The Best way to progress in handstands, how to get out of a front lever plateau and what ‘end range strength’ means & how it pertains to mobility training………
Handstands are my ARCH NEMESIS! I just can’t seem to get better at them. They frustrate me but at the same time there’s something about them that keeps me coming back! Any tips or drills/approaches you think could help me?
Welcome to the wonderful world of everyone’s handstand journey. They’re a like a love/hate affair you just can’t let go of. So you mentioned you do a lot of drills and conditioning for the handstand, which is great but how much raw balance orientated work do you do?
Sometimes people can over condition stuff. They get to where they can do 5 sets of 60-90 second wall facing handstand holds, yet still can’t actually balance a handstand freestanding. The idea of conditioning drills is to enable the practice itself; to allow you to practice the skill. If you can hold a single set of a wall facing handstand for 60 seconds on a comfortable RPE, I’d say you’re more than conditioned for balance work!
A simple 5-15 mins done daily works like magic. I’ve shared my own experience with that approach before; it got me started on a good foot within my own handbalance ‘journey’. You can even do it on a set by set basis. Aim to get 10-20 decent holds where you find 3-5 secs of freestanding balance with whatever rest you deem necessary. You could even superset the handstands with some mobility work or whatever skill based stuff you want to combine it with.
Or, you could singularly focus on the handstand itself. The point is: once you know your aim within a subsection of the skill, it makes it easy to focus. Balance drills hold the key for you, for now, until you’re comfortably kicking up to 20-30 second holds at will. Then we can look at further advancements.
My Pull Ups are progressing well and so are my pushing moves. However my front lever seems to feel like treading mud! Is there any extra drills I can do to target it better? Anything that could increase progress?
The front lever is a deceptive beast. It looks simple yet at the same time looks completely gravity defying. It’s a merciless movement and even the strongest athletes can’t claim ‘it came easy’ to them. Granted, some people tend to gravitate more towards pulling or pushing and some natural pullers might find it an easier mission to get to full front lever, it’s tough even for the pullers of this world.
I would work on the entire range of the front lever and the muscles involved. The simplest and most complete drill for this is the full ROM front lever raise – which can be done in any body position your strength level requires (tuck, open tuck, advanced open tuck, half lay, full). In which you pull from a dead hang to and inverted hang without changing body shape at any point in the move. You also strive to control the range throughout EVERY INCH.
The beauty of this move is it will spot check your strength and find your weakness in the range. There will be a point where you’ll either stick and find it hard to move through on the way up, or a point where you seem to want to fall on the way down. Pay attention to this as it will hold the key to progress and busting this plateau you feel you’re in. For example, I stick in the top 45 degrees of the move, so training top half raises (tilts) is the best approach for me. The range of dead hang to horizontal (where the front lever itself is) isn’t difficult at all for me.
You may be different. You may need bottom portion strength or strength all round. Either way, the full ROM raise will build all round strength and give you ideas as to where you might need work. Furthermore, make sure you’re keeping the arms locked and not letting your body position change mid rep, in your current front lever training. As the classic cheat is to let the abs kick in and shorten the body length to compensate for weakness at the stick point. Keep the form honest and aim to actively RETRACT & DEPRESS the scapula as much as possible when working on the front lever.
I heard your live chat the other day where you spoke about ‘end range strength’…….it was fascinating and could you tell me more about it? Like how does it benefit/allow better stretching etc?
‘End Range Strength’ is a fancy term for the ability to close the joint from the shortening side. Keeping it simple, it means it’s the strength/contraction capacity of the antagonist muscle to that which you’re stretching. In the most classic case, the hamstrings/forward fold, the ability to contract the flexors of the hip (psoas, quads etc) will impact how much mobility there is at the hamstrings, lower back and glutes. The stronger the hip flexors, the more mobile the hamstrings will be generally. This can apply to any major joint action within reason.
It definitely sounds fancier than it is but the agonist/antagonist strength relationship around a joint has a great impact on the mobility of the joint in question. If one side is way stronger than the other, the mobility will always be out of balance. This is further evidence of the nervous system playing governor and not allowing ranges it deems unsafe due to strength discrepancies.
End range strength is just another sub section of the umbrella term ‘active mobility’ – in which you aim to strengthen the musculature at it’s end ranges instead of just trying to relax and let gravity do its job. I’ve written more on this here: 5 Keys To LONG TERM Flexibility Gains
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