Being able to do a backflip is an incredible milestone in fitness and agility, and something that will no doubt impress even the toughest crowd. It’s a great party trick, and as long as you have a bit of space around you you will be able to pull it off anywhere, and if you get good you might even find it opens up doors as people ask you to be in their video productions, and as you impress ladies with your smooth moves.
And the good news is that this is a move that actually most people should be able to do with a basic knowledge of the way the movement generates momentum and with a bit of guts and practice. Here we will go through the basics.
What You Will Need
Before you start off trying to backflip you are going to need to put yourself in the right situation. In short you will need a soft ground that doesn’t impede your ability to jump. If you attempt your first backflip on concrete then chances are that it will also be your last backflip.
To practice you should hire out a gym or school hall that has soft mats and other gymnastics equipment to use. You will be surprised to find that lots of places let you do this relatively cheaply, so look in your local directory.
The best things to use here are the thin mats, as the larger crash mats will prevent you from jumping properly. You should aim to use more than one of these mats on top of one another as that way they will be able to provide enough spring to help cushion your fall.
BUT even with these crash mats it’s highly important that you have help from a ‘spotter’ who will be someone to help guide you through the movement and to break your fall should you fail to complete the movement. Get them to stand next to you with one hand gently on your back/buttocks and one on your chest. They will follow you through the movement and they will slow your fall should you start to drop in the wrong angle. They can help a little with the movement at first and then gradually use less and less pressure to hand more and more of the movement over to you.
If possible you can always try using more than one spotter and this will increase your chances of a happy landing as they can more easily guide you through the spin.
Now on to the actual movement itself. Basically the reason that most people can’t do a backflip, other than the fear or lack of interest, is that they have completely the wrong idea about how to perform the movement. The common misconception you see is that you need to jump backwards when in actual fact you only need to jump up. If you jump backwards then you won’t go as high and your center of gravity will be in the precise wrong place.
Instead then your goal is to jump directly up as high as you can and not to even look back until you reach the apex of your leap. Once you are at the top of your jump, bring your knees into your chest hard and fast as you can and grab them with your arms as you do. What this is going to do is to provide the torque and the change in momentum and balance which will cause you to spin. Meanwhile you are making yourself as small as possible so that your turning circle is as minimal as it can be – while it is possible to flip with your body straight, this is a very advanced move and not one to try to begin with.
Now you are going to have to ‘unfold’ in order to land on the floor safely. You should find that your brain unfolds you fairly automatically and this isn’t really something you need to worry about, however at the same time you may find that you stumble if you misplace your feet when you land which can be painful and result in a broken toe. The simple solution is to look directly at a point on the floor as you turn past the half-way point. By keeping your eyes dead on this point you will find your body does the rest and makes sure your feet land there easily.
Overcoming the Fear
The main problem when you try to learn to backflip is going to be the risk of landing on your neck. This is indeed a hard thing to get over at first and it’s going to take a few attempts before you get your first successful take off. However do note that you are very unlikely to land on your neck – and much more likely to land on your knees which will hurt less on a padded surface. You should also bear in mind that if anything is going to result in injury – it’s pulling out of the movement halfway through. Jackie Chan wisely says that it’s not doing a stunt that gets him injured, nor not doing it – rather it’s ‘half doing it’. So in short you need to completely let go and throw caution to the wind.
The best way to do this as mentioned is with one or more very good spotters but also a nice crash mat behind you. If you really can’t bring yourself to jump, then try piling two or three of the thinner crash mats onto the one thicker mat and this will absorb more of the impact if you do fall. At the same time you should try throwing yourself onto your back a few times so that you learn the pain isn’t really that bad. Don’t try right now to flip though because you’ll find you’re a bit flustered and dizzy. Instead walk away, calm down for a bit, and then try again with a fresh head.