Training Concepts for Developing a Handstand

Finding stability while balancing a handstand is elusive, frustrating, exhilarating and difficult. There are many techniques and traditions with so many specific details to devote your energy to. Without having a master coach, it is hard to know where to begin. Your ideal starting point will vary depending on your level of strength, mobility, and coordination. It is hard to accurately identify if you are in the correct position when training alone. If you aren’t, are you too loose, too stiff, or just not coordinating the movement correctly? Are you accepting a compromised position because you have the strength to handle it? If so, what is the most efficient method to improve your alignment? In this article, I’ll give you the tools to answer these questions and offer you a foundation to orient yourself on the path to balance.

Quality over Quantity

There are many different ways to develop a handstand. The way that I will explain is the proper method for training more advanced handstand skills such as a one-arm or a hollow-back. Emphasizing proper technique over quantity of time or reps will lead to more gains and less time spent in frustrating plateaus. That being said, training optimal technique is not always easier. It is often harder to maintain the most efficient position than it is to hold the handstand. During long holds or lazy training days, the first thing to go is alignment. Then the execution of technical skills becomes laborious or unsuccessful. 

You may be able to successfully hold a handstand without proper alignment. If you cannot alter your position you are more susceptible to injury and fear. I recommend that you make it your number one priority to strive for more control over every part of your body while training your handstand. It also will look more impressive and beautiful!!

Setting reasonable goals

Handstands are a long game. There is always someone out there that will have started earlier and be more advanced. Identifying small improvements and training for success in small challenges will get you further than aiming right for the summit. Learning when to dial back your training goals and perfect the basics when you are tired or having an off day can help maintain morale. A practical example of this would look like this: You can get into a chest to wall handstand and hold for 30 seconds before you need to come down. At 15 seconds your elbows start to bend and you lose stability and struggle, but you can stay up. The more important goal is to increase the amount of time that you can keep your elbows straight to 20 seconds. Focusing on that will improve the rest of your endurance without developing a faulty pattern.

Mobility and Strength

Developing your range of motion and strength throughout the ROM is important to obtain a stable and beautiful handstand. Not all of the positions I itemize below are necessary to obtaining a stable handstand but, the more of them you have the easier it will be. Mobility training should be included in any training session to support and maintain the ideal position.

Work Ethic

Developing a handstand requires a strong work ethic. No one will progress very far by messing around once a week. The key to progress is regular hours of deliberate and focused training. Creating a list of what you are going to do before you do it is an efficient way to organize your time as well as a way to hold yourself accountable and chart your progress. Training by a list also has the perk of feeling victorious when you graduate to a more challenging list of drills.

Technique by joints

Wrists and hands:

Master Lu Yi of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe used to always say, “The handstand starts in the hand.” 

Hands should be placed shoulder-width apart so that when you’re pushing through your shoulder your arms make straight parallel lines. You need to be able to bear weight with your wrists in a 90-degree extension. If this is painful, then eliminating that pain is the first priority. The fingers should be spread as far apart as possible to give you a wide foundation. Make a firm and even contact with all of your palms and fingers then squeeze the ground hard enough that there is space between the underside of the fingers and the ground.

Elbows and arms

Second is in the elbow, extending the elbows is essential to stacking the shoulders over the hands and finding proper alignment. Everyone’s ROM of the elbow will be slightly different but being able to lock out a 180-degree angle or more of the elbow is important for efficiency. If you had an injury in the past and your elbows are not able to extend to 180-degrees, that does not mean that you can’t obtain a freestanding handstand. If you are hypermobile and your elbows go significantly past 180-degrees don’t worry about it unless it hurts. If it hurts, try to keep them at 180-degrees. If you’re having trouble straightening the elbow it usually means that you need to rotate your arms laterally. Encouraging your elbow pits to point towards your fingertips will fix the position and create a more aligned stack. 

 

Shoulders, core, and hips:

The shoulders need to be in 180-degree flexion overhead without flaring the ribs. Rotate your arms laterally just a little bit to stabilize the shoulder girdle. Once there, elevate the scapulas so that the inside of the arm is making contact with your head. There should be no pain in the shoulders in this position. If you do not have this mobility it doesn’t mean you can not hold a handstand but, it will require more strength and compensation and make more challenging skills much more difficult.

The core should be tight. Belly button engaged towards the spine while the pubic bone and sternum are pulled towards each other. The butt should be squeezed and hips pushed forward.  You want to replicate a hollow-body position in your handstand.

Developing a mobile forward bend will make transitions into a handstand easier. Being able to lay your body flat onto your legs is a recommended mobility goal.

Knees and Feet:

Knees should be locked out and feet pointed. Glue your inner thighs together and squeeze your muscles hard. The medial edge of your toes and heels should be firmly glued together. The feeling should be tight and connected. By pushing into the ground and extending through your feet towards the sky you want to grow as tall as possible in your handstand.

Putting it all together:

If you already have the strength to hold yourself up. A good way to find this position is to walk your feet up a wall while on your hands. Once there, try to press your nose, hips, belly, thighs, and the tops of your feet to the wall. Start by trying to hold this for 10 seconds, then walk away. If you can do that with control, increase your time by 5 seconds until you can hold for one minute.

If you can hold this shape, try to then pull everything but your nose and toes away from the wall but maintain the position of your core.

Prerequisite checklist

Before beginning to train your handstand I recommend that you obtain these goals. Mastering all of these skills first will make your training easier and more enjoyable. 

Pike with straight legs

A wide straddle

1-minute plank hold with locked out elbows

10 elbows-in push-ups

1-minute hollow body hold

180-degree shoulder flexion

A stable 20-second headstand

Happy Handstanding!

2 comments

  1. Shannon Seath Meyer says:

    Shawn & Sadie,
    Thank you so much for putting this together. I’ve been neglecting my handstand practice of late. I’m excited to start up again with some new goals in mind. I look forward to your next newsletter.
    Shannon Seath Meyer

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