It’s been about two years since I started trying to learn handstands, and I just wanted to make some notes for my future self to look back on.
When I first started, holding a freestanding handstand seemed impossible. I would watch Instagram videos of people hanging upside down in their handstands, balancing between transitions from one leg position to the other, and just think “how on Earth?..”. How could these people stay upright and in control on their hands when I can’t even always balance on my feet? How do they have the guts to kick up knowing they might fall over? Where do they get the will power to practice day in and day out? What about those hand balancers who are raised on a platform, on a pair of canes, on the edge of a cliff?
Many people recall doing handstands as kids and feeling fearless, I never ever had that. I had to literally learn it all from scratch. Here’s a few things I learned along the way.
• Learning to fall out of a handstand was a huge turning point. Before I got the hang of twisting and cartwheeling out of it, I was overly cautious and usually didn’t kick up far enough unless there was a spotter, or I’d kick so far I’d land straight into a wheel position, putting too much pressure on my spine.
• No amount of workshops and training videos will make you do handstands if you don’t put the effort in. These days I train almost every day. Even in passing, I might kick up a few times or do a quick conditioning routine. I may not progress as fast as some people but it pays off.
• I was always taught to favour good execution vs just getting there. Shoulder and spine alignment vs banana back. Handstands with back against the wall might help you build up your wrist strength, but chances are, you’re getting into the habit of arching your back and not engaging enough through the body. Handstands facing the wall seem terrifying at first but long term they are much more helpful.
• Conditioning is key. Shoulder rotation, hip flexor compression, dynamic front body line, core drills (dish anyone?) – one of my handstand teachers, Anna Fooks, is an absolute queen of handstands and trust when I say she has to do those drills just like the rest of us.
• Warm up your wrists. Use your fingertips. When doing it on the ground, I find that the more solid and level the surface, the better (i.e. squidgy yoga mats and padded floors can actually make it harder to balance)
• My wrists are fairly flexible and yet I still find it much easier to balance on parallettes or blocks – it takes the pressure off the wrists and lets me work on engaging through the right parts of my body, try different variations and train endurance.
• Comparing yourself to others and setting deadlines isn’t going to make you better at handstands.
There you go, future Cat. If you find yourself about to quit, I hope you look back at this post and see how far you’ve come.