The Ultimate Guide to Troubleshooting your Handstand
Handstands are not only a cool skill to have. It is a foundation of all the other calisthenics moves, but doing a perfect handstand (not your banana shaped like one) is complex and can be extremely frustrating.
When I got started, I was 6 months into handstand training and was working towards being able to hold a freestanding one. For months I would do my drills, I kept on trying to kick up and balance thinking that it will just come with time. But it didn’t.
After 4 months of this madness, I realized that I haven’t made any progress.
I didn’t know what’s WRONG and which area do I need to improve?
In this article, you will learn how to avoid months of clueless training and start getting results now.
1. That performing a handstand is a complex skill that isn’t just reliant on you having a high level of strength, but also on flexibility, mobility and balance in a number of other areas; particular if you want to perform a freestanding handstand.
2. What are the most important elements for performing a handstand so that you can save yourself months of getting it wrong and causing yourself pain as I did!
3. About the problems which might be preventing you from getting or balancing your PERFECT HANDSTAND –
You will learn how to analyse, test and troubleshoot all these different areas so you can perform the best handstand possible (and look awesome at the same time!).
Want to learn the secrets of cracking the complex handstand as well? Read on!
WHY YOU MUST BE TRAINING HANDSTANDS?
While it is fundamental to gymnastics and calisthenics training, it is rarely used as a training tool in other sports, but is still an essential exercise for demonstrating strength and mobility it a wide range of areas – because of this I believe it should be used more widely in training, and here’s why:
A basic handstand is very different from other skills because it provides a new, and unconventional means for strengthening the shoulder complex. Usually, an athlete will strengthen their shoulders, and other joints, in an upright position. When you’re walking, the hip is the central area of focus and so it is the hip that must have enough strength to support your body weight and provide sufficient stability.
However, when you’re upside down the shoulders become the main focal point of stability.
This will essentially make your shoulders develop as strong as your hips!
Crucially, it does it in ways that other skills and weight-training exercises can’t. It also helps to strengthen your wrists and elbows, as a new level of pressure is applied to these weight-bearing joints as well.
If you haven’t tried handstands before, by performing one you’ll be able to see exactly what muscles and joints you need to work on to help you perfect the skill and improve your athleticism. I was causing myself a hell of a lot of pain in my shoulders, which why it what great for me to identify this – now I feel no pain when I perform a handstand!
BUT, LIKE ALL CALISTHENICS MOVES,
A HANDSTAND IS COMPLEX BEAST
Turns out I am not the only one who struggled with my handstand.
Everyday at the Calisthenics Academy we get emails. They usually fall into one of two categories:
#1 “Where do I start?!” Starting is always one of the hardest parts, and if you’re a novice athlete it can seem daunting thinking about how to begin, what areas to work on, how many sets and reps to do, what to do if you feel pain and so on…
#2 Once people have started, they encounter problem number two – getting stuck. They train regularly, doing plenty of sets and reps and staying active, but they aren’t getting the results that they want.
The story goes like this:
“There are lots of videos on youtube however after trying out all different instructional videos, I still can’t achieve certain moves like the front lever – what am I doing wrong?”
“I can’t seem to be able to get to a pull up – I just can’t”
“I’ve been practicing handstands forever and still can’t hold it freestanding. My friends tell me to just keep on going – but I know I am missing something”
“I see all these progressions for the skills but I know its my shoulder mobility is off – why are you the only who talks about that?”
We see plenty of comments like this and don’t worry, I was at that place once as well. When I spent almost 12 months training my ass off trying to get my handstand right and making NO PROGRESS, you can imagine how unmotivated I was getting!
SO, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU GET STUCK?
Here are some common reactions we’ve seen in our training of over 4000 calisthenics athletes:
- You try to muscle your way through the problem by gripping harder and pushing stronger.
- You keep training the actual skill without any knowledge for what’s missing – maybe you keep on practicing your handstands without realising that you are missing shoulder mobility (that’s where I went wrong for 12 months!)
- You watch hours of YouTube videos to try a bunch of different drills but not actually understanding what they do and if they’ll help you or not
- You eventually give up thinking that this is not for you…
AND NONE OF THESE WILL FIX THE PROBLEM…
Sure, you could solve this by hiring a local calisthenics expert. They’d be able to quickly identify your issues and set your path straight (hopefully)
But maybe there aren’t any calisthenics experts near you, and maybe you don’t want to spend $50-$150 on a single session for just one skill.
Before you go down that route, try and get unstuck on your own (with the help of this handy guide!). Because calisthenics moves, especially handstands, are so complex and involve so many different areas of the body, athletes always run into problems. You can’t look awesome without going through the tough bits first! These are just some of the reasons for that:
HERE ARE SOME COMMON REASONS WHY PEOPLE ARE GETTING STUCK:
- Lack of understanding what it takes to build up to skills like planches or handstands
- Lack of knowledge surrounding movement elements and principles that make moves work
- Lack of full personalisation in a training program – it’s all very well performing exercises you found on YouTube but you need a programme that is tailored to you – one that address your specific problems. For handstands you need mobility, flexibility, shoulder stability, strength and technique – which area do YOU need to improve?
A PERFECT HANDSTAND REQUIREMENTS
So to all of you who are stuck – the complexity of the move is higher than you think and you need to troubleshoot appropriately. BUT, this makes it all the more rewarding when you finally master it. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.
LET’S ANALYSE YOUR HANDSTAND
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW TO GET UNSTUCK – HOW TO ANALYSE YOUR HANDSTAND CORRECTLY
For the best position to analyses your handstand, I always get our athletes to do a wall-facing handstand with their hands shoulder width apart and their hands flat on the ground, pointed away from the wall, with the fingers splayed. Also be sure to keep your chest, front of the thigh and top of the foot against the wall. Doing it this way:
- Allows for the easiest visual analysis of joint positions
- Challenges shoulder mobility more than a wider stance would
- Challenges wrist extension and having the fingers spread provides a larger base of support
Here’s how it should look:
But the truth is that most of you guys probably are looking more like this (don’t worry, we’ve all been there!):
HOW TO: THE METHODOLOGY
- Begin your analysis at the wrist and move upward.
- Your partner or coach, while standing to your side, should examine and analyse your wrist extension by seeing if your forearm is perpendicular to the ground.
- At the elbow they should also look for a full extension.
- Next move to the shoulder where the joint should be “opened up” with the humerus almost vertical. The lumbar spine should also be in a neutral position without excessive arching, and your hips should be fully extended.
- Check – can you complete several breath cycles without losing the position you’re in? If you lose it with breathing, then it is likely that you’re holding in your breath to try and stabilise yourself – this isn’t the right way!
Now let’s look into a greater details at each of these requirements, testing and corrective exercises.
HERE ARE ALL THE AREAS WE WILL BE LOOKING AT
- Wrists (range of motion testing and corrective exercises)
- Pectoral Major Flexibility (flexibility testing and corrective exercises)
- Lats Flexibility (flexibility testing and corrective exercises)
- Lumbar Spine
- Hip Flexibility
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