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A COMPLETE HANDSTAND BEGINNER GUIDE

Do you want to learn how to balance on your hands but have no idea where to start?

Maybe you have tried for a while but got stuck somewhere down the line?

Or maybe you just want to check in so that you are on the right track?

No matter what I’m sure you can find some value in this post – Lets dig in!

STEP 1 – UNDERSTANDING THE THEORY

Before we move on the the more practical stuff I think it’s nice to have some idea about what it actually takes to balance on your hands in theory and get a sense of the vocabulary.

In order to be in balance we must find a way to place out Centre of mass (COM) – which is usually located around the hip or belly button – over our Base of support (BOS) – which is our hands.

Center of mass over Base of support = Balance is possible

This is basically the definition of balance and there are two very important things to understand here:

  1. To have your COM over BOS does not mean that you have to have a ”perfect” straight line in order to balance
  2. Even though you manage to get you COM over BOS it won’t stay there by itself
All of the positions are perfectly balanceable because the COM is over the BOS

To nuance the first statement above a bit – we do not need a perfectly, esthecical line in order to balance. We do need some sort of alignment where the COM is placed over BOS and there are some more and some less efficient ways of doing this. However, your concern in the beginning should not be on making your line as straight as possible – It should be to understand how to position your body in a way that you are able to balance it.

HANDS

This brings us to the second statement mentioned above. In order to keep the COM over BOS we can’t just simply do nothing. We must actively make corrections in order to stay up and this is what it means ”to balance”.

To do so one of the keys is to understand how to use your hands. They are not simply a passive platform for you to stand on, they are your contact with the surface beneth you and where you can feel where the balance is going.

Circles of balance – Try to keep your balance point centred in your hands

Imagine the heel of your hands as a ”gas pedal” and the fingers as a ”break”. When you are balancing you have to constantly change between putting on more gas by pushing through the heel of your hand to not fall to the belly side (under balance) and breaking with your fingers to not fall to your back side (over balance). To get a feeling for how the weight can be changed in your hand you could try this drill.

Optimally we want to keep our balance point quite centred in our hands which is visualized in the picture above. If you have your balance point in the inner circle you still have a lot of ”safety nets” to make corrections in before you fall. If your are balancing in the outer circles you have less room for corrections.

At first there is a good idea to keep your balance point a bit more forward towards the knuckles, but still quite centred, since that will allow you to rely more on the breaking of the fingers. As you get better and can balance for longer you can start to move your balance point slightly back, since this will allow you to not waste as much energy of constantly pressing with your fingers.

SHOULDERS

In order to keep our COM over BOS we also need sufficient strength for the position we want to be in – This strength comes primarily from the shoulders. Other than having enough strength you will also benefit from flexible shoulders since this will allow you to stack your shoulders and hips aligned with your hands and therefore create a more efficient position for balance. Less flexible shoulders can still balance and this is where many will start. Your body can compensate for this by arching more in your back or leaning more forward from the shoulders. Both are positions that can be balanced (as you saw in the picture above) but might not be as energy efficient for you.

Pictures to the left – Shoulders ”pushing” to elevate
Pictures to the right – Shoulders are not ”pushing” and no elevation

When we are in a handstand we want to ”push” into the floor. This will elevate your shoulders and you might experience a bit more ”space” to lift your arm into flexion (as shown in the top pictures above).

EYES

To have a focal point can be a huge benefit for you when balancing. Even though it might feel more comfortable to look into the wall or box when doing those drills I strongly recommend you to find that focal point on the floor somewhere in between your hands. This will help you to easier notice where your body is in relation to your hands.

If you only see in front of your fingers you are probably leaning to far forward.

If you on the other hand only see behind your hands you are probably opening your shoulders too much.

Try therefore to look somewhere in between your hands which will make it easier to stay in the middle.

Keep your eyes on the floor somewhere in between your hands

OVER – AND UNDER BALANCE

In a two arm handstand there are normally two ways we fall – Towards the back side of the body (called over balance) and towards the belly side of the body (called under balance). As mentioned before, balance is not a static state of nothing going on, it’s a constant fight to not fall in any of the directions.

To prevent yourself from falling into underbalance you must use the ”gas pedal” and push from your shoulders through the heel of your hands. If you gas too much you will instead fall over into overbalance if you don’t use your fingers to break.

Later on you will learn drills such as the Heel pull and Toe pull to understand this better.

Over balance= Falling to the back side
Under balance= Falling to the belly side

COMMON MISSTAKES

No matter how hard we try to avoid it there will always be misstakes. They are part of the journey and maybe the question is not however we can avoid the misstakes completely but rather how we can make misstakes in a better way and hence benefit from them?

However, if you somehoe could avoid most of the misstakes it would probably be beneficial for your progress and a way of doing so is to observe and listen to those more experienced than yourself. Here is a list of some of the most common misstakes I see out there without any special order:

  • Not being consistent enough – If your want to improve you need to practice more than just every once in a while
  • Not being patient enough – It will take time. Try to find a way to enjoy the process rather than the final destination
  • Using the wall too much – It’s very easy to rely too much on the wall by leaning on it excessively. This is of course okay in the beginning but the better you become the less you want to lean on it even though it’s still there to assist you
  • Using the wall too little – The wall is a great tool to use and you can learn a lot from it. Don’t be in a hurry to move on from it too fast
  • Focusing too much on the line – First learn how to balance, then you can focus on the visual aspect. An ugly handstand that stays in balance is way better than the perfect line handstand that falls
  • Trying to balance before having the capacity – Build up your capacity to hold your body up first by using the wall to remove the balance aspect
  • Trying to kick up too soon – If you do not know what you are kicking up to, then what are you gonna do when you get up there?
  • Focusing on irrelevant things like the core – Focus instead on getting stronger in your shoulders

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE

A hard if not impossible question to answer since there are so many variables involved.

  • Your age and current level
  • Your age and physical status
  • How much time you have
  • How much time and energy you are willing to give it
  • If you get enough rest between your sessions and life in general
  • What it means for you to have learned it – Is it a 30 sec chest to wall hold, kicking up, balancing for 5 sec, 10 sec, 30 sec?

A nice milestone to reach is when you are able to consistently hold a 10 second freestanding handstand from a kick. This is when you know that you catch the entry, make a few corrections, take a few breaths and you are actually balancing rather than just falling slowly. A qualified guess is that if you are starting from zero this might take you somewhere between 4 to 12 months. Highly individuall as you can see.

HANDSTAND CHECKLIST

Rather than seeing this as just a fixed goal within a certain time frame I encourage you to see this as a journey with different milestones along the way that you will reach eventually if you show up for yourself and practice consistently.

Here are some nice milestones to hit in the potential order you might reach them. This is not a set step by step progressions, you might reach them in a different order. But in general this is it how it might look if you practice what is taught in this post

1. Basic knowledge of the theory
2. Become comfortable loading wrists & hands
3. Become comfortable using the wall
4. Getting comfortable bailing out
5. Solid 30 seconds Chest to wall
6. Understand the Over- and Under balance corrections
7. Consistent 10 seconds of balance from wall
8. Solid 60 seconds Chest to wall
9. Consistent 30 seconds wall assisted balance
10. Learn how to Kick up
11. Balance 10 seconds in Straight
12. Balance 30 seconds in Straight
Milestones to check off on your handstand journey

STEP 2 – GETTING COMFORTABLE LOADING YOUR WRISTS AND BEING UPSIDE DOWN

In our normal daily life we are not used to put a lot of load on our wrists or even place our hands on the floor. If this is new to you, then you can’t just throw you whole body weight up there and expect your wrist to hold. The most important thing you can do is to take it slow. Gradually increase the load you put on them and the total volume in terms of sets and time.

  • I also recommend you to spend a few minutes prior to each session (or maybe a little bit every day?) to go through this Wrist prep.
  • As mentioned before, strong and flexible shoulders will help you a lot. Add this Shoulder prep to your handstand warm up or daily routine in addition to the wrists.
  • Now it’s time to get more and more inverted! A nice first step is to use a Box. This will allow you to put some of your body weight on top of your hands and shoulders and therefore get a feeling of the position while removing the aspect of balance and fear of falling. Work for 3-5 sets x 15-30 seconds with about 60-90 seconds rest in between
  • Once the box starts to feel good it’s time to move on to the wall. Using Wall walks is a great way to build strength as well as getting used to getting in to a position with your chest facing the wall. The beauty here is that you can walk exactly as close as you feel comfortable with and then walk down again. Try to go closer and closer as you get stronger and more confident, still just feet touching the wall. Go for 3-5 sets x 1-3 reps with a few seconds hold on each rep
  • As you might be aware of, going up with your chest facing the wall and even being upside down can be a bit scary! This is perfectly normal and something that many people learning handstands, especially as adults, are going through. However , to continue your learning you must deal with this fear of falling or being upside down. One way to go is to practice how to fall in a safe way so that you teach your brain that you will survive even if you fall. Practice this Bailing technique for 5-10 minutes every session and strive to go closer and closer after time. Make sure you have enough space around you!

STEP 3 – BUILDING CAPACITY

Hopefully you now feel comfortable being upside down, using the wall and you have started to work on your wrists and shoulders – Now it’s time to build some more capacity!

Capacity could be translated with strength or endurance so it’s baiscly the physical attributs you need to perform the skill. You will spend more time using the wall to build the specific capacity needed for Handstands.

  • One of the best ways of doing so is to use a position you are already aware of – The Chest to wall – although this time the intention is to increase the time in the position. You want to get as close as you feel comfortable with. Keep your feet at the wall without leaning on it too much. It’s just there to help you get rid of the balance variable for now. Still you want to be in a position as close to a freestanding handstand as possible. Maybe you can go for 15-20 seconds at first. Over time you want to increase this up to about a minute. Go for 3-5 sets and rest 60-90 seconds in between.
  • You could also start to work a bit on your lower body flexibiliy with this Pike prep and Straddle prep. But why lower body flexibility, you might think, isn’t handstands an upper body thing? – Well yes and no. As you know you need strong and flexible shoulders as well as resilient wrists, but flexible hips and legs might also help you in for example the kick up and also later on if you want to to different shapes and presses. So to start work a bit on it already is not a bad thing at all.

STEP 4 – UNDERSTANDING HOW TO BALANCE

When you have a solid Chest to wall hold for at least 30 seconds over a couple of sets it’s time for you to get a feeling for balance.

  • Heel pull is a nice drill to help you to understand how to use your fingers to correct for over balance. Don’t focus on getting your legs off the wall and avoid kicking off the wall – Focus instead on what is happening with your hands and shoulders. Eventually your legs will come off as a consequence. Your intention is for the moment not to pull out once and see how long you can balance – It’s to practice how to get off by using your hands. Go for 3-5 sets x 20-30 seconds and optimally, after some time, you will be able to pull out and hold it for about 3 seconds before going back to the wall to repeat.
  • Toe pull can help you to learn how to correct for underbalance. Just as before you want to avoid kicking off the wall and instead push from your shoulders, move your hip out and pull your feet out. Before doing this it’s nice to know your Heel pulls since you have to be prepared to use your fingers to not fall over if you pull too much. As before, go for 3-5 sets x 20-30 seconds where you eventually want to control each rep for about 3 seconds before going back to the wall.
  • Once you have understood how to use your hands and shoulders in order to balance you can add the Chest to wall One leg balance. Your intention here is to use the wall as little as possible and as much as needed to accumulate more and more time in balance. A nice step here is to consistently being able to balance for 10 seconds from the wall. Don’t be stupid about it though, just throwing your legs out there. Be patient, slowly move away from the wall, build time in the position, let your foot float out, keep it close to the wall for when you need it, try to make your corrections as small as possible. As before 3-5 sets x 20-30 seconds is recommended. Make sure to get rest in between so that you are fresh for each set.

STEP 5 – BUILD SOME MORE CAPACITY

Now just because you are starting to understand how to balance and are able to get off the wall for a few seconds doesn’t mean that you are ready to ditch it completely! The wall will and should be your friend for a long time – don’t be in a rush to get away from it. The risk is you will jump ahead and miss to many valuable lessons and therefore have to go back to it later on anyway.

  • Shoulder lean is a slightly harder variation of the Toe pull and is therefore a drill that can help you to get stronger in underbalance. The difference here is that you are leaning forward from the shoulders which will require a lot more strength. Getting strong here can also help you later on when you are working on presses. You can go for sets of repetitions (about 3-7 reps) or time (20-30 seconds)
  • C2W Split leg is a variation of the One leg balance only that your leg is lower. This will require some more strength to compensate for that extra weight in underbalance. Getting strong in this position can help you further down the road when you are practicing your kick up, since you will be moving through the split leg shape. Go for sets of 20-30 seconds.
  • Tuck wall slide is a great way to improve your strength in underbalance. Since you are pulling your knees down on the belly side you need to compensate for that extra weight by pushing even harder from the shoulders. Be light on the wall and aim first to get your thighs horizontal to the floor before going even deeper. Work in sets of 3-7 reps with a slight pause in the bottom of each rep.
The Tuck is a great position to get stronger in your shoulders since there are more weight in underbalance

STEP 6 – LEARN HOW TO KICK UP

Once you feel strong and comfortable in a chest to wall position and can balance consistently for a about 10 seconds from the wall it’s time to start to kick up. Don’t make the mistake of starting kicking too early – you will probably get it faster anyway if you wait until you are ready for it. When you are practicing your kick ups the intention is to get an consistent entry. You do not want to kick up and try to balance every rep to failure. Instead your goal is to kick up, find your balance point and hold it for about 1 second, choose to go down to repeat. Work in clusters of about 3-5 reps for a totalt of 20-25 every session. Keep track of number of successful ones and move on when you can consistently hit a successrate of about 85%.

  • Kick up w. line – A good drill to practice and understand the bottom part of the kick. Start small and build it up. Aim to use as little ”kick” as possible and still roll your hip up over your shoulders and hands. See how a good Split leg position from before can be usefull here?
  • Bench kick – To practice the top part of the kick. This can teach you have to continue from the Split leg position to collect your legs in a straight position. Once again you want to use as little ”kick” as possible and think about it more as a ”press up” by pushing from your shoulders. Adjust the height of the box after your level of flexibility and bring your legs up mindfully
  • Kiss the wall – Put together the bottom part and the top part and we have the whole kick up. The purpose of Kiss the wall is to find the right amount of power needed to get up all the way. Your aim is to touch the wall as softly as possible. If you need the wall to stop you have kicked too hard. Try to go through the Split leg position and touch the wall with one leg at the time
  • Don’t kiss the wall – If you have practiced your Kiss the wall consistently and gotten to a point where you barely touch the wall you can move on to Don’t kiss the wall. The purpose here is to practice the precision in your kicks by having the wall as a target that you do not want to touch. You want to stop right before, control it and go down
  • 1 sec hold – Basicly the same thing as the previous drill but without the wall as a safety net behind you. If you are consistent in your Don’t kiss the wall this should, in theory, not be any difference. If you however feel scared of falling over I’d recommend you to practice more Bailing so that you know how to Cartwheel out if you would fall over
The kicking process – Notice how the shoulders stays on top of the hands during all the steps

STEP 7 – GETTING CONSISTENT WITH BALANCE

  • 1-5 sec hold – A nice concept to get consistent in your balance. The idea is to kick up and hold for 1 sec and go down. Kick up again, hold for 2 sec and go down. Kick up again, 3 sec, go down. Continue this up to 5 seconds and then start over. Do not rush in between the entries and make sure to rest in between each ladder. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and perform as many ladders as you can (Keep track of numbers of successfull ones). If you would fail at lets say 3 seconds you start over from the beginning (Okay, you can get two tries but not more). We want to get away from getting stuck in just ”trying” to max out every attempt and instead leave with a feeling that there is more to give and get consistent with balancing. In my opinion it’s way better to consistently being able to hit 5 seconds of balance than an occasional 15 seconds of balance every 20th try. This same concept can be used for 5-10 seconds even all the way up to 15-20 seconds

PROGRAMMING

There are no ”perfect” way of programming – The most important thing is that you get shit done. When structuring your practice you have to consider things as

  • How much time do you have
  • How much time and enery do you want to give it
  • How much rest do you get
  • Do you practice other things

In general, and especially in the beginning, I think it’s better to practice shorter sessions more often than a few longer sessions. Maybe a few minutes every day could work for you? Just make sure to start easy to build up the tolerance in your wrists and shoulders and then add more volume over time.

An idea of how you can structure you sessions could be

  1. Technical work/Warm up
  2. Main work
  3. Capacity work

Here are three example sessions at three different levels to give you an idea about what it could look like

Example session 1

  1. Box Handstand 2-3 set x 15-20s
  2. Bailing 5-10 min
  3. Wall walks 5x2r

Example session 2

  1. Kick up-variation 20r
  2. One leg Balance 5×20-30s
  3. Chest to wall 3 set x 30-60s

Example session 3

  1. Heel pull/Toe pull 3 set x 20-30s
  2. 1-5 sec balance 10-15 min
  3. Tuck wall slide 3-5 set x 3-7r

LAST WORDS

I hope you found this post helpful and that you got some ideas how to navigate in your handstand journey. Feel free to ask me any questions either at instagram @expanding.mvmnt or send me an e-mail at info@expandingmovement.com

If you want more guidance in your handstand training I recommend you to consider Online coaching

Good luck and happy handstanding!

//Viktor

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