5 Tips to Progress Your Handstand
Do you feel like you've been working towards a freestanding handstand for years, but seem to be getting nowhere fast? The handstand is one of the most coveted skills in the box, but can also be one of the most difficult to master. If you're ready to take your gymnastics skills to the next level, spend some time working on these activities:
Learn the Correct Technique
When you're supported by a wall, it's easy to do handstands without thinking too much about the technique. If you want to progress to freestanding handstands, you need to take your gymnastics technique seriously. Whenever you're spending time upside down, whether that's against a wall, supported by a friend, or freestanding, follow these tips:
Create Lots of Tension
The key to a stable, strong handstand is tension throughout the whole body. Make sure your core stays tight, squeeze your glutes and legs, and point your toes. Keep your arms locked out, and create tension by squeezing them into your ears.Not only will this help you maintain good form in the handstand, but it will help you balance too.
Activate Your Shoulders
Keeping your shoulders active throughout the handstand will prevent you from collapsing, which is one of the main reasons for failed attempts. As soon as you're inverted, concentrate on pushing the floor away from you.
Focus Your Vision
When you're upside down, you don't want to be looking around the room. Focus your vision on the floor in between your hands, whilst keeping your spine relatively neutral. Don't look at your hands, as this can throw your balance off too.
Create a Strong Base
You need to keep your hands firmly planted on the floor throughout your handstand, distributing your weight equally. When the weight's distributed unevenly, you'll shift onto your fingertips or the base of your palm, which will impede your balance. To create a strong base, spread your fingers out slightly, and keep all parts of the hand in contact with the floor.
Practice Against the Wall, but Mix It Up
Most people learn how to handstand by kicking up against the wall, and holding a supported handstand whilst facing away from the wall. There are benefits to both types of wall-supported handstands, so mix them up a bit to speed up your progress:
Facing away from the wall is great for practising the kick up into the handstand, as it mimics what you'll need to do when you move onto the freestanding progressions. Therefore, when practicing this type of handstand, focus on getting into the handstand, rather than the handstand itself. If you slam into the wall at great speed, this won't transfer to freestanding - you'll just fall on the floor! Adjust the amount of force you're using until you get it right.
Facing the Wall
When you're upside down facing the wall, your position mimics that of a freestanding handstand. Walk yourself up the wall, until your hands are about a foot away, then focus on holding the handstand for as long as possible, using the technique already discussed. When you feel ready, take one foot away from the wall, then two. This will enable you to practice holding a freestanding handstand, with the safety blanket of the wall to catch you if you lose your balance.
Introduce Handstand Accessory Work
Accessory work isn't just for lifting, you should use it to develop your gymnastics skills too. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Swiss Ball Pikes
The Swiss Ball Pike is great for building stability in the shoulders, as well as balance and core strength - all of which are key to a successful handstand.
Planks are great for developing your core strength, which helps create a more stable handstand. To get the most benefit, you need to hold the hollow body position you'll be using in the handstand. This video shows you how:
If you have restricted range of motion in your shoulders, it will be harder for you to successfully hold a handstand. Use the exercises covered in Becoming a Supple Leopard to open them up.
Do Them With a Friend
If you're ready to attempt freestanding handstands, but lack the confidence or soft landing, it's a good idea to try them with a friend. Have your training partner hold out their arm, ready to catch you if you go too far, then kick up into your handstand. Remember to keep everything tight, and follow the advice given at the start of this post. This shouldn't feel too different from your handstands against the wall, provided you've spent some time working on the technique.
When you're comfortable, your friend can let go of your legs, or move them slightly so you get used to staying in control and keeping balance when your weight shifts.
Take Up Yoga
Balance, stability and strength are all fundamental to so many yoga poses, but there are a few that are particularly helpful if you want to progress to freestanding handstands. If you're already comfortable with handstands against the wall, but are struggling to move forward, try to work your way through the following progressions:
Headstands will help you get used to holding the correct position, but your weight will be spread across a much greater surface area. This guide by Yoganonymous contains everything you need to know about nailing your first headstand, as well as some yoga poses to help you get there.
The next step is to master the crow pose. This is another inverted yoga pose, and will help you get used to the correct hand position, developing the strength in your wrists. To find out what Men's Health had to say about the crow pose, and to see a video tutorial, click here.
The forearm stand is the closest you can get to a freestanding handstand, without actually doing one. It's marginally easier, as your weight is distributed across a greater surface area. If you've mastered headstands and crow pose, but you're still struggling with your handstands, try this.