not a complete list but gives you some general ideas. 

*Coaches Note* The better the athletes form and execution while performing these exercises the better the back extension roll to handstand will be performed. 

  • Plank hold
  • Push-ups
  • Elevated Feet Push-ups
  • Pike Handstand Push-ups
  • Handstand Hold
  • Lying Levers
  • Candlestick Rolls
Strength Training for the Back Extension Roll

Beginner Back Extension Roll Drills

Teaching the beginner level gymnast a back extension starts with incline mats and panel mats. 

Beginner Back Extension Drill with an Incline Mat

Teaching a back extension roll down an incline mat helps keep the learning phases soft and gentle for the younger athletes. Start by having your athlete stand on the floor with the incline mat directly behind them. This drill limits the distance to sit down (easier to keep good form), allowing the athlete enough speed and power by rolling down the incline mat. Have your athletes work through the below back extension drills and then continuing with the same series of drills on the floor. 

  • Straight arm backward tucked roll
  • Straight arm backward pike roll
  • Hollow
  • Handstand

This video is the list of beginner drills completed on the floor. 

Beginner Back Extension Roll Drills

Beginner Back Extension Drill with a Panel Mat

The added distance from the panel mat to the ground help the athlete have extra time to feel the straight arm push off the floor. Even if they are not currently strong enough to keep their arms straight throughout the real back extension to handstand on the floor. In this panel mat drill, the athlete should lay flat on their back with their arms overhead. Their ears should line up with the end of the mat leaving the rest of their arms hanging off the mat. From here the athlete’s sit-up to a pike compression to touch their toes and then aggressively roll back over their arms to do the back extension. Start with the one end of the panel mat slightly hanging over an in-ground resi pit.

  • Panel mat with resi pit straight arm back extension roll to hollow
  • Panel mat with resi pit straight arm back extension roll to handstand
  • Panel mat on the floor straight arm back extension roll to hollow
  • Panel mat on the floor straight arm back extension roll to handstand
Beginner Back Extension Drills with a Panel Mat

Intermediate Back Extension Roll Drills

This intermediate back extension handstand drills are meant for your athletes that can perform a straight arm back extension and now are working on improving their shapes, power, execution, awareness, and consistency.

  • Back Extension Roll to Hollow – The focus is to maintain a tight body shape and straight arms while rolling over to support. Once the gymnasts can maintain the tight body shape, they can move onto adding a soft octagon behind them to elevate the height of their feet in support.
  • Back Extension Roll Hollow up to Octagon – When the gymnast body shape is strong, and they understand the increased opening throughout the shoulders while keeping their elbows straight you can introduce a higher soft surface like a wedge mat against a wall.
  • Back Extension Roll 1/2 Handstand up to Cheese Mat – This is a great back extension drill to work on maintaining body tension throughout the start of the shoulder opening action.
  • Back Extension Roll to Handstand Planche – This is showing more control than just stepping down. We do also practice stepping down out of the back extension along with a controlled pike down to stand. 
  • Back Extension Roll to Handstand Forward Roll – Last but not least in this series. Challenging your athletes to find and hit their handstand and have control to choose to go either direction is mastery of the skill.
Back Extension Roll Drills

Advanced Back Extension Handstand Drills with Pirouettes

Now at the advanced stages of the back extension to handstand we are continually trying to improve the core skill (the back extension roll to handstand) at the same time we are adding advanced elements to prepare our athletes for uneven bar pirouetting.

Back Extension Handstand Pirouettes on Floor

This series is a back extension circuit we use on bars to work on our pirouettes allowing us to get a lot of reps in a quick 5-minute warm-up circuit. 

  • Back extension blind change handstand step down
  • Back extension blind change handstand pike down 
  • Back extension blind change against wall – finish tall and stretched for front giant
  • Back extension blind change straight arms forward roll
  • Back extension full pirouette against wall
  • Back extension full pirouette to handstand on the floor with a step down and planche down
Back Extension Roll Handstand Pirouettes

Inside Stalder Back Extension Roll Down an Incline Mat

I like using this version of the back extension handstand pirouette series at least 1x week. This variety of the back extension closer simulates the in-bar circle handstand pirouettes on bars. For example, toe handstand, rear stalder handstand, clear hip handstand and inside stalder handstand. This drill starts in a plank with the athlete’s hands at the top of the incline mat. The athlete will jump up with flat hips to snap their feet in-between their arms and the incline mat. 

  • Inside back extension to hollow
  • Inside back extension to handstand
  • Inside back extension to blind change straight arms forward roll
  • Inside back extension 1/1 pirouette to handstand with a pike down
  • Inside back extension 1/1 pirouette to handstand and forward roll
Back Extension Roll Down Incline Mat

Bonus Back Extension Handstand Drills for Uneven Bar Release Moves

While continuing to train and advance the back extension we can start teaching athletes bar releases. This series needs to be performed with advanced athletes working slowly and safely up to using a floor bar. 

  • Back extension handstand hop on the floor
  • Back extension handstand hop up to ½ of a panel mat
  • Back extension handstand hop up to a floor bar
Back Extension Handstand Drills for Uneven Bar Releases

Daily Back Extension Roll Drills

Back extensions should have a presence in your daily practices along with the basic handstand. We have back extensions roll drills in our workouts daily. Here are some places where we put back extensions throughout gymnastics practice, line tumbling, uneven bar warm-ups, or as a bar side station.

Final Thoughts on the Back Extension Roll to Handstand

Coaches and athletes alike need to learn to love this skill. This one skill can help provide the strength, understanding and consistency for many upper-level skills. So, add back extension drills to your daily gymnastics training.

Happy rolling!

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