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How to Straddle Handstand

There are plenty of spots where one can mess up when doing handstands. This can actually be quite fascinating. When everything is going well things are great but when there are small mistakes things can go south real fast and nothing works. It is essential to look at the handstand as a whole. Your entire body is a chain and only by manipulating the chain as 1 you will be able to truly succeed in your handstand practice.

Whilst most problems originate in the shoulders one big possible issue that can occur in your handstands is in your hips. More specifically the position of the hips and legs in the straddle handstand.

It is not easy. You want to open your legs wide enough to take advantage of them for balancing purposes. At the same time you need to keep them closed enough so your hips don’t pike.

It can be quite confusing where to put the legs and this exact question is one of the main ones I receive whenever I teach in person or online.

Home | Knowledgebase | HOW TO HANDSTAND

How to
Straddle Handstand

There are plenty of spots where one can mess up when doing handstands. This can actually be quite fascinating. When everything is going well things are great but when there are small mistakes things can go south real fast and nothing works. It is essential to look at the handstand as a whole. Your entire body is a chain and only by manipulating the chain as 1 you will be able to truly succeed in your handstand practice.

Whilst most problems originate in the shoulders one big possible issue that can occur in your handstands is in your hips. More specifically the position of the hips and legs in the straddle handstand.

It is not easy. You want to open your legs wide enough to take advantage of them for balancing purposes. At the same time you need to keep them closed enough so your hips don’t pike. 

It can be quite confusing where to put the legs and this exact question is one of the main ones I receive whenever I teach in person or online.

What is a correct straddle handstand?

First of all, yes, there is a correct way of doing the straddle handstand. Many roads might lead to Rome but most of us will choose the most efficient, fastest and environment friendliest way. It is the same for your handstands. There is a technique that is healthy and effective. I am here to teach you this precise technique and explain to you how to make adjustments based on personal limitations.

For your straddle handstand you want to imagine you are in a toaster. We can allow the feet and hips to get warm but we do not want to burn them. In other words when we open into the straddle we want to stay as much in line as possible. 

Stay in line!! Open your legs into a middle split with your knees pointing down towards the floor outside of your hands and not into a pancake like position with the knees pointing diagonally away from the chest.

Why does
it matter?

Performing a correct straddle or in other words staying in line is essential to make your handstand efficient but also to make your handstand easy controllable. You might be able to hold a regular straddle handstand with mediocre form but you won’t be able to build on it in the future. 

Back & shoulder Health

When your hips pike your legs start to hang out on one side of your body. This will force your back to automatically arch to create adequate counterweight for your legs. An arched back is never great. It creates significant amounts of pressure that can lead to injuries. Additionally, a strongly arched back is usually an invitation for the shoulders to move towards the wrists and to open more which won’t help your overall handstand control or shoulder health. 

Transitions between positions 

If you are in a straddle handstand with piked hips, arched back and open shoulders a lot needs to happen in order to bring the legs together on top to arrive in a straight handstand. Too much needs to happen. 

You would have to practice and invest so much time into the replacement of each separate body part whilst closing the legs that you will be much better off just fixing your straddle handstand instead. 

One arm handstands 

On one hand your alignment gets even more important. You are standing on only 1 shoulder meaning you are significantly more fragile towards weight changes. If you like at the hips and your legs drop, the inside leg of your one arm handstand will point in the direction of your chest. This will pull you down. You will have to work with your glute muscle like crazy to hold the leg up. 

You will waste energy and trust me, if you are just learning your one arm handstand you’ll need this energy elsewhere!!

Your straddle
depends on you

How your straddle handstand will look and where you have to hold your legs depends on you. Everyone’s straddle handstand is different which is why it is essential that you develop a basic understanding of the how’s, why’s and if’s. 

Flexibility 

The first and main point that will determine your straddle handstand position is your passive flexibility. You will never actively push your legs further than what they passively open. That is a fact. The straddle handstand is a middle split. This means your straddle handstand will only be as good as your middle split.

Strength 

Passive flexibility creates the possible range. Strength in these stretches represents your usable range. One alone will help but won’t get you anywhere close to where you can possibly be when combining the 2 well. Your straddle handstand depends on your leg opening strength and your active external leg rotation. 

Coordination 

Flexibility and strength alone won’t help you if you are not able to coordinate your legs upside down. First developing an understanding of what to do with your legs and in which direction to move them and then actually being able to follow through with these concepts is ultimately the final puzzle piece to your straddle handstand.

How do we end up
in the bad straddle

A not so ideal straddle isn’t just there. We end up in one somehow. Understanding how we get there is the first step to fixing it. 

Legs open too far 

Probably the most common way of getting into a not so ideal straddle position is when we go from a straight handstand into a straddle and we simply open the legs a little bit too far. When you first open the legs they are right on top of your hand-shoulder-hip line. Eventually you hit your limit of flexibility, your hips pike and your lower back begins to arch. That is usually the moment when you want to stop. Keep opening your legs even wider and you will end up in an undesirable pancake like position. 

Forget to engage

There is a lot going on in your handstand and whilst thinking about balance, scapular elevation and locking out your elbows it is very easy to simply forget about the legs. When this happens they will move out of your perfect little straddle that you worked so hard for and start to hang down like wet bags of potatoes. This can be quite unfortunate as it will ruin your line and take away your control. For a long time you will have to actively focus on your legs in order for them to eventually go on autopilot. 

What to do when you catch yourself
in a bad straddle?

We know how we get there so now let’s figure out what to do to fix this problem. To get back to an efficient and controllable position you basically have 2 choices. 

Accept temporary limitation of flexibility

This one is the easy way out. It is a solution that you can simply apply. No need to improve your flexibility, strength or really anything at all. Anybody can do this.

Simply lift your legs. Close them a little bit. Your legs won’t be as wide anymore so they won’t help you balance as much. This is something anybody should happily give up for less pike at the hips and a slightly straighter back.

That being said, the existence of this solution should not be the end of your road. This is a temporary fix. In the meantime, invest heavily in your middle split and improve your position as a long term project.

Engage and push hard

The other, much harder but also much more impressive solution is to actively engage your muscles and to push the legs into their correct position. Use your glutes to externally rotate the legs and to push them into your middle split.

This way of getting aligned requires quite a bit of base flexibility, strength and lots of coordination. At the same time this solution is significantly more desirable as it will make your handstand visually very appealing. 

How to Improve
your straddle handstand

Yes, your straddle handstand depends on your current flexibility, strength and coordination it doesn’t have to be the way it is now forever. There are plenty of ways of how you can improve your straddle handstand. In short: get flexible, get stronger, get more coordinated and improve your handstands!

External Rotation  & Active Flexibility

Work on your turnouts and active flexibility. These 2 go hand in hand when it comes to your straddles. One doesn’t come without the other. You need to work on your leg opening strength at your end range of motion. For that work on your abduction muscles and your glutes.

You can do this laying on your back or standing chest to wall. Use exercises that are close to the real thing. You can not really simulate anything here!

Hamstring stretches

Flexible hamstrings are a prerequisite for middle splits. If your hamstrings are tight you can not straighten your legs in the middle split. Make sure you place your hips in an anterior pelvic tilt and arch your lower back when stretching your hamstrings.

Middle split stretches

Tradition is not always bad. Stick to what you know and work your passive middle split flexibility. There are plenty of variations that can do the trick for you here! On your back, with bent knees, really, there is no need to get creative. You simply have to warm up and get to work.

Improve your handstands

This one is often forgotten when we think about how to improve the straddle handstand. In order to actively open the legs and to externally rotate them we have to engage our muscles to place pressure on the legs. This pressure can only be placed if the shoulders are solid as your muscles always pull on both ends. If your shoulders are not solid and give way you can not expect your legs to move as planned.

Work on your handstand strength and stability. The better you get the easier it will be to focus on the legs.

A good straddle doesn’t just make your handstands beautiful but also gives you stability and allows you to maneuver your body in an easier and more controlled manner.

For a beginner mastering the straddle handstand is a huge step. For a more advanced hand balancer the straddle is an absolute prerequisite for most advanced handstand drills.

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