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Physics of a Full



In gymnastics, a full-twisting layout is a skill in which the gymnast starts in a laid out position (with the body completely flat) and then uses her arms to initiate rotation. When the gymnast first leaves the ground, her body has a great deal of angular momentum, since she will have gained speed by first doing a round-off back handspring. When her feet land back on the floor at the end of her back handspring, they apply a great deal of force to the spring floor beneath her. The reaction force propels her into the air with an angular momentum that will eventually allow her to land on her feet once again. In order to twist in the air without pushing off of anything, the gymnast will throw her right arm over her head and pin her left to her side, which changes the distance of her center of mass from the axis of rotation. Her body will react by rotating counterclockwise, and she will land on her feet when she has completed rotations around both the vertical and horizontal axes.


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Our study of rotational kinematics and moment of inertia will play a big role in understanding the gymnast's rotations from a physics perspective. From a performance perspective, it looks like magic to me!

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