Saturday, 21 May 2016

Technical Aspects of the Handstand - or "Most important pieces"

So, I haven't updated this blog in a while. I guess I have been a bit overwhelmed by the amount of
information that is out there on the Internet already, and I have been hesitant to just repeat what many others are saying. Plus, I'm very much an "in-person" kind of coach, and much prefer to share information to my students person to person, not least, so that I can make sure that they understand it but also so I can convey it in an individual manner. But with the popularity of handstands continuing to climb, among Yoga, Crossfit, Movement Cultures, Fitness and so on and so on, there is getting more and more information out there and there seems to be every man and his downward dog writing a blog post on the Handstand. Everyone knows words like 'alignment' and 'tension' and 're-balancing' and if you don't, a quick search for a Handstand Tutorial will give you hundreds of blogs/videos/articles with this information to various degrees of competency (and I will discuss it from time to time in this blog.) But with so much information out there, it's easy to get carried away with over-complicating things. So in response to that, I'm going to bring the handstand down to its most basic level and hopefully clear a few things up for you, and possibly re-align (pun intended) some conceptions you may have.

Okay let's get to it!
So lets have a simplistic look at the handstand. At the most basic level, a handstand is done by keeping your body's centre of mass over top of your hands. From a physics perspective this is what needs to happen. Anything else you do in a handstand, is a matter of safety, efficiency, repeatability and aesthetics. In this post I'm going to go through a very broad outlook on the key Technical Aspects of the handstand which make it safe, efficient and repeatable.

First up, I want to have a quick word about technique. There is more than 1 way to handstand but good techniques all contain a few different Technical Aspects. It's these Technical Aspects that I want to go through. Please note, these are all for the standard straight handstand. I'm not going to go into fine points of technique, as that would defeat the purpose of this post.

Centre of mass sits over my hands
Technical Aspect #1:
Balance stays situated over the hands. Quite simply, your centre of mass needs to stay over your base of support. Anytime this centre of mass starts to move away, you need to bring it back. This can be done in a few ways, the more precise you feel your balance, and control your balance, the smaller your little corrections will be. This can be done through your wrist, your shoulders and body, and in some cases the elbows. If you find you are constantly falling the same way, then likely you need to shift some weight the other direction.

Technical Aspect #2:
Maintaining a tension through the body. Note, I don't mean this as a max tension, but just tension. Every joint in your body, is something which is a potential loss of control. Your back is one of the main culprits of this, a loss of tension  through your midsection when trying to balance on your hands can allow your back to bend without realising it which results in a loss of control and then a loss of balance. There are a few ways of creating tension through the body - my personal favourite way of generating tension is by creating opposite tensions in parts of the body. An example of this, is tucking your pelvis (like you are trying to hide your bum) while opening your hips (pulling legs in the direction of your heels). 

Technical Aspect #3:
This is a technique which is prevalent in all quality handstands. Pushing shoulders into the ground. This is one of those technical points which are important for safety and control in the handstand. No matter what technique you are using, you should be pressing your arms into the ground. This is something which will help your shoulders stay healthy and strong in your practice, and will support stability in your shoulder. One thing I'd like to mention though, is I don't particularly like pushing upwards to 100% of my max. Rather, I like to push to 90% then rest into an 80% max push.

So why do we learn certain forms and techniques?
Quite simply, Form promotes Technique. When following cues such as "point your toes" or "tuck your hips", you are putting your body into positions which encourage application of these Technical Aspects. These will also create clearly visible (if you know what you are looking for) cues which will be able to be seen via video/by a coach. Where limitations in your structure are encountered, adjustments to the form will need to be made, as long as the Technical Aspects are still met. For example - someone with tight shoulders will be unable to keep their centre of mass over their hands while having their ribs in. However, said Tight-Shouldered person can open up their thoracic to allow their mass to sit over their hands to meet Technical Aspect #1, so long as they are still creating the same tension through the front of their body (Technical Aspect #2). Sure, increasing their range to open their shoulders more may increase efficiency, but none of the 3 Technical Aspects should be taken away from to achieve this.

I will leave it there, after all I want to keep things nice and uncomplicated. When developing your handstands, focus on these technical points and it should assist you. It's easy to get over-focused on the form of a handstand when the purpose of the techniques aren't clear.

Until next time!


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