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September 14, 2021

Want to Perfect Handstands? Start with This.

 

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Many people ask me about my training as a movement coach and yoga teacher.

Firstly, I am still a student of movement and will always be. One thing that I have always considered to be highly misvalued in this social media instant gratification pic/vid culture; it can’t show you the importance of conditioning/hard work behind the scenes. So many people get injured copying things they see and aren’t prepared to do, as they haven’t done the conditioning but want to do a pic/vid on social media. Conditioning is something done regularly but the value is always underestimated because it is not new and exciting. I believe excellence is the sum total of often monotonous tasks done daily with love.

Conditioning is necessary for improving hand-balancing, or any skill for that matter. Conditioning aims to improve and maintain core strength, joint awareness, and stability, and prevent injuries in the long run.

Reps and sets are unique to each person. Usually, it is that you stop the reps and sets when you feel you are about to lose correct form. If you struggle to find time in your day for conditioning, include them as a warm-up. Before you start each exercise, think about the correct technique—and my big tip: don’t forget to breathe!

One of the most important aspects of hand-balancing is learning the function of the shoulders, and how to activate and isolate them. I’m always learning. Never will I not be a student of movement, even as I teach.

Many people do not realize that in core movements like these, one must keep their spine strong and aligned, glutes squeezed and the core engaged.

When you are in a plank position to separate your shoulder blades and move them away from your spine, think about pushing through your shoulder joint into the floor as much as possible. Now reverse the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades down and into the socket whilst squeezing your shoulder blades together toward your spine.

Note: the function of the wrists in hand-balancing is highly important, as we are reliant on them. Unlike ankles, wrists are not naturally designed to hold weight and impact. That is why it is important that we include a lot of wrist strengthening and stretching with proprioception conditioning in our hand-balancing training.

The shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in the body. It is a ball and socket joint, much like the hip joint, and allows for circumduction. It can move in all planes. However, with increased mobility, stability can be an issue. It is important to stretch the musculature, not the ligaments, when you are trying to increase shoulder flexibility. This means you have to allow for good engagement as you create movement in the shoulder when doing stretching and strengthening exercises.

Upper limb-dominant sports like arm-balancing, aerial, pole, tennis, body-building, cricket, swimming, et al, can overuse the anterior musculature of the body (pecs, anterior deltoids, and so on) and neglect to use posterior muscle groups (rhomboids, posterior deltoids)—which result in a rounded posture. This can stress the AC joint, which can impact the whole shoulder joint. To avoid this, try to stretch your pecs—especially pec minor—and aim for symmetrical (front and back) training.

It is also important to condition and strengthen your rotator cuff because a weak rotator cuff will not hold the shoulder joint engagement properly whilst doing movements. And a tight rotator cuff will also impede movements in the shoulder, causing injury.

Beyond building a stronger back with exercises like Rows, Pull-Ups, and Deadlifts. Side Plank and One-arm Plank movements also improve shoulder blade stability and help protect your shoulders. As a bonus, this improves core strength and activates your core muscles before a workout.

One of my goals is to learn the one-arm handstand. I have been working on this skill for six months, very actively. This period of time, with all that is going on in the world, has truly overwhelmed me—as it has every living person. I miss my parents dearly, wondering when I will see them again. Movement practice allows me to work with my darkness and channel it into more productive things so as to keep my mental health in check.

The most debilitating thing about healing is the lies we tell ourselves. I heard this quote and it resonated deeply. When I say I do not have time for practice, it is a lie. I’m simply not focused or motivated. Hard truth is that I can always make time, especially if I can be on social media. It is about choices, and I realized that it was a choice and responsibility to create better stories. That empowers growth instead of excuses and regrets that hold me captive. This is why many people don’t achieve goals. The lies we tell ourselves hold us captive, until we become accountable—as well as being honest with our actions, thoughts, and truths.

So to hold this accountability in my life, I choose goals that make me excited. In a solid one-arm handstand, there is a lot of extra work to do to strengthen, stabilize, and increase our proprioception. People have noticed my core getting stronger. This is from the conditioning work I am currently doing over the last six months. Some prerequisites to the one-arm handstand are a solid two-arm handstand with good technique; endurance holds over a minute really help, and a lot of persistence, conditioning, and mega loads of patience.

Many people ask me as a movement coach about the handstand conditioning work that I have been doing. Is it yoga?

Honestly, as I have grown in my practice, I’ve found that I’ve also started to cross-train for more advanced exercises. I’ve learned to use contortion and pole- and arm-balancing training in addition to my yoga practice. As a teacher, I’m still a student learning from others. We never stop learning.

I feel that the best movement practices are well-rounded. Not one movement or practice only. Cross-training has always been a firm belief of mine.

Two tips I can give for those who wish to learn the one-arm handstand:

Don’t rush taking your hand off. You should be slow and balanced before you lift your hand off. Try going to fingertips first.

Secondly, push through the shoulders, engagement is important—even more so for a one-arm handstand. If you don’t push, you won’t have enough scapular stability to keep you flying against gravity.

What I am grateful for is all the teachers who share their wisdom with me. I learn from and the teachers before them. This is a journey of a lifetime connecting us all, as we share and grow. No one gets there alone. We are all blessed by each other’s wisdom. Know that even though a handstand may be your goal, there are many ways to get there. Listen to your body, never stop learning, and enjoy the journey.

Some people asked me where to start when learning handstands?

Well, I see it in the same way as we learned to crawl, walk, eat, learn a language, and so on. Through practice and experience. I like to think of the head and butt as two major points to go to as reference points on your body. That is because they are the heaviest.

However, I think in order to really prepare yourself for handstands, you have got to come down and build the foundations first, like:

Shoulder conditioning:

Plank holds
Single-arm shoulder isolation plank holds
Uneven press-ups

Flexibility for handstands:

Pancake
Flat-back shoulder flexion
Standing straddle
Pike fold
Half splits
Puppy pose variations
Lunges

Core conditioning:

Arch hollow rolls
Hollow body holds
V-sit variations
Straddle and pike levers

Wrist stretches and strengthening:

Fist-wrist extensor stretch
Index finger and flexor stretch
Circling wrists
Wrist flexor and extensor stretch

The thing about handstands is that they are like Jenga. You want to stack all the major parts/joints on top of each other for stability. If any joints are out of line, you will find that you are constantly fighting to find the balance and the correct alignment. The best way to understand how to build that alignment, stability, strength, and mobility is by exercises like above. That is why conditioning is pivotal to a good handstand. And even now, as I work on the one-arm handstand, much of my conditioning is exercises like above on the ground.

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