Head Position

Hello, all, sorry for the wait. Been a hectic month, but I’m ready to kick this blog back into gear.

If one listens to coaches for any length of time, one will no doubt hear a lot of corrections that deal with head position. So why is head position so important?

In the context of gymnastics, head position affects two things: orientation and body position. We’ll start with orientation.

Much of what we use to sense ballance, rotation, etc is housed in the head. This may seem like a minor and obvious point, but the implications in gymnastics cannot be overstated. When the head rotates, the brain tends to think the whole body is rotating. Because of this, gymnasts very often initiate backwards rotating skills by pulling the head backwards, and forwards rotating skills by pulling the head forwards. This is, in most cases, incorrect, but to break this habit a gymnast must break habits formed on the most basic and instinctive level. Our brains are hard-wired to judge rotation in this manner, and breaking the resulting habits therefore takes a very long time.

The second reason head position is important is that it affects the position of the rest of the body. Generally, bringing the head forward will cause the upper back to bend forward (ie hollow), and bringing the head back will cause the upper-back to arch.

To put all this into context, we’ll look common skills in which gymnasts frequently make mistakes due to improper head position.

First, let’s look at the front handspring on floor. In the second half of a front handspring, the gymnast must arch the body (particularly in the upper-back) in order to get the feet under her as quickly as possible – the goal is to land with the hips in front of the feet. Due to the way the brain senses rotation, gymnasts will reflexively bring their heads forward as they finish the front handspring, because this makes them feel like they’re rotating faster. However, this will cause the body to pull to a more hollow position, which causes the hips to sink back behind the feet. Therefore, gymnasts must focus on keeping the head back while performing the front handspring.

Another example of a skill strongly affected by head position is the back hip circle on bars. In a back hip circle, a gymnast must maintain a hollow position (in order to keep her center of mass as close to the bar as possible) while she circles backwards around the bar. Once again, by pulling the head back, the gymnast will feel like she is causing herself to rotate backwards. However, the actual result is an arch in the back; this arch pulls the center of mass further from the bar, making the skill virtually impossible to execute smoothly. So the gymnast must fight her instincts and keep her head tilted forward even as she is rotating backwards.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned – sometime in the next couple weeks, I’ll be posting a special guest column by Dr. John Conrad on some common injuries seen in gymnastics and how best to treat and prevent them.

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One Response to Head Position

  1. sara says:

    I just wanted to say that John Conrad lives right down the street from my parents and he is AMAZING…

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