By Chris Mavros
In this post I hope to help save you some time and frustration in your handstand journey. If you're new to handstands, these points will be crucial to your progress. If you're already spending some time on your hands, refining these may give you a few extra seconds.
A handstand is a pretty heavy movement for a number of joints but predominantly the wrists. Your wrists have to support your entire body weight whilst extended in a range that many people don't have or use regularly. If you ignore wrist pain early on, you will likely pay for it down the track. Use a mixture of wrist stretches and strengthening drills to help prepare your wrists before each session. Nose to wall handstands are a little kinder to the wrists to begin with, due to the reduced angle of extension. Improving your shoulder range so that you can reach your hands comfortably above your head without arching your back will help your line, balance and reduce stress on other joints.
There's nothing intuitive to balance when you first start going upside down, in fact, it's kind of the opposite. You need to create balance with your hands, it's not a passive hold, it's active. This is one point that almost falls under the "you don't know until you know" banner but there is one practical demonstration that helps clarify this as much as possible. While barefoot, stand on one foot and watch what happens. Even when your body is completely still, your foot is making tiny corrections nonstop to help keep you there. This is eventually what you need your hands to do. If you apply this idea to all of your drills, you will slowly but surely start to feel and anticipate your movements purely through your hands. One day, it will be as subconscious as the corrections in your feet. With this in mind, avoid trying to find balance with your legs or feet. When being spotted or when working off the wall, use subtle body movements to adjust your centre of mass, then try to use your hands to take control of your balance.
A wall can be an amazing tool to work toward your handstand, but remember that it is just that, a tool. It doesn't do the job for you and people have spent years doing wall handstands without any progress towards a free standing one. There are two main types of wall handstand, nose to wall and back to wall. Both have their place when used correctly. The best way to think about it is that in a handstand, you can only really fall one of two ways (unless something has gone horribly wrong). You can fall "under", which is back the way you came, landing comfortably on your feet. Or you can fall "over", where if you haven't learned how to bail out yet, is not a good idea. When you are in a back to wall handstand, you are technically falling over and the wall has stopped you. Nose to wall, you are technically falling under. So the two versions train two different parts of the handstand. If you spend all of your time on one, you will likely take longer to develop the other part of your handstand. The next key point about wall handstands is that you still need to be trying to be balanced. The lighter you are on the wall, the closer you are to a balanced handstand. If you create that lightness through kicking off or just arching away from the wall, then you are basically hoping that your whole biological mass just happens to fall into the perfect position. You want to slowly draw your body from the wall and when you are light, either press your fingers hard into the ground to lift you off (back to wall) or tip weight to the front of your hands (nose to wall). This is a great drill to repeat over and over until you to consistently use your hands to shift your weight off and then back to the wall.
Kick Ups and Bail Outs
Once you have spent some time on the wall, you'll likely want to get out into the wild with your handstands. It important to learn how to bail out when you over kick. You can practice coming off the wall from nose to wall handstands and then work on kicking up and cartwheeling out. You will have a preferred side, some people recommend practicing both ways but early on I feel it can be more comforting to just be really good bailing out one way. Once people move away from the wall, they're more nervous with each kick up, often subconsciously. This commonly leads to jamming up through the shoulders and then kicking their feet harder over their hands, creating more of an arch than they have on the wall. Your hips play a more important role in your balance than your feet so one good cue can be to think of a piece of string attached to your lower back, pulling your hips up and over your hands, rather than that sting being attached to your feet. It can be helpful to kick up with your back to the wall but try not to hit the wall, that way you are practicing the kick up and balance but you have the safety net of the wall for if you go over.
Check out Chris's Handstand workshop this weekend, links below.