Author: Shawn Kellogg

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!

Five Elements of Movement Rehabilitation

What do I mean by movement rehabilitation?


In a movement rehabilitation session, I work with a person who is hoping to improve their experience moving in the world. Usually, people seek out a session with me because they are experiencing pain while performing certain movements. Other times it’s because they feel stiff and want more mobility tools or they are feeling uncomfortable but can’t quite pinpoint why. 

Whatever the case, when putting time and energy into movement rehabilitation we are essentially trying to optimize performance in 5 key areas: Coordination, Position, Stability, Mobility, and Strength. Any movement can be compromised if one of these attributes is lacking. Also, an individual may excel in one area and be able to cover up their weakness in another. I define these elements as follows.


The Five Elements



Every movement involves more than one muscle or tensional line. Coordinating these structures to fire is key to efficiency and success. Sequencing is very important for complex movements like walking, squatting or jumping. For most movements, the core should be stabilized and braced first.  If you swing your leg forward before your push into the back leg your gait will be ineffective and jarring. If you bend your knees before you send your hips back in your squat you will overload your knees and underload your hips which can lead to pain and degeneration of the knee. Likewise, if any muscle is not firing and well, other muscles will have to work harder.

Focusing on the onset and release of muscular engagement is particularly important. If a movement is well coordinated in the beginning and end you don’t usually have to worry about the middle. A movement that is usually uncoordinated may feel more effortful during the coordination process but once the brain has rearranged its firing pattern that movement will feel easier. 


Truly coordinating your movements well is not possible if the movements are moving through bad positions. When you look at a photograph of a person performing any activity, even though it is just a single image, you can learn about their movement quality due to the positions of their joints. Any activity can be done better with excellent alignment whether it’s running, scrolling your phone, baking, or gardening. Setting yourself up in a good position will load your shoulders and hips and not your intervertebral joints. It will take advantage of your resilient and elastic connective tissue instead of muscular contraction whenever possible thereby increasing biomechanical efficiency. 


Being able to find a good position is better yet when you can hold it steady. Every joint in your body is controlled and supported by the soft tissue around it. Each joint is designed to be moved in certain pathways and not others. Although each joint can be forced into positions that may damage them and the brain will do it’s best to protect them. Loading your joints with adequate torque and strengthening their optimal pathways is a crucial component of improved movement quality. 


Mobility is the amount of control that you have at the end of your range of motion. A baseline of functional mobility is imperative to maintaining a good position. A great example is taking your arm overhead. If you have reason to bear weight overhead being able to flex the shoulder so your arm is in alignment with your ear without raising your ribcage or sending your head forward will optimize how that weight transfers to your core. If you are struggling against a mobility restriction a movement is also likely to be less stable.

There is an important distinction between mobility and flexibility. Essentially flexibility is passive and mobility is active. Extending your passive ROM usually decreases joint stability. Joint stability is usually maintained while increasing active ROM. You can read more about this distinction in my article, The Mobility Uprising.


All of these elements will be compromised while under load if there is not sufficient strength to bear that load. Strength and stability go hand and hand. If a base level of strength is not present even simple movements will become unstable. Also, if a movement is already unstable, special awareness is needed to strengthen it. Adding a load to a wobbly pathway can be very beneficial and increase stability and strength but, adding too much can cause aberrant deviations and stress out the brain as well as the tissues it is controlling.

Adding a load to a movement is essential for taking it out of the gym into real-world situations. Bodyweight squats are essential for getting in and out of a chair but deadlifts are fundamentally the same as picking up a heavy tote or a bag of groceries. Not only do we want to move around, but we also want to affect the world around us. Developing physical strength increases an individual’s potential to do just that.


Putting it all together


If any of these elements are underdeveloped in a particular movement pattern it can lead to a pain alert or awkward compensations. Sometimes eliminating pain is as simple as engaging the transverse abdominis as you flex your hips or externally rotating your arms as you lift up your arm.

When I am working with a client I will use a variety of different techniques depending on what element is compromised. I cue movements that work on good positions with a coordinated onset and release of tension. I use manual techniques to apply pressure, tension, slack or load to movements to support, stabilize and mobilize them. I also use tools like lacrosse balls, lightweights and Therabands to support repatterning new or old movements. If you have any other questions about what a movement rehabilitation session looks like, send us a message or book an appointment!

What Is Structural Integration And How It Will Help You Rehabilitate Your Movement

Structural Integration (SI) is a manual therapy technique I draw from in my movement rehabilitation sessions. I compliment the treatment with functional movement training to help my clients access a strong, stable and complete range of motion. I also use movement tools influenced by contemporary research in pain science to effectively rehabilitate the client’s movement. I have found that by combining movement, SI, and other manual therapy techniques clients are more likely to keep the results they experience after a treatment. 

This article is intended to help you better understand what Structural Integration is as well as why and how I use it in my practice.

Structural Integration (SI) is a manual therapy that works with the body’s connective tissue and nervous system. The goal of SI is to bring the body into optimal alignment and balance the myofascial system. In practice, that means assessing what tensional lines are short and lengthening them, then finding which lines are long and engaging them. By doing this the mechanical structure of the body is more supported and movement of any kind becomes easier. This treatment is traditionally performed and taught in a 10-session series commonly referred to as the ‘recipe’.

The work was pioneered and developed by Ida Rolf throughout the mid 20th century and is commonly known as Rolfing. Rolf had a doctorate in biochemistry and training in yoga. She was a contemporary of Moshe Feldenkrais and was influenced by osteopathic manual therapy and the Alexander technique. Although the original take on Rolfing is a bit dated she introduced some critical ideas that advanced the understanding of the human body. 

“If tissue is restrained, and balanced movement demanded at a nearby joint, tissue and joint will relocate in a more appropriate equilibrium.”. – Ida Rolf 1 

Another important idea at the core of SI is tensegrity.2 The SI practitioner views the myofascia as a tensegrity structure. Daily activities adjust the balance of tension in this whole system. Day in and day out of any activity can lead to noticeable imbalances that usually lead to discomfort and pain. The sessions in the ‘recipe’ follow a non-symptom specific formula to balance myofascia around the bones. During each treatment, the goal is to adjust the tensional members of the structure to distribute the effect of gravity more evenly. 

Since the development of this work in the 20th-century, research has come out that affects our view of what is actually happening during treatment. Although the initial belief was that practitioners were targeting the connective tissue, we now know that it takes at least 3-9 months on average for fascia structure to remodel and adapt. There may be some immediate changes in the tissue due to increased hydration from manual therapy or the use of mobility tools like a foam roller or lacrosse ball. 3 It seems that overall the vast majority of the immediate benefits of the work are coming from how it is affecting the nervous system. 4 This realization has led to an adjustment of the techniques used and makes receiving the work more comfortable and more effective than in the 1900s.

SI has been very helpful for my personal connection to movement. Experiencing this work during my training had a dramatic effect on my own movement quality and comfort. Providing this profound treatment to my community is a meaningful part of my career that I look forward to offering for years to come.

-Shawn Kellogg

“Tensegrity is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.”

The Mobility Uprising: Why It’s Important To Engage While Stretching.


Excellent movement is the product of many elements working together. To move well one needs stability, strength, coordination, and mobility. Mobility is often confused with flexibility. Flexibility is the passive range of motion (ROM) of a joint, how far it can go. Mobility is how much control there is over the end range of movement. If you need more ROM to excel at a particular movement your time will be better spent on improving your mobility rather than flexibility. Connections between good mobility and lack of pain in clinical research are becoming more common. While research is showing that having too much flexibility and not enough mobility can actually be detrimental 1.

Many people say “I need to stretch” when they mean to say “my body doesn’t feel right, I need to take care of it”. Now, the question that needs attending to is not should I stretch but how should I stretch? I take this further and like to ask if stretching is even the right word. This question has a fluid answer. More research comes out on this topic every year. Movements that were considered healthy and important are often re-evaluated due to new findings.

Many of the leading theories on mobility have something to do with increasing the capacity of muscle tissue to lengthen it. This theory insists that If you are stiff you need to stretch out your tissue like a pair of new shoes. Once the fabric has lengthened you will feel more comfortable. Then, If you don’t stretch often enough you will return to a state of being too tight. This is something I often hear influencing people’s training in almost every athletic club and gym I’ve trained in.

A new theory has been emerging over the last 10 years that what is changing might not be the stretchiness of your fabric but the brains tolerance to stretch sensations. That what is inhibiting your movement if you feel tight is not limitations in your tissue length but a neurological fear of damage if you travel too deeply into certain movements. This is something that is exacerbated after injuries, repetitive motion, and inactivity. To improve your mobility you need to convince your brain that the movement will not cause damage to any of the involved structures 2.

In practice, using techniques with this theory in mind are proving more effective and less painful to overcome mobility blocks. The gist is to spend more time exploring the outer range of your ROM in a slow controlled and safe fashion. If you build the strength to lift your leg higher, the brain is less likely to think that there is a risk of injury.

Expanding mobility in this way leads to improved power and performance in extended positions, such as the squat. A baseline of comfortable mobility is also important to maintain to avoid pain. If you regularly use your body to accomplish a variety of daily tasks this should happen mostly on its own. The issue is when a movement pathway is extremely underused or underdeveloped due to injury or inactivity. the brain can begin to perceive a threat in that mobility. Potential real threats include instability and lack of control, further damage of an injured area, or a subconscious belief such as “my muscle will tear”. If the brain thinks an area is threatened its response is probably going to be a pain signal, even if there is no actual damage 3!

Static stretching, on the other hand, has been shown to have a negative impact on power movements such as squats, sprints and box jumps immediately thereafter 4. In fact, there is evidence supporting that static stretching as you did in P.E. class might actually be a waste of energy for most goals. A warm-up is certainly important. But you’re probably better off doing a bit of mobilization and performing movements that are similar to what you are warming up for. If you are trying to perform a cartwheel with straight legs, working on your cartwheel is going to get you there faster than trying to lay flat in your middle splits. There is a baseline of necessary mobility, sure, but if that mobility is lacking it is more effective to use very active mobility training to prep for a cartwheel 5.

The bottom line is that mobility is a fundamental aspect of any movement discipline. Whether your focus is running, CrossFit, gymnastics, parkour or just to be healthy, we want to optimize our mobility in an efficient and thoughtful manner. Using proper techniques for your movement goals to increase or maintain functional ROM will lead to quicker gains and more stability. Not all exercises are worth their time and its best to focus your energy on mobilizations that will support the kind of movement you love and keep your body feeling stable, strong and healthy.