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Gymnastics Training Article – Cast Handstand on Uneven Bars
Many gymnastics coaches do not assign enough sport-specific conditioning or understand the mechanics of the pole vault. When the gymnast tries to throw before her shoulders are in the correct position, her body goes out instead of up. She also has less momentum if she tries to throw after her legs reach the front support position with her feet behind her. The gymnast’s legs do not have as effective a cast as she does when she leans forward to see her knees before throwing.
A gymnast must watch her knee before attempting a throw. Her body must go from pike position to almost straight (hollow) position rather than from straight to bent for a proper thrown handstand. In other words, a gymnast must get her shoulders over the bar before she attempts to kick her legs to the cast. She needs to compress well and lean forward enough to place her shoulders in a plank position. Many gymnasts do not understand the concept of keeping their feet in front of the bar (or watching their feet out of tilt) before the cast. This is mostly a timing problem, but also a lack of understanding of momentum and body shapes. With the molded handstand, if the timing is correct, it will be much easier to form the correct shapes.
An arched back is not the correct body position for a handstand cast. Many gymnasts arch because they are trying to throw from an already straight form rather than from the compressed form. Coaches should not allow their gymnasts to throw with a bow because it can easily become a bad habit that is very difficult to correct.
So many gymnasts also struggle with this skill because they lack the upper body strength required to lift their body. The molded handstand is a simulation of the front lateral raise exercise that many fitness enthusiasts perform with only a fraction of their weight. As a fitness trainer, I have seen many female clients struggle with less than 5%-10% of their body weight during this exercise. Even the more advanced fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders use only a fraction of their body weight with this exercise. A gymnast must be able to fully open the shoulder angle with some momentum and enough strength to lift most of their body weight.
Perhaps, knowing this, the gymnastics coach can help their young gymnast progress toward their goal of the cast handstand by allowing small increases in strength when using dumbbells or a toning bar for conditioning. A good step would be to use extremely light weights such as wooden dowels to learn the mechanics of casting. Once the mechanics are mastered, the young gymnast can upgrade to a 1.5 – 2 pound dumbbell in each hand. Take precautions! Many children, although recently accustomed to literally throwing their body weight around during gymnastics training, have no experience using weights for strength training.
Here is a very useful gymnastic exercise that simulates the molded handstand.
The Straight Arm Cast / Lift Drill: Have your gymnast sit on the floor with knees bent and back against a padded wall. Then have them hold two very light dumbbells with their palms facing the floor and the weights resting on the floor until they are ready to begin the exercise. Instruct your gymnast to raise their arms forward and up toward the ceiling, simulating the handstand cast. (front lateral raise) Once at the top of the lift, have your gymnast lower their armsweights by bringing their hands forward and then into a low front position. Make sure you instruct your gymnast to keep their elbows almost straight but not locked on this exercise. After your gymnast has completed an assigned number of repetitions, have them perform a tight hollow throw on bars. Remember, it will take time for your gymnast to build the strength to literally lift their body weight using this very small muscle group.
Here’s another very useful calisthenics exercise that uses fitness bands or surgical tubing as resistance.
Band Casting: Wrap a therapy band or surgical tubing around the base of very sturdy equipment, such as a beam, vault, or pole base. Have your gymnast lie on her back and grasp the tape or surgical tubing. Their feet should be closer to the base than their head, and instruct your gymnast to bend their knees. Once your gymnast is in position, instruct them to hold the band very tight as they pull the band from their thighs toward the ceiling and then up toward their head, keeping their arms straight and close to their body. At this point, your gymnast’s hands should be touching the floor and their arms should be close to their ears. When they have completed the upper part of the exercise, have them return to the staring position. Ask your gymnast to slowly bring the band back up towards the ceiling and then down towards their thighs. This should also closely simulate the handstand casting.
After performing these exercises often, your gymnast should become more accustomed to the feeling of lifting their arms forward and then up toward their head for the cast handstand.
Then find your gymnast for some molded handstand exercises on bars. Have your gymnast start in a front support on the bar. Once they are in place, instruct them to throw. First, have them bend at the hips and lean forward. Instruct your gymnast to look for her knees. When she can see her knees, instruct your gymnast to kick her leg up against the wall behind her. Instruct her to push her hips off the bar and then push the bar down with her arms and upper body. Remember that your gymnast must remain tight and hollow throughout the skill. Make sure your gymnast is leaning well over the bar and be prepared for her to collapse if she lacks the necessary strength. Hold the front of her shoulder to prevent her arms from bending beyond sight of her legs. Most gymnasts tend to throw back and not up because they don’t lean forward enough. Once your gymnast’s hips are off the bar, you can catch her shins and hold them in the tight and hollow position. Make the necessary corrections at this point. Once you and your gymnast are comfortable with this position, instruct and help your gymnast rock forward (planche) and back to strengthen her abdominal and upper body muscles. Once your gymnast is comfortable staying tight and hollow while rocking them back and forth, lift your gymnast up to the handstand. (Take precautions! Make sure your gymnast can stay tight and that you’re strong enough to spot it.) You may need to add each step over several weeks or months, depending on the gymnast’s individual strength. Once the correct handstand position is achieved, bring your gymnast back to the bar in a front support position. Eventually, your gymnast should be able to perform multiple repetitions each turn.
Remember, good form is just as important during push-ups as it is with any other gymnastic skill. The cast handstand takes a lot of time and effort to achieve, but it can make the difference between the state champion and everyone else. There are several gymnastic exercises and conditioning exercises for the molded handstand in the book “Gymnastics and conditioning exercises.”
Always keep safety in mind while training. Remember that you are responsible for your own personal safety. If you are a coach, you are responsible for the safety of your athletes.
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