Gymnastics is hard. There’s no getting around that. However, being able to conquer and perform those higher-level gymnastics movements can be not only extremely gratifying but also very exhilarating. Since most adults these days are being exposed to basic gymnastics skills through the fitness community, there is a tendency for the movements to be taught quickly with the bulk of the work needed to acquire and learn those skills left up to the athlete to do in their own time. While I’m a huge proponent of working on and refining skills outside of class time, it is imperative that you have at least a little knowledge of the drills and positions you need to be focusing on.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the handstand many people don’t have the deeper understanding of the body positions and mechanics required to obtain a consistent controlled handstand.
(SEE LAST MONTH’S BLOG TO CATCH UP ON SOME BASICS – How to Handstand by Courtney Walker.)
Gymnastics is all about the basics, and these 3 tricks will take you back to the very basics in order to achieve a solid freestanding handstand:
1) Work Static Positions on the Ground
Everyone seems to want to handstand walk. I get that it’s cool to be able to walk on your hands, but trying to walk on your hands without having the ability to just hold a handstand is putting the cart before the horse. How do you plan to add in movement to your handstand when you can’t even control yourself standing still? Before you ever get upside down you need to understand and establish your ability to maintain a proper body position while on the ground. This requires both an understanding of the correct position as well as the requisite strength to hold that position. When in a handstand we want what is called a hollow body position. This means the rib cage is pulled down, the hips are tucked under, the quads are tight, the arms are straight overhead behind the ears, and the knees are straight with the toes pointed. The best way to practice this position is with hollow body holds and hollow body rocks. Lay on your back, lift your shoulders off the ground slightly with your hands above your head, squeeze your butt and lift your feet of the floor. There should be no space between your lower back and the ground. If I were to pick you up by your toes and rotate you 90 degrees you should be tight enough that nothing would move and you would end up in a perfect handstand. Work to hold your hollow for 5 sets of 1 min or perform rocks in that position for 5 sets of 25.
2) Drill your kick up
Once we understand the basic body position required in the handstand we need to make sure our entry to the handstand is consistent every time. To properly get into a handstand you will start with the arms by the ears and the dominant foot in front. You will lunge forward on your dominant leg while the trailing leg stays straight. The line from your finger tips to the foot of your trailing leg should be completely straight and remain that way throughout the kick up. Think of it like a teeter totter. Your arms are one side; your back leg the other. The supporting leg/your dominant leg is the fulcrum in the middle. Halfway through your kick up your body should be creating the letter T. Make sure to remember to stretch your arms out long as you kick up. Do 10 kick up drills as shown in the video beginning at the :55 second mark on each leg. It is important to practice on both legs even though you will likely use only one leg to kick up to a handstand.
3) Practice Balance
Once you can get up to the handstand and maintain a solid body position it’s time to work on your balance. In a handstand you should feel the weight more in your fingertips than the palm of your hand. If you get off balance you can “save” your handstand by adjusting the balance in your fingertips and the angle of your shoulders. If your handstand is on the short side you can save it by doing a planche, which is essentially pushing your shoulders forward. It is very very difficult to save a short handstand. It is easier to save a handstand that is going over, or is long. To do this you need to push your shoulders backward in order to counter balance and bring the feet back to vertical. See the video below for a more visual explanation of these positions. A great way to practice finding and working your balance in the handstand is with a partner. Kick up to your handstand and have your partner standing at your side with one hand on each side of your legs. Your partner should not be keeping your balance for you, but only grabbing your legs and helping you get back into balance when you start to lose it. Over time the level of assistance your partner needs to provide should decrease. Note that if you are not keeping a tight body position the entire time you will not get the full benefit of this drill.
At the end of the day if you want a solid handstand you need to practice a lot! This is not a skill that you can develop overnight and you need to put in the time if you want to see the results. Gymnastics can be very challenging, but also very rewarding so don’t shy away from learning the handstand just because it seems scary at first!