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How to Do a Cartwheel

by sorin ciovica on June 20, 2024

The cartwheel is a foundational gymnastics skill that strengthens your upper body and helps you progress to more advanced moves. To master a cartwheel, find a safe practice area and focus on the correct placement of your hands and feet to propel yourself forward and upside down. Always stretch before practicing to avoid injuries. Use a soft mat or AirTrack Mat to prevent injury. 

How to Do a Cartwheel

Practicing a Cartwheel

1. Picture an Imaginary Line

Visualize a straight line extending in front of you. This line will serve as a guide for your cartwheel. You can also use painter’s tape to create a real line across a carpet or AirTrack Mat.  The line should be at least several feet long. Aim to stay on the line, as if it were a balance beam, but also focus on maintaining proper form.

Ensure the area around your line is clear of obstacles to avoid injuries from bumping into hard objects.


2. Lunge Forward with Your Lead Leg and Raise Your Arms

Begin by slightly bending your front leg at the knee while keeping your back leg straight. Both feet should point forward, parallel to your imaginary line. Raise your arms straight up by your ears.

Make sure you’re facing forward as you prepare and start your cartwheel, not sideways. Determine your lead leg by practicing handstands with each leg in front to see which feels more natural.


3. Lower Your Arms and Raise Your Back Leg

As you lower your arms towards the ground, raise your back leg, keeping both straight to form a “T” shape with your body. This step requires balance and may take some practice to hold the position steadily.


4. Place Your Hands on the Ground

Place the hand on the same side as your lead leg on the ground first, followed by your other hand, shoulder-width apart. Keep your fingers pointing away from your head.


5. Push Off with Your Front Leg

Push off with your front leg, bringing both legs into a V shape in the air. Balance your weight on your arms, keeping your head and torso upside down over your hands. Maintain straight legs throughout the motion.


6. Lower Your Lead Leg

As your lead leg comes down, lift the first hand you placed on the ground. Your weight should begin shifting to your legs. Keep your head and torso roughly parallel to the ground.


7. Bring Down Your Other Leg

Follow with your other leg, placing your back foot behind your lead foot along the line. Lift your second hand naturally off the mat.


8. Land in a Lunge

Finish the cartwheel in a lunge position, facing the opposite direction from your starting point. Your original back leg should be in front and slightly bent, while your original lead leg is behind you and straight.


Keep Practicing

Continue practicing your cartwheel until the movements feel natural and fluid. Practice alternating between lead legs to get comfortable with cartwheeling on either side.

How to Do a Cartwheel

Creating a Practice Space and Limbering Up


1. Wear Comfortable Clothing

Wear clothing that allows a full range of movement for your arms and legs, such as compression clothing, yoga outfits, or gymnastic leotards. Avoid non-stretchy fabrics like denim and skirts or dresses that can flip over during the cartwheel.


2. Find an Open Area with a Soft Floor

Choose a space free of furniture and other obstacles. A soft surface like carpet, a lawn, or a Gymnastics AirTrack Mat  is ideal. Ensure the area is flat and level to make cartwheeling easier.


3. Stretch Your Wrists and Hamstrings

Stretching before practicing will prevent injuries. Bend your wrists back and forth gently, and stretch your hamstrings by sitting with your legs spread apart in a wide V. Reach towards each foot alternately.


4. Strengthen Your Biceps and Triceps

Support your body weight during a cartwheel by strengthening your arm muscles. Do bicep curls with free weights and dumbbell kickbacks to build your bicep and tricep muscles.


5. Practice Handstands

Get comfortable with being upside down by practicing handstands. This will help you become familiar with supporting your body weight with your arms and hands.


Tips for Learning How to Do a Cartwheel

  • Master Hand Placement: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, raise your arms, and place your dominant hand on the ground first, followed by your other hand.
  • Focus on the Lead Leg: Practice kicking up your lead leg forcefully while reaching towards the ground with your hands.
  • Follow Through with the Other Leg: Keep both legs straight and together throughout the motion.
  • Spotting: Have an adult or coach spot you if you’re nervous. They can support your body and guide you through the proper technique.
  • Practice Drills: Use drills to build confidence and technique.


Frequently Asked Questions About Learning a Cartwheel

Q: What is a cartwheel and how do you do one? A: A cartwheel involves rotating your body sideways in a horizontal plane, with your hands and feet touching the ground in sequence. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, raise your arms, and kick your leading leg up and over while reaching down to the ground with your hands.

Q: How can I improve my cartwheel technique? A: Practice on a soft surface, keep your legs and body straight, and engage your core muscles for balance. Gradually increase your strength and flexibility.

Q: What are common mistakes to avoid when learning how to do a cartwheel? A: Avoid bending your legs, not reaching down far enough, and failing to push off with enough force. Keep your arms by your ears and focus on balance and alignment.

Q: Is it necessary to have prior gymnastics experience to learn how to do a cartwheel? A: Prior experience can help, but it’s not necessary. With practice, patience, and proper technique, anyone can learn to do a cartwheel safely.

 Q: How can I stay safe while practicing my cartwheels? A: Safety is paramount when practicing cartwheels. Always start with a thorough warm-up to get your muscles ready and prevent injuries. Practice on a soft surface like a Gymnastics AirTrack Mat, carpet, or grass to cushion any falls. Make sure your practice area is free of obstacles to avoid bumps and bruises. If you feel any pain or discomfort, stop immediately and rest. Consider consulting a coach or experienced gymnast who can provide guidance on proper form and technique, ensuring you’re practicing safely.

Q: Is doing a cartwheel easy? A: Doing a cartwheel can be challenging at first, especially if you're new to gymnastics or not very flexible. However, with regular practice and dedication, it becomes much easier. The key is to break down the movements into manageable steps and focus on your form. Over time, your muscles will build the strength and memory needed to perform a smooth cartwheel.

Q: How to do a cartwheel if you're scared? A: It's completely normal to feel scared when trying something new like a cartwheel. Start by practicing against a wall for added support. This can help you get used to the motion and build confidence. You can also have a spotter—a friend, parent, or coach—stand nearby to provide support and catch you if you lose balance. Taking it slow and gradually increasing your comfort level can make a big difference.

Q: Can you learn a cartwheel in one day? A: While it’s possible to learn the basics of a cartwheel in one day, mastering it usually takes several days or weeks of consistent practice. Everyone learns at their own pace, so don't get discouraged if it takes a bit longer. Focus on getting each step right and gradually putting them together into a fluid motion.

Q: Can everyone do a cartwheel? A: With practice and proper technique, most people can learn to do a cartwheel. It might take longer for some, especially if you’re starting from scratch or have limited flexibility. The important thing is to be patient with yourself and keep practicing regularly. Remember, persistence pays off!

Q: Is it safe to do a cartwheel? A: Yes, doing a cartwheel is safe as long as you take the necessary precautions. Practice on a soft surface or Gymnastics AirTrack Mat to protect your hands and knees. Ensure you have enough space to move without hitting anything. Warming up and stretching beforehand can prevent muscle strains. Always listen to your body—if something feels wrong, stop and rest.

Q: How to do a cartwheel very easy? A: To make learning a cartwheel easier, break down the process into simple steps:

  1. Start in a lunge position with your arms raised.
  2. Lower your hands to the ground one at a time while kicking your legs up.
  3. Keep your legs straight and your body aligned as you rotate.
  4. Land on your lead leg first, followed by your other leg. Practicing each step individually before putting them together can make the cartwheel feel more manageable. Regular practice and focusing on proper form will help you improve quickly.