I picked up the handstand holds and handstand push ups back in 2015 form a program by Jason Ferruggia, who channels the NYC jungle master Al Kavadlo (well worth looking him up), and have used it in my own workouts and my clients on and off ever since. Then a bit over a year ago, I had handstands pushed into my life again, through Keegan Smith and the Real Movement Project. This time it was free standing handstands and a whole new focus on quality.
There is a lot to like about the handstand. It is both physically and mentally challenging as well as being a powerful exercise to boost upper body strength, stability and core strength. Handstands can be done anywhere and you don’t need any equipment to practice. This makes them a versatile go to exercise for travelling or when short on time or space.
I hope after reading this, you include it in your staple exercises.
Have you ever watched young kids doing handstands, cartwheels and flips? Did you notice how easy it looks? Then you gave it another try right, and quickly discovered its no longer child’s play. If not done regularly, and compounded as we grow older and heavier, it becomes an imposing challenge to just flick your feet up and stand on your hands.
So why should we re-learn this movement? Firstly, it’s a great way to improve our health while at the same time challenge ourselves mentally, as most of us spend little time inverted (upside down), the shift in weight, blood rushing to your head and extra work your heart needs to do to pump blood through your body can create fear and discomfort. Second, it’s an excellent way to gain health and strength benefits with no equipment and no excuses not to do it every day.
I would recommend trying handstand holds by starting with your legs/feet on a box, bench or step and pike downwards to the floor before you practise against a wall or with a partner. (Come in and see us to learn the tips and tricks to rediscover your childhood).
The sequence of working through handstand progressions through to an advanced handstand push up is this:
Partial handstand from a pike position
Feet or knees on a box or bench (elevated surface) so you can support your weight and make getting your upper body into a handstand easier. Plant your hands about shoulder width or a touch wider, which ever feels more comfortable for you. Spread your fingers and plant your palms into the floor. Your aim is to create an upside-down L where your hips, shoulders and arms are all aligned with your backside sticking up in the air. This position is to help you get used to holding weight through your hands, shoulders and core.
Hold with feet against a wall
First find a solid (not plaster board) wall that you won’t kick holes in, or train with a partner. You can kick your feet up and land your heels against the wall (facing away from wall) if you’re confident, but make sure you don’t have your hands too far from the wall. The other option is to walk your feet up the wall, while at the same time walking your hands closer to the wall as your feet climb the wall, ending up with your nose to the wall. (CAUTION) if you aren’t confident with a sideways dismount, practice with a partner. Again, hands in the same position as above, aligning the shoulders over the hands, picture yourself pushing the floor away with your hands. Get yourself so that your body is held long and tall from tip of feet to the palms of your hands, pointing your toes and squeezing your glutes and core tight.
Aim to start off with 3 to 5 holds, working up your time to 30 seconds with 30-60 second rest between each. Once you can do all holds comfortably for 30 sec progress to working up to 60 second holds with a 5-minute time cap on total attempts. This will keep you challenged for a while so don’t push too hard too soon. You want strength and stability, not a shoulder or head injury!
Once you can hold consistent 60 plus second holds, work on hand balancing so that you can balance and keep your feet off the wall. Build these attempts up to 60 second holds and then progress to free standing away from a wall.
Give it a go!
From here you can try;
The kick up – don’t let your arms bend at the elbows, this will result in you landing on your head! Practice kicking up with arms locked out against your ears, this is a stronger and more stable position to get into the handstand.
Lock the body in – Once in the handstand, lock yourself into a nice straight position by locking in your abdominals to get a rigid plank between the shoulders and hips, squeezing your glutes tight, pushing the floor away with your hands so you are pushing yourself up into the air, not collapsing onto your hands. This allows your skeletal system to do some of the work by aligning the bones over one another and providing support and rigidity.
Hand balance – when pushing the floor away with your hands, you should have fingers spread, feeling the shifts of weight into each of your fingers. This is where you adjust your balance when freestanding.
Point the toes – aim to point the toes once you get to free balancing.
Head position – work on keeping your head neutral. This will keep your ears next to your arms. If you tend to look at the floor, which arches your neck and shifts your weight away from centre, your feet and hips need to counter balance. This is when you see the crescent shape that many people hold when doing handstands. This can result in injury if not used to mobilising your spine. Work to keep the head neutral and the body in alignment.
Aside from it looks cool when you can pop a solid handstand anywhere from the beach, to the kid’s playground.
You are pressing your entire body weight! ALL of it! This is pure strength and must be achieved with total body control. Handstands engage every major muscle group in your body. During a handstand, the muscles in your arms, shoulders and chest support your body weight, while core muscles in your back and abdomen provide stability. Your glutes and leg muscles self-support to take pressure off your chest and core. In addition to creating support and lift, your muscles are constantly adjusting and bracing to maintain balance which trains fast twitch contraction and relaxation of the muscles which relays to protect the body from injury not to mention improves shoulder and spinal health.
Stability, Balance and Awareness
Handstands require you to look at the world upside down, which is disorienting for most people and scrambles our sensory system. After a few attempts to do a handstand, your brain becomes used to seeing from a different perspective, which greatly improves your spatial awareness and balance. The high degree of athleticism necessary to hold your body in an upside-down position also helps increase your balance and ability to control your whole body.
Circulation, Bone Density, Heart Health, Improved Mood
By flipping your body upside down, handstands invert normal blood flow. This increases circulation to your upper body while relieving pressure on your stomach, feet and legs. Handstands benefit your spine, brain and pituitary gland. The flood of blood to your brain is energising and calming at the same time, which has shown to aid in relieving minor depression and improving mood. A properly executed back bend during a handstand also invigorates your nervous system (once you are able to). The handstand position also allows gravity to act on the skeletal system from the opposite direction aiding in the maintenance of bone density and countering osteoporosis.
I hope I have convinced you to add this powerful tool to your arsenal of weekly exercises. Remember not to rush through the progressions and watch your form. Go get strong and healthy!
Until next time…. Coach Vaughan
Author: Vaughan Carder