The Mexican handstand is a rather advanced position that never flops to impress. We call a Mexican handstand a handstand where you bend backwards and open your entire chain including the shoulders. Key here is to open every single part of the body and not just the ones that come easy.
The Mexican handstand can be quite demanding on the body and especially when not prepared properly it can come to unnecessary injuries.
If you care about training back bending handstands or want to improve your backbends, cobras, bridges, wheels or whatever you want to call it then this read is perfect for you.
First the boring yet absolutely essential stuff. Chances are high if you’re reading this you are eager to get going and show us some deep backbending handstands. While I am all for maxing out on your potential and training as hard as you can, I am even more for staying healthy while you do so.
Your back literally supports your entire body. Under no circumstances do you ever want to do anything to mess with your back health. Telling you from experience: no new move, no workout, simply nothing is worth not being able to lay straight at night.
So when training for the Mexican handstand please act accordingly. Go slow! Make small and steady progress. Most importantly: stay consistent!
Your back is a quite fascinating part of your body. A PT at cirque explained it to me like this: when you cut the skin on your arm or roll your ankle the injured body part sends pain signals to the brain and you feel discomfort. With the back it works a bit differently. Your spine is able to hold the pain signal back to make sure your body can continue to function while you are running away from a Mammut or whatever extreme situation you are currently in. Your back basically goes into a fight or flight kind of state of mind. The problem with that for us is that you might warm up in one training realising that today is a good day. You feel stronger and more flexible than usually so you decide to do twice as many sets and go twice as deep. While you might feel great in the moment tomorrow or maybe even just 2 days later you will feel absolutely terrible.
Now I don’t know if the back really works exactly like this but I’ve decided for myself to believe this folks tale as I can guarantee it really does feel like this and it helps me to train and perform responsibly.
As you can see it is absolutely essential to make a precise training plan and to stick to it no matter what. Always put health before results!
For most people some or maybe even multiple parts of the back chain open quite naturally. For me that is the lower back for example. Most will use this one flexible part and do their Mexican handstand primarily through that particular spot. This strategy comes with 2 major flaws.
- a naturally flexible body part is often also weak and fragile towards injuries. If you do all of your back bending through that part you will most likely end up overloading it and get hurt.
- By doing all the opening in only one spot you are losing out on countless potential.
Learning to open every single part of the back chain to its fullest potential is essential when trying to do a deep and beautiful Mexican handstand.
Learning to purposely close or at least open a little bit less one part of the body is the key to protecting yourself from injuries.
Just like everywhere you need to find your own perfect balance in the Mexican handstand. Learn to actively open every single part of the back chain separately to its fullest potential to then actively protect sections of your back from overuse and injuries.
While I will talk about every single part of the body that should open during the Mexican handstand in the next part I would like to mention already here that the hip flexors can make up a huge amount of your back bending when prepared properly. Picture somebody on the floor in a perfect front split and arms overhead. While their back is perfectly straight there is already a 90 degrees angle. Turn this image upside down and bring both legs towards the back. You have a Mexican handstand with a perfectly straight back and straight shoulders. Yet, the legs are parallel to the floor!
A proper training session for Mexican handstands is long, complex, quite exhausting and feels absolutely amazing. Trust me. If you do it right you will love-hate every single moment of it.
Start by training 2 times per week for the first month. Then slowly work your way up to 3 or, if you are very serious, even 4 workouts per week. Listen to your body. If you start getting more sore than usual, take extra days off in between workouts and focus on the closing and rehab exercises I explain below.
This part goes without saying I believe. No matter what you train for you have to start with a warm up. Get your entire body going with low impact cardiovascular activities before heading for more specific warm up drills. We are working our back so we have to warm up the back. Upper and lower body lifts laying on your stomach are a good choice here to activate the right muscles.
From here we have to warm up & stretch each part of the Mexican handstand separately. The order here does not matter quite as much. Just keep in mind that full bridges etc in your warm up require you to open multiple parts of your back chain and you have to stretch each part separately first.
Look at your hands and lock out your elbows. No matter which shoulder stretch you are doing, make sure your core stays engaged. You want to isolate the stretch as much as possible into the shoulders. If your core is relaxed the back will open and take some of the heat.
If you have rather flexible shoulders you will have to focus quite a bit on shoulder strength. The mexican handstand puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders.
There are countless ways of stretching your back. Pick any or all and get to work. Make sure to open your back actively and start with isolation exercises that indeed only stretch the back and not the shoulders and hips.
This one is usually the easiest for me as my lower back naturally is more flexible. You can isolate the lower back well by engaging the core to keep the upper back straight. Personally, I use cobras for my lower back stretch. Focus on pulling your head back to create an even rounding with the entire back and leave your hip bones on the floor. Push your shoulders down and do as little work as possible with the arms.
The true secret of the mexican handstand. Stretch these a lot. They are significantly less likely to get injured or overused than your back or shoulders yet have so much potential to open. Additionally the hips only hold your legs up. The back also needs to support your hips and the shoulders get the load of your back on top of that! They are the joint that does the least amount of work so use them!
Whenever you are stretching your hip flexors make sure to engage your abs and to pull your hips into a posterior pelvic tilt. Stretches like the Half Split Back Knee Bent are great to open the hips but become useless if not performed properly.
Now. Enough preparation. It must be time to get going already isn’t it?! Well. Almost 😉 Before training anything on our hands we actually get started upright on our feet. While we can not mimic the feeling for balance or the pressure on our shoulders when standing upright bending backwards everything else is rather similar. By practicing on your feet you develop necessary core strength to support the movement and you can build awareness and technical understanding. Most important here is to learn to leave the head behind and to pull the hands up last. You will most likely do this wrong a couple times by accident which will be a very valuable lesson for you. The more mistakes you will make on your feet the less you will hopefully make on your hands!
Standing Wall & Table Taps
Start with your hands over head, lock your elbows and lean towards the back tapping the wall behind you. Do not bend your knees! Keep them fully locked and do not put any weight against the wall. Start rather close to the wall and work your way away from the wall for deeper bends. 3 sets of 4 reps slow and controlled reps should be the goal here. Eventually you will be so far from the wall that you will have to lean towards it to tap. At this point it will be time to replace the wall with a box, stack of mats or a high table and to practice there. Same idea here. Go for quality, keep your knees locked and pull your hand and head back up last.
Actual Mexican Work
After all that prep it is not finally time to get upside down and work on the actual mexican handstand. Start close to the wall. The goal for now should not be going extra low. First we have to work on control. Open just a tiny bit, tap the wall and come back up to the straight handstand. Make sure to nail the straight handstand in every rep. Go slow and engage everything that you have. To really check your control you can even lower into a tuck between reps or open into the straddle. Film yourself from the side to double check! When comfortable here as well start working your way away from the wall and eventually train with the table top.
There are 2 cool unplanned advantages of doing these drills on your hands. Number 1 being that you can not see the wall or table top coming. You are therefore forced to go extra slow and to fully stay in control at all times as you would hit and lean against the wall if now. Secondly, the “worst case scenario” in a mexican is that you can not make it back up and drop into a bridge possibly dynamically pushing the body into a deep stretch that you are not ready for. By having the table top and the wall behind you this risk does not exist anymore and you can work significantly closer to your point of exhaustion.
Absolutely planned is the fact that you don’t just drop into the mexican and hold as low as you can. Instead you are learning to slowly go down and lift back out. You are building strength and awareness instead of just laying on your end range of motion.
I cannot stress this part enough. Whenever doing any kind of back stretching you have to do your cool down, prehab and closing work after. You just finished stretching your back pretty intensely for quite some time. Your back is all loosened up and wobbly now and before sending you down the stairs or back out on the street we need to pull it back together. We have to strengthen the back and prime it for real-every day life.
Start again with some upper and lower body lift on your stomach before working on slow rounded crunches and overhead floor touches.
The idea here is to make the back stronger in all directions to be able to bear a bigger load but also to simply feel good and confident after your workout.
While you obviously have to balance how low you go in your back bend and how much you will open up each part of the body you also have to balance your actual handstand. Here the Mexican handstand becomes a bit special compared to a regular handstand. When doing a straight handstand on 1 or 2 hands you have to put your weight towards the front into the fingertips for control. When lowering down into the Mexican handstand you push the shoulders out towards the chest and your weight travels from the fingertips towards the back of the hands. You will lose significant amounts of control and you will be forced to balance with your entire body.
Getting back into the straight handstand is where things really get difficult. While physically this is the easiest part of the Mexican handstand skill wise is where you will have to work the hardest. Aligning everything back on top of each other and bringing the weight back into the fingertips is not simple and will require bigger amounts of practice than you might expect.
Another problem that you will be facing with balance after the Mexican handstand is that your back and shoulders will be stretched open making it significantly harder to balance. You will realize that you rarely see contortionists who do straight handstands in their acts. Combining deep backbends and regular handstands is difficult and again requires extra practice.
If you have ever seen a live handstand performance you probably realized that especially every single male hand balance will do a mexican handstand at some point during their act. This is not just because they are a crowd pleaser and very different looking from other handstand positions but also because shows literally demand Mexican handstands. Every single choreographer or director at some point during rehearsal will ask for that back bendy thiny.
There was a time when I was working for multiple companies at the time doing shows at different venues at different times of the day and night. On average I was doing about 15 big performances per week. As you can guess: little Sascha had to do a Mexican Handstand in every single show. Here the fact that I early on understood the importance of isolating all the different parts of my back was key. I could keep parts of my body more engaged to protect them from overuse when I feel that they are getting sore and open up the other parts more.
Yes, overall I would bend less than my fullest potential but I was able to do this 15 times per week which looking back was honestly quite the miracle.
I love mexican handstands. They have been a part of every single show I have ever done and I am beyond happy to get to share this love with you. Thank you for sticking around and reading this. Thank you for training with me and thank you for training and loving handstands!
Fun fact: I still don’t know why it’s called the Mexican handstand. I’ve met one person that claims she knows but she won’t tell me… let me know in the comments below why you think it’s called the Mexican handstand.
So as you can see. Mexican Handstands are quite the project. They are beautiful, they are challenging and training for them will help you advance in so many different aspects of your training. Have fun. Warm up well, Cool down even better and make slow and consistent gains.