As we fumble along in life and age gets a grip of us, we begin to realise that it’s the littlest things that make us the happiest. This is where, for me, handstands come in. Aside from gymnasts, dancers and calisthenics folk, I struggle to think of who else actually ‘trains’ handstands. After all, handstands are for children in the park or playground, right?
Wrong. When we talk about holding a free-standing handstand for a period of time, we are talking about one of the best core exercises that exists on the planet. As you hold a handstand, your entire core is activated in order to keep your body perfectly stacked. You’re also pushing and developing your hand balancing and overall balancing – full stop. All of this, whilst your brain and nervous system are having to come to terms with most people’s fear of being inverted.
“If the Plank is considered to be the king of ‘core’ exercises, then the handstand is the supreme ruler”.
Whilst inverted and holding your entire body weight up… your shoulders, chest, back and arms are all working together to make sure this load is stable.
Just look at which muscles are activated:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Spinal Extensors
- Gluteus Maximus
- Internal / External Obliques
- Triceps brachii
- Flexor carpi radialis
… and a host of others I have missed off of the list. However, from this list alone, it screams out to
me that there are clear benefits of this underrated and way over-looked exercise.
So, why is it not as popular? Quite simply, many of us think it’s beyond our ability, and will pass on it.
In my experience; I viewed the handstand as just another challenge, that once mastered would open the door to many other bodyweight exercises (I’ve by no means mastered it by the way).
How do you start learning a handstand?
As always, I must state that this is a journey for me and for my colleagues, and we are simply sharing how we have got to this point in our training story and our specific approach.
- Firstly, starting with a headstand against a wall, simply placing my head and hands on the floor and kicking up against the wall to incline position.
- Once my confidence increased, I moved on to kicking up into an actual handstand, again against the wall.
- Then, working on the maximum time I could hold a handstand for.
- Incorporating ‘pike push ups’ and ‘pseudo planche push ups’ to increase shoulder strength.
- Once I felt strong enough, I began moving away from the wall by simply pressing my fingers into the floor to move my legs off of the wall.
- Over a period of time I was able to hold myself up for 10 to 15 seconds. This I found has simply been a case of practice, practice, practice and finding my point of balance.
An important aspect, that I must stress; handstands are particularly demanding on the wrists. This means it’s vital to warm up your wrists and critically take things slowly. Any skill worth having will take time to develop, so no need to rush ahead and damage yourself in the process.
So, what other benefits have handstands got?
- Well, as I’ve stated they are going to help create super upper body strength, developing your core well beyond what your standard crunches, planks and other ‘core’ exercises will do.
- They can help increase your grip strength. While upside down, you’re going to be using fingers to keep your balance. Your fingers will be firmly pressed into the ground, making constant pressure changes in order to keep you from falling over.
- Handstands can be done anywhere. Yep, no need for expensive gym memberships or equipment.
- Increase your musculoskeletal health. To increase bone health, you simply need to bare weight onto them, a handstand does just this.
- They can help reduce stress.
- They are fun! Own up now, who has performed a handstand since when they were young? This is a fun exercise that takes you straight back to feeling like a child again.
Personally, and within my training, I’ve progressed to kicking up and managing a hold time of around 10 seconds – as I say by no means mastered. It’s a skill I’m working hard to nail, but I can tell you it’s one I am finding to be of great overall benefit. The key to longevity in training is to keep it fun, fresh and exciting. Handstands are definitely a way for me to do just that.
We have set ourselves a ‘team target’ of all of us holding a (free) handstand by the 20th of December.
Right now, we are working together through different stages of progression and outcomes, always motivating and encouraging each other’s steps to success. Let’s see if we can get our photo.
Life is all about constantly pushing what we consider to be the limits of our abilities. However, the only limits to our abilities exist within our minds. So, why don’t you attempt to learn to handstand, or something that you have always wanted to do. Stop telling yourself that you ‘can’t’, there are already enough people out there to do that for you. Your mission is to show them you ‘can’, and you will!
By Dave Lampert
- Wing chun illustrated, columnist
- Wing chun instructor @ London wing chun Academy
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