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!

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