Balances in gymnastics are designed to train the gymnast to find stability in several positions using different bases of support, such as one hand, two hands, one foot and two feet. To discover and maintain balance in gymnastics skills, the gymnast must have a good sense of spatial awareness, a tight body and proper alignment. Coaches should encourage gymnasts to explore their own center of gravity and balance in various positions, such as standing on one foot and kneeling on one knee.
Standing balances refer to a number of positions in which the gymnast balances while standing in a mostly upright position. Standing balances can create a straight line from the gymnast’s head to her supporting foot, such as a releve in which the gymnast stands in a straight body position and rises up onto the balls of her feet as high as she can and balances. Other examples of this type of standing balance are the coupe, passé, front attitude and battement. Standing balances can also be performed with a straight or curved line from the gymnast’s head to her unsupported, or lifted, foot. One example of this is the arabesque, where the gymnast stands straight with her torso held vertically and one leg extended behind the body and lifted as high as possible. Scales and levers are also examples of this type of balance.
Knee balances are a type of non-standing balance where the gymnast balances on one or both knees. Examples of this type of balance include the knee lunge, half split, knee scale and knee stand. In the knee stand, the gymnast kneels with both knees together and supports her weight. She keeps her hips squared, lifts her chest and creates a straight line from her knees to her head. The arm positions for a knee stand can vary; for example, arms can be held down by the sides, extended overhead or extended to the side at shoulder level.
Both types of splits, stride and straddle, are examples of non-standing balances where the weight is supported on the floor in the thighs and hips. To perform the stride splits, the gymnast begins in a kneeling lunge. She places her hands on either side of her hips firmly on the floor and slides her front leg forward slowly, supporting her weight in her hands, if necessary. She continues to lower her hips to the floor until she is either in position, flat on the floor, or is unable to go any lower. Both stride and straddle splits require a great deal of flexibility, which can be achieved over time through regular static stretching and holding the splits position at the point of tension for 30 to 60 seconds.
Inverted balances are balances where the hips are lifted above the head. These balances may be difficult for novice gymnasts or those who are overweight or suffer from neck problems. Some balances are performed with the help of a coach to lift the body. Examples of inverted balances that require assistance are the straight body lift from supine position and the straight body lift from front or rear support. The inverted shoulder stand and handstand are examples of inverted balances that are performed without any assistance. To execute the handstand, the gymnast begins standing in a straight-body position with her feet together and her arms stretched overhead. She kicks one leg forward and moves through a lunge into the lever position. She then places her hands shoulder-width apart and kicks the other leg off of the floor simultaneously. She brings both legs to a vertical position and presses her weight off of the floor, balanced on her hands. There are several variations of the handstand, including the stag handstand, split handstand, one-handed handstand and planche.
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