Friday, 23 October 2015

Handstand Training for Absolute Beginners- "Getting Strong Enough to Start"

Welcome to  "Handstand Training for Absolute Beginners".

Basically - when it comes to starting to learn how to handstand for the very first time, there are three things to address first. 1. A basic level of strength, relative to your body. 2. Feeling comfortable being upside down and 3. Feeling and controlling your body. In this article I am going to address the first one of these, building up a basic level of strength.

Now first things first - any good strength training regiment has an appropriate mix of pushing and pulling - so keep in mind that these are purely handstand specific and it's not intended as a full workout routine.

That being said - lets get to it!

Developing a basic level of strength

Now holding a handstand takes less muscular strength than you may think. And in truth - the better and more efficient your technique, the easier your handstand will feel and the less effort it will take, but that's a topic for another blog post. But to start, you will need a basic level of strength, without which - learning the techniques can be frustrating. So in this post, I'm going to go through a few exercises to do, which, when you can do them all - you should be more than strong enough to do a handstand. Some of these drills are actually 'heavier' than a normal handstand - but I like to begin with them and treat them as strength exercises before worrying too much about the handstand technique.

While these exercises have, to a certain degree specific technical aspects, I'm going to try to keep it pretty simple - and just break it down to the essentials. Another thing to keep in mind, is that the recommended times/reps I give are not an end point - a good handstand practice will continue to develop your strength - this is purely a way to get started.

So first exercise - the 'Front Support'.
This is often seen as the top of a pushup, and spending time here with nice straight elbows will help you develop the strength in your arms needed to handstand. In this position, push strongly into the ground and keep your arms locked (in-fact for all of these drills, when your hands are on the floor your arm needs to be completely straight). It is key to keep your shoulders over-top of your knuckles - this will also give you a chance to let your wrists get stronger so don't lean backwards to avoid the load. When doing this - don't overdo it on your wrists - you want your wrists to adapt slowly. Aim to be able to hold this for 1 minute.

Next up is the 'Downard Angry Cat'. So called because I can't think of a better name for it. Note - it's not the Downward Dog. To do this - start in a Front Support and walk your feet towards your hands, lifting your hips up high. Like in the front support position - it's key to not hide from the load in the shoulders. While this position can be refined and can be a more technically developing element of the handstand - and I use it often, for building the sake of building a base level of strength the key points are to keep the shoulders over your hands, elbows stay completely straight and press strongly into the ground. Aim for 10-20 seconds for this position

Now the notorious 'Dish'. Building strength in your midsection, or your core should also be a part of your training. For this, the basics of the exercise are to lift your shoulders from the ground, and your feet - while keeping your lower back on the ground. This is made easier by bringing your arms more to your sides - and/or bringing your knees towards your chest. Do NOT let your lower back come off the ground - this will a) not strengthen the parts of your core that we want to, and b) will put unwanted and potentially damaging stress on your low back. Holding the dish position is a great general exercise for building a bit of stability - when you are strong enough to hold the full dish position for 15-20 seconds, you have MORE than enough core strength to start some handstands.

Next up are Shoulder/Elbow taps, in both Front Support and Downward Angry Cat. Doing these involves taking one hand off the ground, touching your opposite shoulder and placing back on the ground. Keep the arm that is connected to the ground straight. Do these with feet apart and aim to minimise rotation through the body. Thinking about keeping you shoulders parallel to the ground should help you keep the loading right. Being able to do 10 each side in one set is a fine goal.

Next up is the 'Pike Handstand'. Begin by placing your hands on the ground and placing your feet up on a box, or a shelf or anything you have that is stable and sturdy. In the picture I have a little chair construction which I tested to be nice and stable before using it.  Walk your hands in while lifting your hips up to the ceiling and try to get to a nice 90 degree position. Again - try to not avoid the load in the shoulders keeping them over your knuckles (this is especially important if you have hyper-mobile shoulders). This exercise may be impossible to get to 90 degrees for you at your current flexibility level and that's fine - go in as far as you can control. As a rather general rule - the more tight your hamstrings, the higher you need your feet (but the heavier it will be on your arms) and the less flexible your shoulders are the less you'll be able to walk in. Holding the position and walking hands in and out for reps are both good ways to work this. Aim to be able to hold this for 15s.

This brings us to the staple handstand exercise the 'Chest to Wall Handstand'. To do this, walk your feet up a wall, and walk your hands towards the wall. Try to keep a nice strong body - not letting your body or shoulder sag and go as close as you feel comfortable that you won't fall out - you don't have to go as close to the wall as in the picture to the left straight away - that will be very challenging when you haven't learned the technical aspects of the handstand so stay where you are comfortable and safe. Once you can hold a nice stable chest to wall handstand - you are plenty strong enough for handstands! When you do this exercise - make sure you can walk your hands back out to come down off the wall safely.

Practice the exercise(s) that are appropriate for you 2-4 days a week, at a challenging but not excruciating intensity. 3-5 sets of each will be good to get you started but you can of course increase/decrease that as necessary. Push yourself but not to the point of serious pain - and let your body develop. If you get wrist pain - it's a good sign that you may need to ease up a bit, but don't get stuck just doing the same thing over and over - if you feel ready - jump to the next exercise.

And so that concludes Part 1 of "Handstand Training for Absolute Beginners" Hope you enjoyed! Feel free to ask about this in the comments, and share with anyone who may be interested!
To make sure you don't miss my next posts, 'like' Handstands with Dave Davy :-)

Until next time!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Paralysis by Analysis - or "Stop Overthinking!"

Hey there!

So here is my first not-introductory post, and with it, I want to talk about one of the common obstacles that I see in the practice of developing a handstand; an eloquently phrased phenomenon called "Paralysis by Analysis."

So what is Paralysis by Analysis? In a nutshell - it is when you overthink something to the point that it interferes with being able to do it. To describe it I'm going to use a pretty ridiculous example..

Why can't I do this??

Imagine you are trying to pick a tennis ball up off the ground. You have a look and decide that you should squat down and pick it up. You bend at the knees and begin to reach down but then realise that you are bending your back too much! You stand back up, and think about what you did. Ok, no bending of the back. This time you unlock the knees, and reach down, but when you reach with your arm - your back curves again! So you start again. This time, you try to keep your shoulder blade back so that you can reach down and get the ball without curving your back. But now you can't reach it! Perhaps you need to push your knees forward? So you do that, and Argh! your back curved again! Better restart. Meanwhile the ball is still just sitting on the ground, and you've been unable to pick it up.

Okay so that's a pretty ridiculous example right? But hopefully you get the point. This is what I regularly see in handstand practice. In the information age - there is an overwhelming amount of information about technique out there. And that's great! But sometimes it is too much and it can lead to Paralysis by Analysis.

So before I go any further, let's have a real quick word about the purpose of drills. The purpose of drills are to teach you, and your Nervous System (or the common way of describing it is muscle memory) aspects of the technique of the skill in question. This is why they say things like 'Drills get the Skills' when you do the drills you are learning the motor patterns of the skill. When doing these drills - it is important to do these drills correctly and look to execute them well. This will ingrain into your Muscle Memory the key aspects of the thing your working on. So drilling is important.
Drills Get the Skills

But when I see Paralysis by Analysis (I am hoping you remember that term by the end of this post), it's not usually when performing drills (although sometimes it is), it's when trying to do the actual handstand. Have a think - has this ever happened to you? Have you ever tried to do a handstand and corrected something, then something else, then something else and just gotten nowhere? This brings me to the point of this post.

I remember talking to an excellent juggler who once said to me "It's the fine line between doing the drills and just kinda chucking it". What this means is when it comes to doing the skill (in this case handstands) then just relax and do the handstand. DON'T correct every little thing. Instead a better ideas is to focus on 1 (or max 2) key area to focus on - and put that to the front of your mind before and AFTER your attempt. During an attempt - your focus should be on doing the handstand - with a little bit of your attention spent correcting the issue. If you have done the drills then you should have a good idea of what you're looking for.

When one area fixes up (don't get me wrong, some things are harder to fix than others and take longer) and you can do it comfortably then move onto the next thing. Now does this mean that if you just drill and then relax you'll magically do a handstand? No - but if you take the opportunity to focus on specific key areas in this way then you won't encounter such Paralysis by Analysis and will actually give yourself a chance to improve.

There is one last tricky thing about Paralysis by Analysis I want to write about - sometimes just one thing is enough to give you Paralysis by Analysis and you get stuck thinking about one issue and it doesn't go away. So what do you do there? Well the easy answer is to go back to drills that work on it - but I'm going to give you one more thing that can help. Over-fix the hell out of it. What do I mean by that? Let's say for example your problem is that you just don't get all the way up to handstand. Something you can do to help that is to deliberately go way way too far. Of course - make sure it is in your abilities to safely do this - make sure you can bail out of your handstand safely (I'm working on a Tutorial for this) but go for it! Over-fix your problem drastically. Get used to going too far - knowing full well that it won't work. Help your body realise that it can do much more than you actually need from it. Then it's just a matter of finding your way to the middle.

If you find it hard to avoid Paralysis by Analysis then at the start of training, grab a pen and paper and write down the key area to work on. And don't try to be tricky by using double things "Pointing my toes and bringing my hips higher" -No! Bad! Naughty! Focus on one thing and when it is fixed up and settled - put a tick next to it and write the next one.
This technique helps with Blog writing too!
So in summary: 

Don't overthink things.
Pick one key area to focus on
When doing the skill, relax and think about the skill.
Focus on the key area before and after your attempt.
If you get stuck - Over-Fix it!

I hope this helps your practice! Until next time!


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Who is Dave Davy and what is this blog about?

Hello and welcome to my new blog!
Living in a handstand

I've been wanting to start something like a blog for a while now - to help get quality information out there to everyone interested in handstands. My purpose for this blog is basically two-fold. To share a bit of my journey and to get information out there in regards to handstands, the principles behind them, how to train them, what makes them work and such - plus get a bit of information on other skills and tricks I am passionate about, but the vast majority of this blog will be directed towards handstands.

So who is Dave Davy then? Well the short answer is, me! I'm Dave Davy!

Okay so a bit more detail on the matter. Brace yourself for a brief overview of the story which brought me to handstands...

Handstanding by the Yarra - looking across at Melbourne

I was born in Adelaide, South Australia and from a young age, I was a pretty passionate sports fan, in particular for Australian Rules Football and Cricket. I played those two through my youth - and a bit of social basketball, and started to really get into cricket. I was always the smallest kid in school, short and extremely skinny so playing football was a challenge and I sustained many injuries. After school however (when I was much taller) I played at my older brother's cricket club, where I played to a pretty decent level as a fast bowler. Over time though, I started to become disenchanted with the club and found my enjoyment was fading and I began to look to other things. Other things being Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing.

I really loved training Muay Thai, the gym and the people I trained with were amazing, and I found myself practicing at home, shadow boxing and practicing everyday. Through kick boxing I started to meet some really strongand amazing people, and I started to really develop an interest in strength training and skill training - in particular, gymnastics. This led me to starting to look at body-weight training specifically, and then I saw Ido Portal doing his thing.

Looking back now - it is obvious that it was the handstands that got me interested in his stuff, but at the time, I was really blown away by his style and the things he could do. So in 2012, I packed up and went to Movement Camp in Berlin - which was a life changing experience for me. I couldn't handstand very well yet, but I was determined to try them 50 -10000 times a day, and even after movement camp finished - I traveled around Germany handstanding everywhere I could.

What one of my successful handstands looked like when traveling Germany - taken in Nuremberg

Returning from Germany I started getting right into rock-climbing and handstands even more. I was starting to get consistent and was starting to look at things like press to handstand. 2013, I sought out Yuval Ayalon and did online coaching with him for a few months to improve my handstands, and I saw my way to a NICA workshop in Melbourne, where I met some amazing circus people From witnessing the amazing things people were doing, I started wanting to join the circus. I went to 2013 Movement Camp in Singapore. By the end of 2013, I was starting to realise that it was handstands that I was passionate about, not movement as a whole, and so I quit my job and left Adelaide, moving to Melbourne with a single minded goal of becoming a handbalancer. While I still liked climbing, kick-boxing and everyone I had begun to notice that that was all a complete back seat to handstands.

In 2014 I began to get really serious about handstands - getting as regular private lessons as I could, training at a short term Circus Course (Spin Circus Acadamy) and training every day, by half way through the year, I was training handstands 4 hours a day and I haven't looked back (except when doing head in handstands.). I've been training hard to become a performer, with goals to be an excellent handstand performer and an excellent teacher.

My first show - thanks Ben McNamara for the lovely shot.

So that hopefully answers the question of "how did I get into handstands" and I hope that gives you a nice little intro on what to expect from this blog!

Until next time!

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