Degree #1: The Long. Run
When you begin your physical training program remember that building skills takes time. I trained for over 15,000 hours developing my physical body and mental state of mind, even more so than my actual acrobatic skills. Remember that when you start venturing down your rotational pathway. As mentioned, start your conditioning program TODAY! Do not wait until tomorrow; tomorrow never comes. Realize that the process can be slow at times and bad days will happen, so simply stick to the building process and do not be scared to take steps backwards if it does not feel right. Remember, the brain has to understand it as well, so you need to give it time to ‘digest’ the building blocks and new progressions. Take your time and do not get frustrated if you can’t ‘figure it out’ in just a few minutes. Professional Trampoline athletes build their careers over many years before they ‘perfect’ even the simplest skills. It will take you many years as well, so enjoy the adventure and don’t just try to rush to the end. The real joy in acrobatics is the process of learning, NOT the end result.
Degree #2: Set Up Your Equipment
Learn how to make your own throw mat; a safety item that is very important when you are learning any new skill, at any level. Our Freestyle athletes always use a proper throw mat at FTA events. but you can make your own for at home use, if you cannot obtain a professional one. Do not just run to your trampoline with your phone out and start throwing yourself around. Take a moment at the start of every training to check your equipment and set up some mats. If you are a G-Tramper you can make your own mat like in the video below. If you are able to get to a training facility we recommend that as an alternative but either way make sure that you have your springs and frames covered. You never know where your body will end up during training! If you are on a G-Tramp you can use pillows and cushions, placing them around the trampoline. It is better than nothing. We do not recommend taking the pads off even though it is common in the G-Tramp community. Have your throw mat ready and a friend standing by, paying attention. Your adventure down your rotational pathway will be short lived if you injure yourself, so set yourself up for success right from the beginning.
Degree #3: THE STOP Bounce!
The very first thing any trampolinist needs to know is how NOT to bounce! I know this sounds counter intuitive but in reality anyone can simply fumble their way onto a trampoline and fall down after a few bounces. Specifically learning how to jump with mechanical precision is not a necessity for basic skills. Stopping yourself from flying off the trampoline when you get out of control is! Practice stopping yourself from getting hurt before you start trying to gain more height. It actually takes more leg muscles than you think. You do not want to find that out after a first attempt at a new skill!
Degree #4: How To Bounce
Once you have learned basic bouncing and practiced stopping from different angles and different heights you can start actually thinking about how to focus on the mechanics of bouncing properly. It is not something that is necessary to a Freestyle athlete who needs to be in control but is not looking for 0.1 degree of extra height. A traditional coach will emphasize pre-bounces right from the beginning but remember, it is not actually a true safety concept. To be safe, you actually want to keep the arms out which will give you a wider base and make it easier to balance when in the air. As you progress over the years you will naturally have more control and be able to execute ‘proper’ pre-bounces. It is a good skill to learn control but not mandatory to be a great trampolinist. After playing with the pre-bounces, which I am sure will not last too long, you can start getting to body movements. These are always easier to learn than actual rotations. Try to wait until you are completely in the air (“Top of the Bounce”) before trying to do a position such as a Tuck Jump or Straddle Jump. Play with these different positions and try to create your own. The inventing process has already begun now that you are hopefully stable in the air and able to start creating your own style. The one thing to remember is that if you get into the position too early, it will throw you off and will cause you to travel around the trampoline.
Degree #5: Swivel Hips
This will be your first ‘skill’ is some sense. It is important to note that from a biological perspective, all the different movements you have done up to this point still count as ‘learned skills.’ As you go through this skill remember that even though we are doing half turns, you can break down the skill into 1o at a time if you need to. If you are falling down and struggling, simply take smaller degrees. Remember that each degree can be broken into fractions as well, so if you feel ‘stuck’ take your time and build it up Degree-By-Degree. A rule of thumb is that if you get stuck, take the previous step and cut it in half. If you are stuck you are simply taking steps that are too big for your brain to understand and map out.
Degree #6: Hands & Knees Drop
This skill is quite easy and you will not need to spend too much time with it. It is important for developing bigger skills in the future so it is a basic landing position you will want to be familiar with. This skill is also the beginning step to Stomach Drop, as you will see in Degree #8. Explore with it by bouncing in different directions into the Hands and Knees Drop but keep it low and do not lock your elbows. Be tight when landing and you should be able to move around easily up to feet and back down while turning in different directions.
Degree #7: Back Drop
The Back Drop will be the first building block to a full back flip. Start by laying down on the trampoline and ‘feeling’ the proper position. Just throwing yourself to the trampoline will generally get the job done as well but it will increase the chance that you are not landing flat, which will cause issues later on with different skills bouncing off the back into more complex skills. For younger Flippers it will also risk whiplash on the neck so make sure you have your head back against the trampoline. Take the time to get comfortable on your back by bouncing onto your back from different angles and feeling the movement of your body as you approach the Back Drop from different angles. Do not just ‘go crazy’ yet but experiment a bit and you will start to see how your body will naturally react to bouncing at different angles that your body will remember as you progress to other landing positions.
Degree #8: Stomach Drop
In this video we explore the last of the landing positions besides your feet, which is valuable for some skills later on; the stomach drop. We recommend when learning this or teaching it for the first time or with younger athletes always use a 'crash' or safety mat, as shown in this video. This skill can take a few extra attempts to really get comfortable with so please take your time. Due to the shape of the human body, Seat Drops and Back Drops tend to be easier to go through but Stomach Drops can cause soreness to the body. This is because when landing on your stomach you have less ‘room for error’ as I am sure you will quickly discover as you progress through the tutorial. Again, get comfortable with it by exploring to a small degree but remember that you will not have as much freedom at this point, so just be comfortable with landing on your stomach. It shouldn’t hurt. If it does even after many attempts, think about squeezing your muscles when you land and it will help. Hopefully you have been conditioning which will really help!
Degree #9: Shoulder Alignment Drill
In this video we learn the proper technique for learning proper shoulder alignment for the competitive athlete. Proper shoulder alignment allows you to gain height and rotate better because you have a longer lever from the take-off (onset of the skill). By forcing a very straight line on every take-off athletes will find it easier, as they won't have to put in as much effort (less energy expended). By using the alignment properly you're much more effective and don't have to 'muscle through' the skill. For your Freestyle Flippers you will not need to play with the pre-bounces as much as a traditional trampolinist but it is important to understand the body alignment they utilize even if it is not as applicable to a Freestyle athlete. Take the time to get full shoulder range of motion and proper alignment. It will be much easier to connect skills in the future. You should actually start with your arms down, however, not enough research has been done on the long term effects of starting with arms down compared to the traditional way. For this reason learn and understand both options so over time you will pick which take-off is better suited for you.
Degree #10: Roller
Now that we have the major basics covered we can get into actual movements on the trampoline. The first one will be a Roller because it is quite easy. Having the hands free to twist the body will make the twist very easy. It should be noted that all twists are created by starting with the arms to one side and pulling them to the other side. Traditional athletes will get more technical with it but in reality it is simple. Think about pulling a rope from one side of the body to another side and your body will follow along. Try going in both directions and you will quickly see that the same mechanics and ‘building blocks’ work in the opposite direction. When applicable, all skills should be learned in both directions to truly fill in your 3D ‘map.’
Degree #11: Back Drop 1/2 Turn & Full Turn
This skill will get you to start thinking about rotating at the same time as you flip. Going from your back to your feet is a quarter flip and the twist will happen at the same time. In this video we show the arms being used to get a nice straight take-off from the back but you can also just drop the feet to the side and swing the arms like you did in the Roller and still get a twist from your back. You will travel more this way, so that is why this video does not show that but you will quickly see that where you throw your arms and legs, the rest of the body will follow. Again, you can go Degree-By-Degree at this stage in both directions to truly get comfortable with moving around and having control, not just ‘huck ’n chuck’ it.
Degree #12: Half Airplane
Many times athletes will rush into the twist but as demonstrated in this video, it is better to think more about the flip first and then twist later. Flipping tends to be more of a concern for the bigger skills so the flip is usually the main focus and the twist is done second in the thought process. In reality, as you start doing bigger and bigger skills, you will need to create momentum both on the twisting and flipping axis more or less at the same time but when learning the simple building blocks of acrobatics it is better to have an “Order of Operations” that gives the athlete one thing to focus on at a time. Later you can blend these concepts.
Degree #13: Full Airplane - Stomach Drop Full Turn to Back
This skill is simply the continuation of the previous skill and you should see how you simply are adding ‘quarter’ rotations to the previous Half Airplane to get to the Full Airplane. This is where we start really seeing the building process in full form. As we progress you will see that all skills are built out of these degrees of rotation and can be clumped into 90o chunks as you build. Remember to keep the arms in when learning the skill. You may be able to get the full turn and this will cause you to land on your side and if the arms are in you will be perfectly fine, but if the arms are out and you do not land properly you could get an arm injury. In later videos we will actually land on our sides on purpose but for these basic building blocks we want to keep it a bit simpler until you become more in control, which is required to land on your side in a safe manner.
Degree #14: Stomach Drop Full Turn To Feet
This skill is a bit tougher for one simple reason; you can’t use your arms to create the twist the way you can for the other previous skills. This one may be one you need to come back to later but please play with it to demonstrate that by limiting your arm movement, you will also limit your twisting ability. This simple skill will demonstrate how tough simple movements can be. Many athletes jump to the flips but do not have these basic building blocks to fall back on when things do not go according to plan. A big part of the building process is learning about the limitations of the body, not simply just focusing on landing harder and harder skills.
Degree #15: Back Drop to Stomach Drop
You can see here how we are combining the different landing positions together with rotations in-between and smaller building blocks. The Hands and Knees Drop in Degree #7 will be extremely useful in this skill. Again, notice how we have not actually ‘learned’ a new skill, but simply have taken previously learned skills and combined them to create this movement. This is important to stress, so I will be repeating myself several times in the next several Degrees to ensure it is blatantly obvious that we are ‘building skills,’ not throwing them.
Degree #16: Cody Kick Technique
The reason this combination of building blocks is after the Back Drop to Stomach Drop is because when you go from the back to stomach you can simply ‘drop’ the feet to create the leverage needed for the rotation. For the Cody Kick, you have to land precisely and wait for the bed a bit more, which makes it slightly more complicated, due to the timing and precision needed. DO NOT DO CODY YET! We will get there, but for now we still need to really understand how Degree #16 and Degree #17 are made of the same building blocks but are simply in reverse order. Due to the fact the human body is not perfectly symmetrical, specific ‘techniques’ will be required to go from stomach to back but the general principal of ‘building’ should again be highlighted here.
Degree #17: Cat Twist Technique
The Cat Twist is basically the same as the Roller in Degree #11 but from the back. Again, you see the similar process of flipping over to Hands and Knees Drop and breaking the full twist movement into smaller parts and then building them on top of each other. Like the Roller video, the arms will be very important in creating the momentum for the twist, so if you need to, please review that video and notice the similarities. The only difference is the starting and ending position but the building process and rotational mechanics are exactly the same.