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How Balance and Control Work in your Handstand

When ever we get upside down into a handstand we have 2 goals. 1) we want control so we don’t fall & 2) we want to make our line efficient so the inversion is easy and we don’t get tired fast.

Basically, we want to stay up for as long as possible. When we first learn to handstand it is completely unthinkable that one could ever be fully in control or that this drill could ever become easy but just like with everything: over time, with practice and the right focus your specific coordination for the drill will improve and you soon see handstands in a completely different light!

Home | Knowledgebase | HOW TO HANDSTAND

How Balance and
Control Work in
your Handstand

When ever we get upside down into a handstand we have 2 goals. 1) we want control so we don’t fall & 2) we want to make our line efficient so the inversion is easy and we don’t get tired fast.

Basically, we want to stay up for as long as possible. When we first learn to handstand it is completely unthinkable that one could ever be fully in control or that this drill could ever become easy but just like with everything: over time, with practice and the right focus your specific coordination for the drill will improve and you soon see handstands in a completely different light!

Not all ways lead to Rome

Many coaches will tell you that you need to find your own technique and approach. Try around and see what works best. Everybody is different and everybody’s handstand should be different.

If a coach tells you that, better turn around and run the other direction. This person clearly hasn’t truly understood how handstands work and is someone giving tips at best but surely not a coach.

When you look at any sport in the amateur leagues you will see plenty of different techniques. Yet, when it comes to the Olympics pretty much everyone is doing the same thing. This is because a combination of sports science and years of trial and error has helped us determine the most efficient way of doing things.

Handstands is no different. If you watch professional hand balancers you will see that pretty much everyone has precisely the same technique and approach.

The only difference is that athletes at the Olympics are the chosen few from a million who have been training since there were small children. Handstands is all of us and most of us started as adults.

For most it is unrealistic to hit a perfect handstand line with outstanding technique in transitions between shapes without significant time and energy for training. We should all strive for this same perfection as there is a truly efficient way when it comes to handstands but we need to accept that we have to make sacrifices based on our personal limitations.

In order to be able to work towards perfect technique and especially to be able to make the adjustments that you need you have to develop a basic understanding to how handstands actually work.

What makes a
handstand efficient?

A handstand is efficient when we do not have to invest a lot of energy when holding it.
A handstand is efficient when you are absolutely exhausted yet you are still able to hold your handstand.

You can achieve that by aligning your handstand in a perfectly straight line. The straighter and taller the better.

Picture yourself standing upright waiting for the bus. Now compare this with a wall sit. Which one is easier?! Exactly. The straight line.

Your handstand is the same. If your elbows bend, your scapula collapses, your back arches and your legs bend you will feel heavy.
Stacking the joints on top of each other to a straight line is essential to making your handstand easy.

 

What gives a
handstand control?

There are lots of misconceptions of how a handstand should work. The goal of many acrobatic or gymnastics movements is to make them as easy as possible. The handstand is not quite like that! Yes, we want to make it easier on the arms, shoulders and back by aligning us but we need to keep it hard and heavy on the fingers.

Let’s again compare this to standing on our feet. If your weight is in front you have weight in your toes you feel strong with lots of control. As soon as the weight drops into your heels and the toes might even lift off the floor your arms start to swirl and you are forced to balance with your entire body.

It is exactly the same upside down on your hands. Leaning towards the front and into your fingertips gives you control. As soon as your weight drops towards the back of your hand your handstand becomes fragile and you are not in control anymore. You have to actually balance your handstand.

As long as you lean into your toes or your fingertips you can control the amount of lean but pushing into the floor more or less. You are in charge of what happens with your body. You can manipulate your figure by adapting the pressure you put into the floor.

Theoretically, the further you lean the less possible it becomes to fall. Unfortunately, the truth is that your lean is highly limited by wrist strength and mobility. Finding this perfect spot of how far to lean to have control yet to lean little enough to stay heathy is vital.

Leaning to stay in control especially becomes difficult when your sets get longer and you get tired. You will have to force yourself to stay in front. Dedicate yourself to work through the burn. It won’t be easy but keep in mind that with every extra moment of endured suffering your endurance and control will rise. At some point of your handstand practice endurance will be your only limiting point. As soon as your form is right you have to learn to push through the exhaustion and to keep form high!

Stop chasing perfect stillness
it does not exist

Now by now we know how to make a handstand efficient and how to be in control. Last thing to discuss is how to actually act when in a handstand and what to expect.

While a handstand might look like it is perfectly still this is only an illusion. In reality a handstand is a living and breathing creature that is constantly at work.

On your hands you will fall in one direction. You will realize that you are falling and you react. You catch yourself and you push back up. You push too far and fall the other direction.

No matter how much you train your handstand will always be like this. The only difference that lots of training will make is that you will be getting faster at detecting that you are falling and your corrections will become more precise.

Once you are a real pro at handstands your corrections will become so small that the only movement noticeable by the outside eye is in the muscles of your forearm.

You are creating the illusion of perfect stillness.

Shoulder position in relation
to the hands and hips

Where you shoulders are in relation to your hands and hips is ultimately what indicated how much control and how efficient your handstand is.

In an ideal case scenario your shoulders should be right on top of the center of your hands with the hips and feet aligned on top. Your scapula is elevated and your back straight and the hips in a neutral position. Any changes from this ideal position happen in 2 points simultaneously as 1 part of your body always has to counter balance the other. When attempting to regain control and to safe your handstand you will have to move slow without any sudden, drastic corrections. Even if your position is off, as long as you are still standing your handstand balances itself out. All corrections will have to happen at both ends of your handstand simultaneously in order not to break this balance.

Keep in mind that the visual examples here are all rather drastic to show the mistakes properly and for you to understand how they work and what they do to your control. Most of the time all of these misalignments are very small and barely visible

Shoulders moving towards the front – Back arches

One of the most common mistakes that happen when training handstands is that we get tired and the shoulders move towards the front. At the same time they close a bit creating an angle. Your back will now arch automatically to keep the hips on top.

Obviously any misalignment is not ideal but to an extent this one is quite easy to fix. Due to the arch in your back your weight is still on top of your fingertips and all you have to do is push down hard to elevate the scapula and straighten out your entire line. In this moment you want to make sure your weight stays in the fingertips so you keep full control.

Shoulders move in front – Hips pike

Another possible scenario is that your shoulders move towards the front too far but they stay open in a straight line. If you lean far enough the weight for your fingertips gets too much and your hips automatically pike bringing the weight back a bit to ease pressure.

This one is a bit more difficult to fix as your weight is already falling back towards your wrist due to the piked hips. You have no control and no leverage point to open the hips back into a straight line. To correct the position you need to work to get your weight back into the fingertips to then move the shoulders back and open the hips simultaneously.

Proceed with caution when working with this particular misaligned as it places your wrist in a very sharp angle and risk of injuries is high.

Shoulders over wrists – Hips open

If your shoulders can move in 1 direction they will of course also move in the other direction from time to time. If your shoulders move towards or even past the wrists they open towards flexion or even hyper flexion and your back will naturally arch. If you push this really far you will get into something we call a hollow back handstands which is a rather advanced handstand skill often performed by breakers.

The difficulty about all hollow back or Mexican handstand like shapes is that the weight travels into the back of the hand and you are forced to use your body for balance. This is relatively easy if you have a big bend but the hardest part of the Mexican is coming back to the straight handstand. You will have to proceed with extreme care and move very slowly.

Engage the back muscles to arch slightly more. With the extra weight pointing towards the fingertips let your shoulders travel towards the front. Once you have sufficient weight in your fingertips once again push tall keeping the weight in the fingertips and you are back in control.

Shoulders over wrists – Hips piked

When your shoulders move towards the wrist you don’t have to go full hollow back handstand. It can also happen that your hips will pike to balance your handstand. In a way that is better than the Mexican handstand scenario as it leaves less pressure on your shoulders. Problem is that this one has more angles and with that becomes even more confusing to fix.

The idea is the same. Start by engaging what ever you can to bring your weight towards the fingertips. Once things are in motion travel your shoulders carefully. We need to get them back on top of the center of the hands. Once the shoulders are there they should be and you are fingertip heavy push out tall and align everything.

Everything straight with no control

The last possible scenario is that you have a perfectly straight line, your scapula are even fully elevated, yet there is no weight in your fingertips and you simply have no control. This happens to more students than you might expect right now and occurs usually to a lack or knowledge.

It is not clear to everyone that the handstand needs to be fingertip heavy and a straight line on top of the center of the hands. Growing up I believed myself that the handstand line should be on top of the wrists. This is silly of course as the hips also do not end up on top of the heels when waiting for the bus.

If you realize that you are in a perfectly straight line but you simply have no control in your handstand you will have to come out of this perfect line to move the weight into the fingertips. Engage your back muscles to arch ever so slightly, allow your shoulders to travel towards the front on top of the center of your hands and finally, push out tall. as always, make sure your weight stays in your fingertips when elevating the scapula.

Film yourself
but not just for the socials

A great way of checking on your form and learning about your alignment and handstand technique in general is to film yourself on a semi regular basis. You do not have to film every single set but it sure help to check on your handstand once or twice per training session.

Take a screenshot of your handstand and compare it to the examples here of me. The more that you analyze your handstand the more you will understand how the handstand truly works and the shorter your learning curve will be!

Handstands truly are fascinating. So playful and easy when simply looked at from the outside eye yet so complex and detail full when experienced through the body of an athlete.

Learning all this will never be enough. You have to actually feel it inside of your body to understand what is truly going on. So with that: off to the gym you go! Warm up well, focus and get to work!

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