How to hold a handstand

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Orinoco -

How to hold a handstand

For Robotic Juggle. Brace yourself, it's another epic post.

Learning to stand on your hands not only looks very impressive but will also help to strengthen your wrists. Having strong wrists is a good idea if you like juggling lots of orbit patterns like Rubenstein's Revenge as it will help to avoid wrist injury.

First a little bit about the type of handstand we want to achieve. A lot of people can scrabble around on their hands for a few seconds slapping the ground in an effort to stay upright before emerging red faced & sweating. This is not cool. During this method you are putting your entire body weight on your wrists which for all of us non Olympic gymnasts are really not built to take that sort of weight. You just end up putting more & more strain on your arms until your body just gives out.

The handstand we want to achieve is the one that you will see performed by the Olympic gymnasts & the winner of every convention handstand endurance: Standing upright with straight legs & back almost completely motionless in a beautiful show of control over the human body.

Learning to hold a handstand is a long process because it's not just about learning the skill, you are also conditioning your body to be able to do the trick. When I first started learning to hold a handstand I believe I wasn't physically strong enough to do it at first. It took time to build up the strength required.

Falling down

You will spend a lot of time kicking up & coming straight back down again (under balancing) or going too far (over balancing).

Important tip number 1 is: Don't fall flat on your back! If you find yourself over balancing just lock one arm at the elbow & take the other hand off the ground, twist your body so that your front is facing the way you are falling & put your feet down.

Entering a handstand

One of the hardest parts of learning to hold a handstand is getting into it in the first place. When first learning to do a handstand most people start off stood upright with their arms raised above their heads then launch themselves forwards at the ground. This is crazy.

Start off with both hands on the ground shoulder width apart with both legs bent, your strongest leg should be in front of the other like a sprinter in starting blocks. Arch your back so you can get your feet closer to your hands.

Don't splay your fingers out flat, instead pull your finger tips back so that your knuckles are raised off the ground. You will be able to apply considerably more pressure through your fingers in this position.

Stretch your arms & push your shoulders forward so that your body is as tall as possible. Lean forward so that your shoulders are over your fingers. For a good handstand you need to maintain a state of being ever so slightly over balanced. It is considerably easier to correct over balance by pushing back with your fingers than to correct under balance which involves unlocking your elbows & shifting your weight.

I think of starting a handstand as rolling up into the balance in four stages:

  1. Put your shoulders over your fingers
  2. Put your hips over your shoulders
  3. Put your weakest leg over your hips
  4. Put your strongest leg over your hips

Step one is easy enough to do while stationary but the remaining three have to be done on the fly during the kick up.

So kick up, put your hips in place over your shoulders. You don't have to get it exactly right because you can use your weakest leg to add an extra bit of under or over balance to bring your hips into line. If you are under balanced swing the leg up a bit faster & further, if you are over balanced slow the swing down & let it drag behind a little. Again if you are slightly out of position you can use your dominant leg in the same way to correct your balance.

Holding a handstand

Never take your hands off the floor! If you need to take a step to retain balance, don't bother. Just put your feet back on the floor & have another go. You don't maintain standing on your feet by stepping around madly like Michael Flatley. Learning to walk on your hands comes later.

Your objective is to hold the balance with as little motion as possible. Getting a good start is key, but the less than perfect starts are both excellent practice for correcting balance & good training to build up strength. If you are getting frustrated with unsuccessful starts take heart that not a single attempt is a wasted effort!

As previously mentioned you need to maintain a state of being slightly over balanced. I think a lot of people fear over balancing because they don't want to fall on their back & with good reason. Just remember to take one hand off the ground & rotate & you will be fine. You will need to get comfortable with the sensation of being over balanced. When first learning I didn't like being over balanced & most of my failures were due to me over correcting & pushing myself into under balancing. A successful handstand involves correcting from over balanced into slightly over balanced & no further.

Throughout the handstand keep your body as rigid as possible, particularly your core. It is far easier to balance a solid object than a floppy one.

Try to keep your elbows locked so that you can support your body weight through your skeleton. If your elbows are not locked you will have to support your weight on your muscles & you will tire quickly.

Other tips

Remove loose change & other objects from your pockets before practicing your handstands.

Don't crane your neck back to look at the floor. Just relax your neck & look up with your eyes if you need to. You maintain the balance by feel not by sight so being able to see the ground is not important.

A common piece of advice is, "Don't hold your breath!" (not just applied to handstands) If you are holding your breath don't worry about it. You will breathe when you need to!

To improve your control & to add a bit of variety/challenge to your practice try slowly shifting your legs into different positions or shifting weight from one arm to the other.

mtb - - Parent

Ooo.... Nice breakdown. Ta Orin.

Little Paul - - Parent

Very much this :)

mtb - - Parent

Just to confirm, are you balanced on your fingertips, or do I misunderstand the following?

Don't splay your fingers out flat, instead pull your finger tips back so that your knuckles are raised off the ground. You will be able to apply considerably more pressure through your fingers in this position.

Little Paul - - Parent

I read it assuming "heel of hand + fingertips" rather than "completely flat palm" eg:

Orinoco - - Parent

Yeah that.

mtb - - Parent

Cool. That makes more sense than what I understood. :)

Cedric Lackpot - - Parent

A couple of points :-

First the small one - I do not think that there is any requirement to arch the knuckles, it's just down to personal preference and technique. Lots of really good hand balancers don't do it, it's not a necessity, and I'm not even convinced that it is generally helpful.

And now the biggy, which Orin mentioned, but not nearly load enough - ALL ORTHODOX HANDSTAND TECHNIQUE IS AIMED SQUARELY AT FINDING A WAY TO SUPPORT THE BODY'S WEIGHT WITH THE SKELETON, NOT THE MUSCULATURE. In my opinion this one point eclipses all the others by an order of magnitude. Pardon my shouting, but it's just that important.

Orinoco - - Parent

I'm not even convinced that it is generally helpful

It's basic leverage. The technique I describe is the equivalent of a benchpress, pressing through flat extended fingers is like doing triceps extensions with locked elbows.


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