Saturday, July 20, 2013

Handstands: An (In)Complete Guide

Josh Trammell

I have a confession to make: I'm one stubborn son of a gun. Luckily, being stubborn has its uses, especially when it comes to doing your first handstand. When I first started teaching myself the handstand, I hit my back over...and over... and over again. For 30 days. By the end of those 30 days, my stubborn tenacity paid off, and I was able to hold the world's ugliest handstand for 15 seconds or so.

A year later, when I realized just how horrible my handstands looked, stubbornness paid off again, and over the course of a few months I was able to reproduce a much more aesthetically pleasing handstand. Luckily for you, I made all the mistakes so YOU don’t have too.  Without further ado, here’s my guide to Handstand domination.


Before taking the first step on your handstand journey, there are 2 things in particular that will greatly aid your progress if you can do them before you start.

1) 5-10 QUALITY Push-Ups: This should be obvious, but the handstand is a very shoulder dominant movement. If your shoulders aren’t conditioned upon starting, you will find that, by the time you walk your feet all the way up the wall, your shoulders will be screaming at you to come down. A little strength here goes a LONG way. While not always a hard and fast rule (for example, it may take women a while to work up to 5 high quality push-ups), in general, it’s a good rule to stick by.

2) Hollow Body Hold x 30 - 60 seconds: The hollow body position is one of 2 fundamental gymnastics positions. In other words, it’s kind of a big deal. Unless you want your handstands to look like garbage, a 30 second minimum hollow body hold is a MUST. Read that again. A MUST. 

The Wall

The wall is your best friend, initially. Ideally, you will be practicing handstands with your belly facing the wall (BTW – belly-to-wall). This prevents an overextended, extra ugly-lookin’ handstand. Climbing up the wall is relatively self-explanatory – but what do you focus on when you get up there? In other words, what should your positioning look like, and what cues are at your disposal to help you hit that position?

In general, there are 3-4 cues that I find most beneficial:

1) Crack a Walnut with your Butt Cheeks
2) Break Your Ribs in Half with your Abs
3) Push the Ground Away
4) Point your Toes to the Sky

Your handstand should end up looking something like this:

“But wait…there’s a problem. How in the heck do I get down?!?!”

I'm glad you asked!

Preferred Technique: The Bail

Chris Salvato does a fantastic job of outlining and demonstrating this technique:

Alternatively, the Handstand-Forward Roll can be utilized:

Practice Makes Permanent

You’d think that people know how to effectively practice, but that’s definitely not the case. While effective practice is worthy of an article in and of itself, it’s outside of the scope of this article. However, if you get nothing else, remember this: Stay FRESH when practicing this or any other skill. Once your form breaks down, bail out. No exceptions. Practicing ugly handstands will only make your handstands more ugly. This is NOT something you want to push to failure anytime soon, especially when first learning the skill. With that out of the way…

First things first: get REALLY familiar with one of the aforementioned bail-out techniques. A good rule of thumb involves assessing your level of fear while up on the wall – if you’re still scared to death of being in that position, you haven’t practiced enough. You should know the bail like the back of your hand.

Once you have achieved a moderate level of proficiency with a bail-out technique, the real fun begins: handstands for time. 

1) Set a time for 5 minutes.
2) Get into your wall handstand.
3) When you start getting a little tired and feel like your form may break down soon, bail out. BEFORE your form breaks down.
4) Rest.
5) Repeat steps 2-4 until 5 minutes have passed. 

Goal: a 60-second Handstand hold against the wall.

Alright. You can hold a handstand pretty easily against the wall for 60 seconds. What's next?

Moving Forward

Foot wall taps are definitely beneficial here:

Once you feel confident with the wall taps, the next step is to take a leap of faith and step away from the wall. There are two ways to do this: with, and without, a spotter. If you have someone who can spot your feet on the way up, great. Otherwise, the bail comes in handy big time here when practicing in a more open space.

If using a spotter, AS SOON as you can, get rid of him/her. Over time, the safety of having a spotter becomes a crutch – don’t let that happen. Use the spotter until you are feeling more comfortable and then get rid of them. 

In summary:

1) Take care of those prerequisites.
2) Get confident with bailing.
3) Hold a solid Wall Handstand for 60 seconds.
4) Move away from the wall ASAP.

While far from exhaustive, taking this approach, and practicing just 5 minutes a day, 4-6 days/week, a 15-30 second handstand can be achieved within a month.

For those who teach handstands, what methods do you use? What are you struggling with? Let me know in the comments, or email me at and I will get back to y’all as soon as possible.

A big shout-out to all of the people who have had a huge influence on my teaching process: Chris Salvato, Ido Portal, Gold Medal Bodies, and Jim Bathurst.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

No comments:

Post a Comment