The Twisty Physics of Simone Biles’ Historic Triple-Double

What. The. Heck. Did you see that? Simone Biles seems to defy the legal guidelines of physics with this epic tumbling pass from the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships. It is referred to as a triple-double. Which means she rotates round an axis going by her hips twice whereas on the identical time rotating about an axis going from head to toe THREE occasions. Sure, it is troublesome—nevertheless it does not defy physics, it makes use of physics.

Let’s go over the three key elements of this transfer. You possibly can observe the physics, however I do not suggest attempting this triple-double in your yard.


If you wish to do any form of flip, you just about must be off the bottom for some period of time. In any other case, you might be only a human rolling round on the ground. That is likely to be enjoyable, nevertheless it’s not likely tumbling.

As soon as a human leaves the ground, there may be basically just one power appearing on her or him—the gravitational power. This can be a downward-pulling power that will depend on the native gravitational area (g = 9.eight Newtons per kilogram) and the mass of the human (or no matter object). This fixed downward power causes an individual to speed up downward. However as a result of each the power and the acceleration depend upon mass, the mass cancels out. All free-falling objects on the floor of the Earth have the identical acceleration of -9.eight m/s2.

Rhett Allain, an Affiliate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana College, writes about physics for WIRED.

The opposite wonderful thing about the gravitational power is that it solely acts within the vertical route. Which means there aren’t any internet forces within the horizontal route. With no internet power, there isn’t a CHANGE in velocity. As soon as she’s within the air, Simone’s middle of mass will transfer together with a relentless pace—with the identical horizontal velocity at which she was operating earlier than the soar.

However within the vertical route, she launches upward with some vertical velocity. This velocity decreases as she travels up till it reaches zero on the highest level of the soar. At that time, she begins transferring down and rising in pace till she returns to the ground.

Since this movement has a relentless acceleration, we are able to mannequin it with what’s referred to as a “kinematic equation.” It’s a relationship between place, velocity, and time and it appears like this.

Rhett Allain

For this tumbling go, we all know Simone’s beginning and ending place—they’re the identical, so let’s simply say they’re each zero. Now, if I do know the entire time, I can discover her preliminary upward velocity. Wanting on the video (and utilizing Tracker Video Analysis), I get a complete in-air time of 1.18 seconds. Sure, it appears longer than that—however that is a powerful hang-time. This offers a launch pace of 5.78 meters per second (that is about 13 mph).

What if she elevated this launch pace to 7 m/s? That might give her a cling time of 1.43 seconds. Sure, that is nonetheless tremendous quick. The important thing right here is that it is actually arduous to be within the air for a very long time. If you wish to do some twists within the air, it’s good to give attention to rotating sooner greater than on staying within the air longer. Leaping is tough.


Simply to be clear on terminology—a flip is a rotation of a human round an axis that runs by your hips. Right here is an animation I made for an older publish (sure, that is created in python with GlowScript).

Rhett Allain

The rotation is represented by the crimson arrow, which factors alongside the axis of rotation. That is a flip.

The important thing right here is to rotate your physique all the best way round that axis whereas within the air. In the event you do not do a full rotation, dangerous issues occur. Luckily for Simone Biles, she has a head begin within the flipping side of this tumbling transfer. She’s already rotating earlier than the soar even begins. Throughout the strikes earlier than the triple-double she begins off with a reasonably vital rotation fee of about 11.eight radians per second (1.9 rotations per second).

As soon as she’s within the air, she hastens barely to about 12.2 rad/s by tucking in her legs and arms. Within the absence of exterior torque, she can have a relentless angular momentum. Angular momentum is a measure of the rotation of an object that takes into consideration each the rotation fee and the distribution of mass. Since a few of her physique mass strikes nearer to the axis of rotation, the mass affect on the angular momentum decreases. To preserve angular momentum, the rotation fee should improve. This is the reason a “tuck” flip is simpler than a structure (the place the physique stays straight).


The final factor of this triple-double is the triple twist. A twist is a rotation of the human physique about an axis that runs from head to ft. Right here is an animation.

Rhett Allain

However discover there’s a massive distinction between the twist and the flip in Simone’s gymnastics transfer. She was already rotating about her hips earlier than she left the ground—however she was not already twisting. She had so as to add this twist on the final a part of this tumbling go. There are two methods you may twist within the air.

The primary method known as a torque twist. Torque is the rotational equal of a power. The place a power modifications the momentum of an object, torque modifications the angular momentum. Nevertheless, you may’t apply a torque to your self if you are within the air—it’s a must to do it if you are nonetheless involved with the bottom. In the event you push ahead with one foot and again with the opposite foot, you’ll exert a torque. This torque will end in your twisting movement as soon as you allow the bottom. It is easy. You possibly can strive it your self.

Rhett Allain

Alas, a torque twist will solely get you to this point. The second possibility is an angular momentum twist. As soon as an individual is within the air, she or he can change physique positions. This place change will end in a non-symmetric mass distribution and produce a tremendous outcome. Regardless that the angular momentum stays fixed, the angular velocity (the route of rotation) will change. If each the angular velocity (crimson arrow) and the angular momentum (yellow arrow) are represented with arrows, this twist would appear to be this.

Rhett Allain

Discover that the angular momentum is fixed—accurately as a result of there aren’t any torques within the air. However precisely how do you do that? Discover that within the air Simone strikes one arm up and one arm down? That modifications her mass distribution and begins the twisting. Bear in mind—she does THREE twists. Is that loopy? Sure, it is a robust transfer. Simone does it anyway.

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