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The Handstand Experiment: What A Month’s Worth Of Work Did For Me

handstand progress (january 2019)

This experiment was a completely spontaneous and unplanned one. It wasn’t part of a ’30 day challenge’ or some empty new year’s vow. It was born from a simple thought: I need to address a weakness.

Funnily enough it was Christmas day my journey began. I was bored and the constant lounging in conjunction with being expected to gorge on junk was agitating me. I knew I couldn’t do a full session as I’d done one the day before, but I damn well knew I could do something.

I took a 20 minute walk and then worked on my free standing handstand. Which is a move I’ve always had some success with but never really enjoyed all that much. Main reason being, my overhead mobility has always hindered me from finding that nice desired straight line.

So I spent some time playing around with it. I used my living room floor (my living room is small) and I had no room for error; my 96 year old grandmother was with us for the day and there were presents and sweets everywhere! Initially I was certain this would hinder me but I started to realise what we kind of know but often fail to truly grasp……..

The body does wonderful things when it knows it cannot fail.

By having such a finite margin for error I found I hit handstand after handstand – both on my hands and on my wooden parallettes. And the line was as straight as a muscle bound monkey like me would ever get!

Long story short, almost subconsciously I committed to 10 minutes per day of handstand practice. I didn’t have an expiry date but I stuck religiously to no longer than 10 minutes, which meant fatigue was kept minimal.

So, what the hell happened?!

Well, very quickly the handstand became something I liked rather than dreaded and my hit rate went through the roof. I’m now at the stage where I can find balance almost on every attempt. I wasn’t so bothered about long holds – why on earth would you train a SKILL to fatigue?! It’s totally unnecessary. I focused on balance and line, and rarely held longer than 20 seconds in one go.

Also, a few days in I began wanting to work on my shoulder mobility a little bit as a warm up. This was unlike me, normally I’d rather watch paint dry than spend time trying to open up my concrete tight lats. But I think I had built up enough momentum (making the handstand practice habitual) that I knew it was worth the investment. So I mixed it up, if it was a ‘rest day’ I would stretch passively and on training days I’d use active and more dynamic drills.

Shoulder Mobility Norwich 2018

This hasn’t only helped the handstand line itself but also how my shoulders feel. They’re much looser and pain free. And even on moves like muscle ups I can feel an easier openness before I pull.

The practical takeaways & applications for YOU

The handstand is a very iconic and highly sought after move, whether it’s in the yoga, gymnastics, calisthenics, circus acrobatics or general movement communities. As I’ve seen so often in the workshops I’ve taught, the balance aspect seems to allude so many. You always ask what you can do to make it better. To which I reply: How often do you train the handstand?

2-3 times per week for 30 minutes plus, is a common reply. When it comes to SKILLS (and the handstand should definitely be classified as a SKILL) it’s important to sustain a regular frequency. I had one day off over the last 30 odd days and that was the day before my second workshop. Other than that I always hit my daily practice.

Practice in circumstances that favour your current level. If you can’t balance without a wall, use a wall. If you’re uncomfortable kicking up to the wall, work on your chest to wall handstand holds or walls runs. It’s ALL relative.

We all have different reasons for working on the handstand. Mine is for the skill carryover to more advanced moves within calisthenics. If I want to teach others, I’d better be good myself. Yours might be to challenge yourself personally, it doesn’t really matter. If you want it, do it. Don’t obsess over structure or exacts. Enjoy the process and keep at it. When you do that, amazing things happen.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

7 thoughts on “The Handstand Experiment: What A Month’s Worth Of Work Did For Me Leave a comment

    • Thanks, Victor, absolutely! The free standing handstand push up is on my hit list too! And I’ve been making sure my handstand itself is solid so I can then work on the eccentrics and drills that’ll actually start working on the handstand push up itself.

  1. Just found this and it looks like we started this new adventure together! I really identify with a lot of what you’ve said here – awesome form too. I’m currently working on my L-sit transition into handstand. Wishing you luck on your calisthenics journey!

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