How I overcame my fear of the backflip

The epic tale of a boy and his backflip.

Backflip 2

I’m writing this post for a few reasons.

  1. To help others that would like to learn a backflip as well
  2. To shed light on the topic of fear, mastery of fear
  3. Because overcoming this fear played a large part in my overall development
  4. To empower my readers
  5. Because this concept is useful for any scary skill
Backflip 1
cheat gainer!

Part 1- How I got screwed over

In middle school, I probably had a larger set of testicles than I currently do today.  7th grade,  2010-2011, I set about to learn the butterfly twist (an odd first choice). I had no mats, no gymnastic facility, no sand, no mattresses, nothing. I only had grass to practice on. The way I learned was by repeatedly crashing and getting hurt until I was not quite landing them but not quite injuring myself.

Fast forward to 8th grade, I still had the same pair of balls, but had not yet attempted a backflip/backtuck. All of that changed one fateful day during 4th period band class. I was, of course, outside with my friends (I’m a good noodle I swear). Somehow we started discussing backflips and in a matter of seconds they had whipped out their phones, ready for my display. My heart was pounding, adrenaline was coursing through my body. Could I really do it? I stood there, visualizing it, feeling it. Then I chucked it. In that brief moment, my entire world changed forever. The feeling of flipping backwards was even more amazing than I ever imagined.

Backflip
Mid flash kick

Of course I didn’t land it. I don’t think I landed any that day; the important thing was that I had gotten over the fear and thrown some flips right? The next day I went in my familiar backyard and proceeded to throw some more shitty backflips. Something was wrong this time, my superior alpha male confidence that I possessed only the day before was gone. I was left, unsure, and a bit scared. I’m sure you can guess what happened. That’s right! The worst possible outcome happened! I panicked mid backflip and landed straight on my neck. After that it was over for a few years. I now had a severe mental block and an instilled fear of any kind of backwards reality.

Part 2- Why I got screwed over and how I fixed it

So what the hell happened?

I didn’t have enough repetitions. 

Reps are a part of learning any skill. I couldn’t manage to get enough reps in because I couldn’t learn it in a confidence boosting environment. This means using a spotter, some mats, or both. If you have to pick one go with the spotter every time. Consequently,

I didn’t learn the skill well enough. 

This is crucial and makes perfect sense. If you haven’t learned the technique and encoded the skill very well, you’re not going to be able to execute it with certainty. I didn’t learn it properly; I had no spotter, no mats to boost confidence, nothing. Peer pressure (don’t do drugs kids!) is not an effective way to learn and retain a skill, it’s in fact pretty dangerous at the beginning level. This meant that,

I wasn’t ready to do backflips. 

I wasn’t ready to be practicing standing back tucks over hard ground. Crashing isn’t just a possibility when first learning, it’s a certainty. This is why I insist when first learning you at least have a spotter. For many people this is enough to learn and distill the fear of going backwards. For others that have also gone through a traumatic crashing experience, trust me, there is hope.

At this point whenever I would think about a backflip I would get frustrated and upset because of this horrible mental block I had. I couldn’t even do it on a trampoline! Whenever I ever tried to attempt a backflip I would just freeze up and no matter how hard I tried I could not force myself to do it. It was like this for a few years until one day an opportunity presented itself to me; my good friend Brandon had a trampoline in his backyard. For the next week we hung out a lot…

IMPORTANT!! If you’ve had a traumatic backflip experience and/or can’t execute a backflip on a trampoline then this next part is for you!

I had watched many videos and read many stories of people overcoming their backflip fear but one instructional video stuck in my head (this is the actual video  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wYMEbo-Bv4). He uses a safe progression on the trampoline (which you can find in a lot of backyards). The progression starts with back drops, a simple skill that is easy to work on even if fear is an issue; the back drop mimics the setup of a backflip. The next skill is a back pullover. This still has the back drop element but a backwards rotating feeling is added. Although they are important fundamentals in trampolining, you don’t even have to master these skills to start your first attempt on the trampoline.

I couldn’t even do a proper back pullover, but it didn’t matter. I had put in enough repetitions to instill this backward rotating feeling and… I did it. My first step towards relearning the backflip. Now that I could do backflips on the trampoline again,  I possessed a tool for getting reps in with confidence. That day I did around one million repetitions and came out the other side in a much better place to get my standing back tuck.

Note: All of this tomfoolery with the trampoline progression isn’t necessary for the normal people who don’t have a severe mental block. A good spotter will be enough for most.

Part 3- Salvation

A couple months later after I had total comfort on the trampoline (I also joined the diving team at my school for partially for this reason) I decided to make the jump (pun). At this time I still was training on my own, so I called up the friend that I thought would be most willing to help me out, and he agreed. My dude Phyo from Myanmar (Burma) spotted my back flips on the night of Friday the 13th in November. He had a spare mattress I could use and we set about to getting it done. I gave him the basics to spotting a back tuck, and it was extremely unnerving. I actually decided to start with a backwards roll and then a spotted back handspring because I had slightly less fear in this area. After several reps I got into the groove of it and we proceeded to do spotted back tucks. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be able to do the flips I can do today. With his moderate pressure and encouragement I was able to do standing back tucks on my own for the first time in years! The funny thing is I ended up crashing HARD on my head in the middle of the session, so it was even more of a challenge to move past it. Unfortunately, I did not get it on camera.

But here is some of the success from that night! 😀

I felt empowered, if I could relearn back tucks I could learn ANYTHING! However, I did in fact wake up the next morning feeling less sure than I had been the night before. I managed to do some more flips in my backyard that day. BUT the day after that one was when I was met with another mental block.  I spent the next two weeks trying to solidify my back tuck with hundreds of reps to combat that overnight loss of confidence. This meant, back tucks into the pool, more spotting work, and just getting a raw amount of repetitions in. Basically you need to get a spot and get it often, over a period of a few weeks. I was lucky and my cheerleader girlfriend was able to help me out with spotting and other technique. After those grueling two weeks of drilling, I could finally call it mine.

This was the point when I finally locked it down forever

Just a quick recap of what I did:

  1. I acquired a peer pressure induced backflip
  2. I lost it by bailing hard
  3. I got rid of the irrational fear of the backflip by using an extremely effective progression on the trampoline (highly recommend this for the tough cases without access to a gym)
  4. I drilled it for days
  5. Drilled it some more
  6. Got a spot for my back flip
  7. Drilled it any way I could until the backflip was infused with my soul
  8. When I practiced the back tuck on my own, I used strong visualizations of the technique AND imagined that I had a spotter standing beside me. (I also do this with my back handspring, I find it to be slightly scarier than a back tuck)

In conclusion, the backflip is 100% a mental game. Even today I still sometimes crash on my head, but I don’t let it phase me.  I am free of fear and restriction. I did it, you certainly can too. Master this sick game and you will reap the benefits, not just a back tuck and the best ab exercise ever… but also an enormous amount of confidence that will carryover into every aspect of your life.

As always, sharing is extremely appreciated! Let me know what you guys think, future tutorials and articles, suggestions, questions, etc. Shoot me a comment or a message on Facebook or Instagram! Also, if you haven’t already done so, give my new Facebook page a like to stay updated on future content! Happy training!

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