Gym mats are essential for safety in various practice and drill situations, not just tumbling! They are versatile pieces of equipment that can be utilised in many ways. It allows gymnasts, dancers, cheerleaders, acrobats, and more to perform a variety of skills at home with ease and in a safe manner.
From stretching, strength and conditioning to cartwheels, The Gym Spot covers various beginner to advanced skills you can do using your tumbling or gymnastics mat.
Stretching and Warm-ups
Before a gymnast starts their training, they should always warm up and stretch before partaking in any activity. This will minimise the risk of injury in gymnastics and help them perform their best.
Australian Representative Jack Riek further explains the importance of warming up for training and tips to help those muscles and joints move freely.
Crabwalks, Frog Jumps & Rock 'n' Roll
These exercises help build upper, core and lower body strength, which is detrimental to gymnastics, acrobatics, cheerleading and dance. You only need a mat to perform these skills, which is great for when you are on the go and can't take all your equipment with you.
To crab walk, start by sitting on your mat with your feet hip-distance apart in front of you and your arms placed behind you. Ensure your fingertips are facing your hips. From here, lift your hips off the floor and brace your core. Start "walking" forward by moving your left foot with your right hand and vice versa. Continue backwards, forwards, even sideways if you're looking for a challenge!
Frog jumps are a great lower body exercise that focuses on the thigh, glute and calf areas. Start by standing on your mat. From here, bend your knees outwards and touch the ground. Once you have tapped the ground, shoot up into a jump, whereby your arms are straight and on either side of your body. Repeat as many times as desired.
The rock 'n' roll is perfect for engaging your core and building additional core strength. Start by sitting on your mat with your legs tucked into your chest. Maintain this position and "rock" yourself backwards and forwards. Repeat for as many times as required.
Straddle & Pike Hold
Put your core to the test and learn how to hold your body in the straddle or pike position!
Your gymnastics mat can be utilised as the base of these two manoeuvres, providing safe padding for the gymnast to practise these holds. The straddle and pike hold allow gymnasts to build their core and upper-body strength, as well as hand-eye coordination. Once you have mastered this skill, why not challenge yourself and try it on the balance beam!
To do a straddle hold, simply start in a seated straddle position. This is where you are sitting on your bottom with both legs extended at a 45-degree angle on either side of your body. From here, engage your glutes to hold your legs and rotate your knees inward slightly - this will help engage your core. Use your hands to "press" into the mat, which will allow you to hold your body in the air and hold your legs in the straddle hold position.
The L-sit, also known as the pike hold helps gymnasts learn how to engage and control the hold in their glutes, and build their core and upper body strength. For extra difficulty, you can try this on the floor bars or parallettes.
A cartwheel is a fundamental gymnastics skill that takes some time and determination to master! It helps gymnasts strengthen their upper body and help them perform more advanced moves.
Once you have mastered your standard cartwheel, you can progress into an aerial or no-handed cartwheel. For five easy tips to improve your cartwheel, click here.
Learning how to handstand, like most skills, takes time and a lot of practise! If you are not 100% confident with your handstands, make sure you have your coach or guardian to help you and a safety mat just in case of a fall! Try these easy tips and you should be flipping upside down and walking on your hands in no time.
Acro drills such as forward rolls, backward rolls, blocking and tumbling are also great skills that you can do on your gymnastics mat. An incline mat or folding wedge is the perfect tumbling aid or landing mat to do these skills!
Forward rolls and backward rolls build the foundations for tumbling routines as well as somersaults.
Before performing these rolls, stretch accordingly, have your mat ready and a wide-open space away from any hazardous for safety purposes.
For a forward roll, start in a standing position at the top of your mat. From here, bend your knees into a squat ensuring that your feet are together. Place your hands on the ground in front of you shoulder-width apart, with your elbows bent. From here, drop your head in between your arms and push the bottom half of your body up and over your arms and head, which will create a roll.
Backward rolls, on the other hand, are slightly different and can be more dangerous as you cannot see what is in front of you. For first-timers, ensure that you also have a spotter nearby. For the extra "push" to be able to roll backwards, using an incline mat can assist. To aid with getting used to the general movement of a backward roll, use the rock 'n' roll method further described up in the blog. To do a backward roll, start with your back facing the top of the mat, slightly in a squat position. Ensure that you have your arms stretched out in front of you. From here, bend your arms so that your palms are facing the ceiling and are next to your ears. From this squat position, drop down so that your legs are bending even more until your bottom is on the ground. Once you are on the ground, push with your hands and feet, until you can completely push yourself over.
Blocking is great for building core and upper body strength as well as hand-eye coordination. Blocking aims to turn horizontal momentum into vertical, which allows for a higher impact when it comes to doing somersaults and tumbling routines. Ways in which a gymnast can build their blocking skills when they have very little access to equipment and space includes wall pushes, push up blocks, raised pushups and shrugs.
To see more beneficial drills that gymnasts can do to help with building their blocking skills, check out the video below.
Tumbling allows the gymnast to build and maintain strength, hand-eye coordination, attention to detail and dedication to the sport of gymnastics. Essentially, a tumbling routine is a combination of all the movements blended together. When not in your regular gym or training space, it is recommended to keep it simple, as doing much more complex and unfamiliar movements can lead to a larger risk of injury.
When tumbling, be sure to:
- Take it slow when learning new routines
- Ensure that your head is protected when rolling
- Be mindful of the space around you
Basic tumbling for beginners include forward and backward shoulder rolls.
Work on each of these movements separately, and once you feel confident enough, start combining them into different routines - Get creative!
The forward shoulder roll is a variation from the typical forward roll that we have previously spoken about. Gymnasts can opt for this variation as the standard forward roll can place a lot of pressure on the head and neck, which can lead to potential injury. Doing a forward shoulder roll instead takes the pressure off these areas, and allows for a wider range of movement. This is the same idea with the backward shoulder roll, too- Essentially, these movements are made to build confidence and provide safety for when the gymnast isn't under the supervision of their coach.
What do you use your matting for when training at home? Comment below!