Ever Wonder How to Do a Handstand?
This is a guest post from Jim Bathurst, from BeastSkills.com.
The Big Guy’s Guide to Holding the Handstand
The handstand is a skill that requires total body coordination and focus, not unlike a deadlift. But unlike a deadlift you don’t see too many larger guys doing the skill. The handstand seems relegated to skinny guys and 7 year old girls in many a lifter’s mind. But why?
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I’ll say that anyone, regardless of horizontal circumference, can become quite proficient at this skill.
Need proof? How about Bert Asseratti.
A rare sight
Not only could Bert do a one arm handstand, but also three one arm chin-ups in row! Certainly acrobatic feats are possible for anyone! John Davis, Olympic Weightlifting champion, was also known to partake in various acrobatic feats, such as the human flag.
The author (obviously not John Davis)
So maybe now I’ve convinced you that you could do this skill. The next question that might pop up is why? Why do I even want to bother learning this skill?
I won’t go into long, convoluted descriptions trying to convince you how the handstand is essential to training, because quite frankly it’s not. If your goals are benching, squatting, and deadlifting, then the handstand won’t help. You need to bench, squat, and deadlift.
What I will present to you is the appeal of training for and mastering this skill. First, it will add some variety to an otherwise routine training schedule. As I illustrated earlier, it was something that oldtime strongmen use to practice with surprising proficiency. This balance of barbell and bodyweight strength seems to be lost to time.
Finally, just think of how cool it would look to do what other’s would think impossible of you at first glance. Sure he’s large and can lift heavy weights, but he’s probably not agile enough to tie his shoes, right? Then, BAM, handstand.
How do we begin? We need to start with two things, learning how to shift weight on our hands, and trusting that we can support our large frames on our arms.
Shifting Weight on Your Hands
The first exercise we’ll learn is called the frogstand, or in yoga, the crow pose. This is the last time I’ll mention the word yoga in this article.
The skill starts with you squatting down with your hands shoulder width apart on the floor in front of you. We don’t need flexibility for this, and it doesn’t matter if the back is rounded. With your hands on the ground and arms straight, you want to put your knees to the outsides of your elbows.
Frogstand, ready for lift-off
In this position, squeeze your knees inwards and press your elbows outwards. This will tighten up the body. Just like staying tight in the bench helps with strength and control, so will it with the following position.
With the body tight, start to lean forward from your wrists. Do not bend your elbows too much!! Bend your elbows too much and you’ll bite it. This may be a good time to let you know that a mat or something similarly soft would be good to put on the ground in front of you to protect yourself if you decide to inadvertently decide to head butt the ground.
If you lean forward enough, you may soon find yourself able to pick your feet off the ground. You’ll now be balancing yourself on your hands, just like a handstand! You’ll find it much easier to stay up and control the position if you try and get your weight on the top half of your palm and your knuckles.
Remember it well
If you get too much of your weight on the heels of your hands, then the balance will be unnecessarily difficult. Get your weight forward more and grab hard into the ground with your hands. If this is difficult too, then recheck your grip strength and weak deadlift numbers. There are many online resources you can read to improve your grip strength, although specific sites elude me right now.
Once you get it, continue to practice this balancing position, as it’ll serve you well in the handstand.
Supporting Your Weight on Your Hands
Can you load up a barbell with your bodyweight and press it overhead? Congratulations! You can definitely hold a handstand. Can’t do it? For shame, but all hope is not lost. Holding a handstand is much more about getting your joints in line than pressing strength.
The next exercise we’ll work is called “walking up the wall”, for this exercise we will walk up the wall. I know, rocket science. Face away from a wall and put your hands down about 2 1/2 to 3 feet away from the wall (your size will determine your necessary distance). From there, put one foot up onto the wall, then put the other foot up onto the wall.
walking up the wall – start
Continue walking up the wall until your feet and hips are higher than your hands. Don’t let your hips sag or your shoulders move forward. Stretch the body out! Keep things tight! Try and get your body in a straight line. You’ll look something like this:
walking up the wall – end
If you can hold that position, you can hold a handstand. If you can’t, work on it.
Flipping things around
Alright, we’ve gotten more and more comfortable with this whole acrobatic thing. Now we’re going to flip the last exercise around, add some speed, and end up with something much closer resembling a handstand.
Now we’ll work on kicking up into a handstand against the wall. Take your hands and place them down facing the wall. They should be about 1 1/2 feet from the wall, not too close or too far.
From that position, we’ll be doing our best Uganda Bolt impression and getting into a runner’s start stance. One leg tucked underneath us, another leg straightened out behind us. Doesn’t matter which is which, just go with what comes naturally.
Like a 1 meter dash into a brick wall
The straight leg will stayed stretched out the whole time and give the majority of the kicking power by swinging upward in an arc toward the wall. The bent leg will help assist by giving a slight hop and push.
When you first try this, don’t try to reach the wall first time. Kick up a bit, then try to increase the distance you travel. Get comfortable with each step. This reduces the chance of breaking yourself.
When you first try this, there are three key points I want you to keep in mind.
1. Don’t bend your arms.
Seems obvious, right? Plenty of people freak out when going upside-down the first time and bend their arms. Don’t be one of them.
2. Don’t tuck your head.
Everyone seems to have an idea of a handstand where the head is perfectly between the arms and one looks away from the wall. This works for Olympic gymnasts, but most don’t have the shoulder flexibility to try this without doing a forward roll into the wall.
There are also balance considerations and various other things that make tucking your head a bad idea for most. Trust me on this one. Look straight down to the ground between your hands. Don’t move your eyes from that spot.
3. Don’t let your shoulders move forward.
The final point, and probably the hardest to first figure out is how to keep your shoulders from moving. A handstand has the hands, shoulders, and hips in a vertical line to balance.
If your shoulders start moving forward when you kick up, then not only are you getting out of alignment, but more than likely your head will start smashing into the wall. If you start to get pounding headaches when you practice this exercise, this may be the problem.
With any luck you’ve kicked upwards and rested your feet delicately on the wall. Or perhaps you kicked with all your might and now have a sizable dent in your wall. In either case, you’re upside-down and should now stretch out your body (like the wall walking exercise) in order to stay up and start to progress.
A Handstand Against the Wall
Congratulations if you’ve gotten to this point. It takes a bit of work to get here and now we’ve got something we can work with. For the next several months you’ll be here trying to find the balance of a handstand.
Finding the Balance
From this point, it’s a matter of tapping your feet off the wall, stretching your entire body from hands to toes to keep tight, and finding the balance point on your hands.
Where is the balance point? Have you been working the frogstand, or did you skip over that section when I mentioned the “Y” word?
You want to grab into the ground and keep your weight off the heels of your hands. Dedicated practice and you’ll be able to hold yourself away from the wall for longer and longer periods. Don’t forget to breathe during this time too. Save the red face for max effort squats.
Brad Gillingham with a Necessary Red Face
If you’ve gone through all these steps, then you’ve probably already amazed most people at your gym. As I mentioned, kicking up against the wall and finding your balance in the handstand will take a significant amount of time from this point. Don’t give up. I’ll write up another article in the future about how you can take your handstand away from the wall and hold it confidently in the open for what will undoubtedly become your coolest party trick.
Good luck with your training.
Jim Bathurst currently runs the site BeastSkills.com, where he offers free tutorials on feats of bodyweight strength. He has been practicing acrobatics for over a decade, and has been requested to run seminars internationally due to his experience. Jim is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). In his spare time he deadlifts.
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