The cast is one of the first skills many kids learn on bars. It is absolutely crucial in the development of back hip circles, clearhip circles (and any backwards in-bar skill, for that matter), and giants. This week, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at this skill, its development, and the various techniques used for it.
There are some important differences between the way male and female gymnasts train casts. However, for both male and female gymnasts, the eventual purpose of a cast is the same: to reach a handstand.
Generally, male gymnasts spend less time on casts than female gymnasts, for two reasons. First, male gymnasts, generally having stronger shoulders, can usually learn a cast to handstand more easily than female gymnasts. Second, once a male gymnast makes it to the upper-levels of the sport, the cast becomes all but obsolete. Elite level men’s routines frequently do not contain a single cast.
Unlike male gymnasts, female gymnasts will make heavy use of this skill in their routines regardless of their level. Bar-to-bar transfers tend to leave a gymnast with very little swing, requiring a kip and subsequent cast in order to make it to handstand.
Female gymnasts have the option of doing their casts either straddled or straight. Male gymnasts may only do them straight.
In a straight-body cast, the gymnast must swing up to handstand with the body fully extended and the legs kept together. This type of cast requires much greater strength than a straddled cast; however, a straight body cast has the distinct advantage that it allows a gymnast to initiate a pirouette on the way up, rather than waiting until she reaches a handstand – this in some cases makes it easier for the gymnast to finish the pirouette in handstand, and therefore easier to connect other skills directly out of the pirouette.
In a straddled cast, the gymnast separates the legs and bends at the hips as her hips leave the bar in the cast. This allows her to much more easily get her hips above the bar, putting her in a position to then press the rest of the way up (just like a press handstand on floor). This method requires the least strength, though it requires greater flexibility and more precise technique. However, pirouettes performed from this type of cast require much more precise balance, as the entire pirouette must occur in the handstand.
WARNING: EDITORIAL CONTENT AHEAD.
There is some debate among coaches over how best to teach a straight-body cast. Most agree that the gymnast should be in a slightly-hollowed position as she hits the handstand. Many (though certainly not all) also agree that the gymnast should initiate the cast by kicking to a slight arch (to allow force to be applied through the greatest possible range of motion). There is much debate, however, over exactly where the transition should occur between the arch leaving the bar and the hollow at the top of the cast, and on how the gymnast should train this transition. Some (including the writers of the lower-level women’s rules) prefer to teach this transition to hollow immediately after the gymnast’s hips leave the bar; others prefer to first emphasize the heel drive and teach the transition to hollow as the final step, occuring as the gymnast reachs a handstand.
I fall in the latter category. In my opinion, a straight-body cast should first be taught with the tight, slight arch maintained all the way up, and the transition to hollow should occur just as the gymnast reaches handstand. This technique emphasizes a strong kick at the beginning of the cast, and in my experience allows for a much easier and more natural cast to handstand. As the gymnast develops a stronger cast, she can then work to execute the transition to hollow earlier in the cast in preparation for pirouettes.
And with the publishing of this column, I am officially out of already-written material. If you have any requests for topics you’d like me to cover, please don’t hesitate to ask! You can comment here or you can email me at Jeremy at ApexGymnastics dot com.