Acro, or acrobatic skills, are the tumbling and flipping elements done on beam. Every routine has to have an acro series of two or more skills, one of which is a skill with flight. A flight element is a skill where the gymnast is suspended completely in the air without her hands or any other part of her body touching the beam. Acro skills can be performed moving forward, backward and sideways and each routine must have at least two of the three types of skills.
Backward-moving skills are the most common skills performed on beam and some of the simpler elements are the gateway to harder ones. From a young age, gymnasts learn to go backwards, starting with a back walkover, which is like a backbend kick over. Then they progress to back handspring and eventually back flips and back flips with twists.
Most people know what a back handspring is, but for those who don’t, it’s one of the fundamental skills a gymnast needs to know to progress into more difficult elements. To perform a back handspring, a gymnast starts standing up with her arms by her ears, bends her legs and jumps backward into a handstand. As soon as her hands hit the beam in handstand, she will block and step down onto the beam into a lunge. When connecting it to other elements, instead of stepping into a lunge, the gymnast will step one foot next to the other.
An Onodi, named after Henrietta Onodi, is a form of back handspring. In simplest terms, it is a half-twisting back handspring. During the gymnast’s jump back into handstand, she will do a half twist and step out in the non-traditional way one would step out of a handstand — forward. Onodi’s aren’t seen very often in the NCAA but some gymnasts do compete them.
A full-twisting back handspring is just that, a back handspring with a full twist before the skill is completed and the gymnast steps down. It is quite rare for college athletes to perform, but those that excel in twisting skills are more likely to add in the unique skill.
The Rogers, named after junior Gym Dog Brittany Rogers, is a three-quarter twisting back handspring to a one-armed double stag handstand. Rogers competed the skill at the Olympic Games in 2012 where it was named after her when she performed it successfully.
A back handspring swing down, while it might look difficult (and even painful), is actually one of the easier variations of a back handspring done on beam. Instead of stepping down on the beam, the gymnast brings her legs apart and swings down on the beam so that she is sitting in a straddle position.
A Rufolva, or a full-twisting back handspring swing down, is one of the most exciting skills for fans to watch and, when performed, always earns a gasp from the audience. The gymnast will jump backward and perform a full twist as she’s in the air, straddling her legs simultaneously and catching herself in a sitting position on the beam like in the simpler back handspring swing down.
A gainer is a skill performed off of one leg where the other, free leg is swung backward or forward to help the gymnast gain momentum into the movement. Many skills can be done from a gainer, including back handsprings, flips and front-moving skills as well, although front gainers are much less common.
In a gainer back handspring, the gymnast will start standing on her non-favorite leg and start with her favorite leg backward and then forward. As her leg swings forward, she will begin the back handspring, jumping off her non-favorite leg and into a handstand, stepping down or in to perform another skill.
A gainer layout step-out is a skill that starts from the gainer-style takeoff and goes into a back flip in a stretched or arched position, coming down on one foot and stepping down with the other. It is often performed after leaps or on its own and isn’t usually combined with other acro skills.
Back saltos are any of the back flips seen on beam that do not use hand support to complete. They can be performed in a variety of different positions like back, pike and laid-out and can include twists as well.
A back tuck is a back flip in the tucked position. A tuck in gymnastics is a shape where the gymnast’s legs are bent and together. On beam, back tucks are normally performed after other acro skills or leaps. They are also a stepping-stone to the difficult dismounts done in college.
A back pike is just like a back tuck but is performed in the pike position. A pike is where the gymnast has a bend at the hips, her legs are straight and, in come cases, her chest is almost flat against her legs.
A back layout step-out is like the previous two saltos but ends with the gymnast landing on one foot first then stepping down on the other foot. While layouts can be both straight-body and arched in gymnastics, for skills starting and landing on the beam, they are almost exclusively arched because it is the easiest way to complete the skill with the amount of height that the gymnast is able to get when jumping into the skill.
A standing full is a back flip with a full twist. When done standing, it is always done in the tucked position because the gymnast simply doesn’t have enough air time to perform it any other way. When done in combination, however, it can be done in either a tuck or layout.
A standing Arabian is slightly different than the other saltos listed above. It starts with a gymnast standing with her legs together. She jumps up in the air, performing a half twist before completing the salto. After she finished the half, she will then do a front salto and land on the beam, facing the other way. Few collegiate gymnasts do this skill on beam but those that do, complete the front salto in the tucked position.
Forward acro skills are just like backward ones but obviously move forward. There are less of this type of skill but are seen frequently in routines because it fulfills the requirement of having two of three directional acro skills.
A front handspring is exactly like a back handspring but in reverse. The gymnast starts by stepping or hurdling into the skill, plants her hands down on the beam, passing through handstand before blocking off the beam and either stepping out or coming down with two feet. The most common ending to the skill is a step out, but two-footed exits are performed out of mounts.
Front saltos are forward-moving skills that don’t involve the gymnast placing her hands on the beam for support or aid in completing it.
A front tuck, like a back tuck, is a front flip in the tuck position. The majority of front tucks are done with a run leading up to it to gain momentum. Some gymnasts do standing front tucks, which are much more difficult although worth the same in the code of points. It can also be done as a pike.
A front toss is very similar to a front tuck however starts in a different manner. The gymnast takes off of one leg, kicking her back leg over to initiate the flip then landing with both feet at the same time. It’s also known as a kick-over front for obvious reasons.
A front aerial looks like someone took a back layout step-out and hit rewind on the remote. It can also be called a front handspring step-out with no hands. The gymnast starts with her favorite foot in front, plants it down on the beam while dropping her chest and pushing off the leg, flipping forward and driving her back leg over her body and placing it on the beam, stepping down and bringing her other foot in to close with the other.
Side skills start facing one direction, involve the gymnast flipping so her hips are facing one side and not up or down and end facing the other direction. The most well-known side skill is a cartwheel, which starts with a gymnast putting one foot out, placing her hands down on the beam sideways, bringing her legs one after another over her head and steps down on the other side of her hands.
In simplest terms, a round-off is a cartwheel finishing with both feet coming down together. It starts with a step into it or a hurdle then the gymnast blocks as her hands hit the beam and her legs sweep overhead. Finally, her feet come together and she lands back on the beam, facing the opposite direction she started in.
A side aerial is a cartwheel with no hands. It starts and ends the same way as a cartwheel, the only difference is that instead of the gymnast putting her hands down on the beam, she pushes off her front leg and flips through the air, landing back down on the beam on one leg before placing the other down too.
A side somi starts like a side aerial. The gymnast pushed off her front leg just like in the aerial but instead of circling her legs like in a cartwheel, she will grab onto them like in a salto and pull herself around until she lands sideways on the beam. In a side somi, the full rotation in the air is one quarter of a full twist.
An acro series is more commonly called a series on beam. It includes two or more acro skills connected. There are a handful of different series that gymnasts perform in the NCAA depending on what skills they excel at.
Back handspring layout step-out is the most common series in college gymnastics. The majority of a team’s beam routines will include this series because the back handspring is one of the first acro skills a gymnast learns and the layout is the easiest flight element to land consistently. This series can also have a couple of variations including back handspring to layout two-feet and one-armed back handspring to layout step-out or layout two-feet.
What most people consider to be the easiest series performed in college is front aerial to back handspring. This series is much slower than the others because the direction of movement has to change into the complete opposite direction to perform the next skill, thus making it easier to control and stay on.
Back handspring to two layout step-outs is another pretty common series that gymnasts do. Triple series, because there are three skills in them, are often harder to perform because the gymnast can’t be off at all or risk ruining the rest of the series. The main reason gymnasts do triple series is to earn more bonus tenths to add onto their final score. Another type of triple series often done is two back handsprings to a layout step-out.
Another triple series combined the front aerial back handspring series and the back handspring layout step-out series. The main reason people take this risk is to get more connection bonus in their routines and knock out their directionality acro requirement all at the same time.
The most unique series of the bunch is the side aerial layout step-out series. It’s also one of the most difficult because side skills are often harder to keep in line with the beam so doing a skill afterward is riskier. A gymnast has to do the first skill perfectly so as to not mess up the second or fall. However, some gymnasts do this series not because it’s so hard but because they can’t or have trouble doing back handsprings. Many gymnasts with bad backs perform side aerials instead.
These aren’t the only series performed in college gymnastics by a long shot, but simply some of the most common that fans might see during a competition. In reality, any two acro elements can be connected to create a series that would fulfill the requirement. It just depends on what the gymnast is capable of and comfortable with doing.