Just as improving your numbers on your snatch and clean and jerk will help to make you into a better, more well rounded athlete, developing proper gymnastics foundations, more specifically, a handstand can help to take your CrossFit to the next level. So why are handstands so important? In Greg Glassman’s original philosophy of , he tells us to “master the basics of gymnastics, pullups, dips, rope climbs, pushups, situps, [and] presses to handstand.” Evidently, he considered the handstand to be one of the fundamental elements of , however, today, proper handstand training and development is often times overlooked. Not only does the handstand develop incredible strength and stability unmatched by other exercises, but it also can teach us body-spatial awareness. According to an article in the CrossFit Journal,
“Being upside down exposes the athlete to, what is for many, a brand new world. Psychologically, physically, and physiologically, inversion is otherworldly. We spend roughly two thirds of our life upright and one third in repose. When upside down most of us lose our breath, orientation, and composure. What this portends for an athlete upended by opponent or accident is calamitous. The difference between tripping and landing on your feet versus knocking your teeth out is profound. Gymnasts’ bike wrecks don’t look like weightlifters’.
Combat, nature, survival, and sport favor individuals who keep bodily and spatial awareness regardless of their orientation in three-space. The handstand is prerequisite to handsprings, walkovers, cartwheels, aerials, and flips, each of which will train for generally favorable outcomes to being tossed into space. The handstand is the first step to developing a catlike capacity for landing on your feet.” -Crossfit Journal
Obviously, the benefits to training a proper handstand are limitless. Likewise, so are the possibilities for movement with a handstand. A good, solid handstand will translate into so many important things in CrossFit. Handstand Pushups, handstand walks, shoulder taps, and of course just a plain old handstand hold are all developed from a basic handstand.
First things first. Before diving into complicated, technical handstand movements, it is important that we first develop a proper handstand against the wall. A good handstand starts with a solid hollow position. A hollow position that engages your entire core and body will help you to maintain control in the handstand position. While a freestanding handstand is certainly the best way to experience this hollow position, we can begin by developing a solid hollow position on the floor. From there, wall walks into a nose and toes hold can help us to feel what it’s like to be upside down in that hollow position. While many people assume that the best way to practice handstand holds is to kick up into the wall (and it can be important for things like handstand pushups), it can also create unnecessary arch in your back (losing your hollow position) and cause you to rely too much on the wall for support. A wall walk into a nose and toes hold (touching both your nose and toes to the wall) can give you the chance to achieve a well developed handstand position for extended periods of time, without the challenge of balancing without support. When holding a handstand in the nose and toes position (or with your back to the wall as well), it is important to keep your midline tight, and your shoulders active. You also need to make sure that your weight is pressing through your fingers rather than leaning back on the palms of your hand. Think of your hand like a foot. You actually use your toes a lot more than you think to walk and stand. Same goes for your fingers. Your fingers can help greatly to support your weight in a handstand.
Bailing From A Handstand
The second thing you will need to learn in handstands before you begin walking is how to bail. Because you will not always have a spotter there to catch you and there may come a time when you cannot safely come down from a handstand as you normally would, it is important to know how to bail properly. If you feel yourself begin to fall, the best way to bail from a handstand is to lower yourself into a headstand and perform a forward roll out of the position.
You can also attempt a pirouette bail. While not as extreme as the tuck and roll bail, it can be difficult to master and not as intuitive. When you feel as though you are about to fall forwards out of a handstand, simply transfer your weight onto one hand and turn the other hand a quarter of a turn in your dominant direction (whatever direction comes most naturally) and bail to the side.
Drill 1: Hand Rocks
Practice rocking side to side and shifting your weight in the handstand position. As you get better and stronger, you can begin to lift your hands up as though you were rocking.
Drill 2: Shoulder Taps
This is a fairly advanced drill, but will help to significantly improve your walking. As you shift your weight to one hand, lift your other hand and tap the corresponding shoulder. For an easier version of this drill, Place your feet up on a box and enter a pike position and perform this drill.
For an easier version of this drill, you can pike off a box and do shoulder taps. Be sure to maintain good form.
Drill 3: Wall Shuffle
Now that you’re more comfortable with lifting your hands off the ground, you can begin to walk. Try walking side to side while maintaining the support of the wall.
Drill 4: Partner Spot Walk
Kick up to a freestanding handstand. Have your spotter hold their arm out so that it is in front of your legs by a few inches. As you walk forward, have them walk with you with their arm there in case you fall. You can also have them lightly hold your toes as you walk (make sure they don’t force you to stay up in a handstand when you can’t support it anymore). While their spotting doesn’t necessarily help you walk, it can simply provide a mental safety net for you.
Drill 5: Wall Walking
This is a good drill for those who don’t have a spotter but still remain nervous about walking too far. Pick a distance a few feet away from the wall and begin to walk until you hit the wall. As you get better, move further and further away from the wall.
Mastering The Walk
Once you become more confident in your handstand walking abilities, you can start to perform drills to improve your strength and stamina in regards to walking on your hands. The more time you spend upside down, the more comfortable you will be. Once you have mastered the basic walk straight up and down, you can begin to think about adapting your handstand walk to fit your needs. While the traditional walk is to keep your core tight legs straight up and down, many people chose to utilize the scorpion walk. This is a style of walk where the back is arched and the legs are bent down towards the head. Other people chose to perform their walks with a split position. Both positions can make it easier for people with longer legs, as it creates a lower center of gravity. As you enter your freestanding handstand, many people find it difficult to begin walking forward, because they are afraid of falling head over heals if they lean too far forward. However, if you only stay straight up and down, you will find it very difficult to walk. You want to lean into the direction of your walk. Think of it like a gas pedal. The more you lean into the walk (to a certain extent), the faster you’ll go. When you lean back, you stop.
Tomorrow, we will delve further into the skills and drills discussed above. By working on and developing proper technique and posture in the handstand position, more advanced handstand exercises will become much easier in the long run.