How to Do an Aerial

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If you watch high-level gymnastics, such as an Olympic competition, you’ll witness the aerial as a standard balance-beam activity. At lower levels, many gymnasts perform aerials as part of a floor routine. Doing an aerial is similar to performing a cartwheel -- hence the alternate name, “aerial cartwheel” -- but your hands remain in the air as you rotate in a circle above your surface.

Things You'll Need

  • Gymnastics mat
  • Set up a well-padded gymnastics mat to help protect you when you're learning the aerial. Perform the skill under the supervision of your coach or another accredited gymnastics teacher.

  • Perfect your cartwheel skills first before you begin learning the aerial. Keep your knees straight as you perform a two-handed cartwheel. Progress to the one-handed cartwheel, in which only a single hand touches the mat. Finally, begin keeping your hands near your upper chest as you start the cartwheel. Try to keep your hands off the floor and near your chest for a progressively longer time with each attempt. When you can perform one- and two-handed cartwheels from a standing start, you should be ready to learn the aerial.

  • Run forward on the mat, dip your knees on the last step and then hop straight ahead, with your left leg forward (keep the right leg forward if that's the way you perform cartwheels). Don't decelerate before the hop. The faster you run on the approach, the more speed you'll build, which will translate into greater height when you eventually leave your feet. You'll need as much height as possible to perform the 360-degree spin in the air.

  • Land from the hop with all your weight on your lead leg and both arms raised toward the ceiling (or sky if you are practicing outdoors). Immediately swing both arms down and back to help generate power as you kick your right leg up as hard as you can. Simultaneously dip your head and torso down toward the mat, but don't reach forward as far as you would when doing a cartwheel. In your mind, focus on lifting your hips above your head.

  • Twist your torso as you dip your head -- if your left leg is the lead leg, twist to the left. When your right leg is parallel with the floor or ground, your right shoulder should be higher than your left.

  • Push off the floor as hard as you can with your lead leg, while your rear leg continues to rise and your head continues to drop toward the floor. Keep both legs straight. You may leave your arms at your sides, or pull them in front of your chest, whichever feels more comfortable. But you must prevent your hands from touching the floor to execute the move properly.

  • Reach your right foot toward the floor as you continue to spin. Your head and torso should be rising at this point, while your left leg should be aligned with your torso.

  • Flex your right knee as your foot hits the mat, to help absorb the landing shock. Your toes should be pointing back toward your starting position. Continue raising your head and torso as your left leg descends.

  • Keep your right foot in place as your left foot lands, putting you into a split stance with your right foot forward. Lift your head and torso into an erect position and raise your arms straight up toward the ceiling or sky, in preparation for judging, where the the judges will be looking to see that you're well-balanced and in control.

Tips & Warnings

  • When you're learning the aerial, don't hesitate to touch the floor with one or both hands for safety purposes, if necessary, to avoid hitting your head on the floor.
  • As you perfect your skills, try to do aerials with shorter approach runs, and then with just a hop from a standing start.

References

  • Photo Credit Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images
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