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How to handstand

Head position in a handstand

Where the head should be or where to look is a question that I honestly get all the time when working with clients. It is one of the rare things that I naturally did right in my own practice. Coming from artistic gymnastics it was simple. Look at your hands. You want to make sure your hands are not grabbing the void when landing in a handstand.

Same when performing or training one arm handstands. You want to look at the blocks or canes. You want to make sure you are putting your hand where it should be.

Yet, when first starting out many beginners question this. They will argue that a different head position works better. Rightfully so as well. If you are only starting off, placing the head on the chest does make things look straighter and your handstand might feel easier. Unfortunately, just like taking a car instead of jogging is easier but won’t help you get in shape, placing your chin on your chest to improve your line is nothing but a cheap trick for an instant visible quick fix result with no long term improvements!



How to handstand

Head position in a handstand

Where the head should be or where to look is a question that I honestly get all the time when working with clients. It is one of the rare things that I naturally did right in my own practice. Coming from artistic gymnastics it was simple. Look at your hands. You want to make sure your hands are not grabbing the void when landing in a handstand.

Same when performing or training one arm handstands. You want to look at the blocks or canes. You want to make sure you are putting your hand where it should be.

Yet, when first starting out many beginners question this. They will argue that a different head position works better. Rightfully so as well. If you are only starting off, placing the head on the chest does make things look straighter and your handstand might feel easier. Unfortunately, just like taking a car instead of jogging is easier but won’t help you get in shape, placing your chin on your chest to improve your line is nothing but a cheap trick for an instant visible quick fix result with no long term improvements!



Where to actually look

Look at your hands, right in the middle between your hands. If I look at your handstand from the side I should not be able to see your chin. As a little boy in gymnastics I was told that when I wrinkle my forehead and look all the way up with my eyes I should just be able to look past my fingertips.

Try this yourself. Best to film yourself from the side and have a look at your chin. If your chin is currently visible do not panic! Make the adjustment slowly over time. It will feel weird at first but it will pay off in the long run!

But my line is better when I tuck my chin

Now. You might just be starting off with handstand training and naturally with the lack of practice, training time and experience your shoulder strength and coordination is simply not that good yet. Your scapula elevation is not there yet and it becomes hard to hit a tall and straight line. You are basically sinking into your shoulders, they are sliding towards the front a bit and your back arches to compensate for the angle created at the shoulders. Basically we are doing a banana handstand.
Now usually when putting the chin on the chest your shoulders will naturally open a bit more bringing you closer to that oh so desired straight line. The only problem is here that you are reaching this line by opening the shoulders into extension instead of elevating them. This is not healthy and does not give you strength or stability. Instead we need to elevate the scapula to protect the acromion and entire shoulder joint.

To give you a very precise example. Tuck Slides at the wall for beginners. The goal here is to keep the hands, shoulders and hips in one perfect vertical line whilst pulling the knees as low as possible. The further you pull the knees the more the pressure on the shoulders intensifies. Many coaches will tell you to put your head on your chest so the shoulders stay in place. They are right. Your shoulders do stay in place but you are not training what you came there for. That is like always ordering take out and then wondering why you can’t cook…

How the banana will get you to the finish line

If you are currently at the state that your handstands are significantly more fun and better looking when you tuck your chin under, here is what I want you to do! Pull your head back a bit so I can not see your chin anymore from the side, allow your shoulder to close slightly and arch your back. For the next couple of months we are going to work from the banana handstand! From this suboptimal position we will now work on elevating the scapula. The idea is basically instead of opening the shoulders to push them tall. Try to reach the ceiling with your feet! Try to cover your ears with your shoulders so you can not hear anything!

Yes, For the first little while this might feel like a step back but it is a necessary step back. It is the only way that we can over time get to better technique, more control and an actually good handstand line.

For advanced hand balancers

If you are reading this and you are already able to hand balance you probably have some questions, concerns or criticism by now. 

One is obviously the very popular handstand with the chin on the chest when looking at the feet. Cool party trick indeed but unfortunately really not more than that. Being able to do the head in handstand is awesome. It shows that you have a lot of control and balance but it does not help you towards any other “tricks” like the press to handstand or the one arm handstand. It is rather difficult and I definitely respect anybody who is able to change leg positions while looking up but I do not think it is worth investing your time and energy here.

Secondly, when doing one arm handstands things change a bit. As soon as you transfer on one hand your focus should change. You should look at the hand you are standing on. Precisely at the first knuckle of the index finger of that hand. I’ve spoken to countless professional hand balancers from all over the world. Most look at different spots. Some look at the floor next to their hand, others at the floor in front and some actually at their hand. While everybody agrees that their own hand is the best spot to look at, everybody also admitted that they would never change where they are looking as it is too difficult to break the habit. Looking at your own hand is so extremely beneficial as the distance from your eye to your hand never changes whilst looking at the floor every time that you change the object you are standing on your focus needs to adapt to the change of distance.

As you can see. To have a straight, strong and controlled handstand that can turn into more than just a panicky swing up to tumble down you have to look at your hands, you have to elevate your shoulders and you have to take control.

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