CrossFit has been called a lot of things over the years: a workout, a lifestyle, a cult. It has received its fair share of criticism for technique and quality of movement issues, but has also shifted completely how we think about and look at fitness and training. For me, and I believe for a lot of people, CrossFit has been a gateway drug. It has exposed us to forms of movement we may not have otherwise been interested in, or even tried. Part of the backbone of the program is to actively seek out and practice things which you are NOT good at. Find a skill, practice it, work toward mastering it. Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics are two forms of movement that were the equivalent of a foreign language to me years ago, but since beginning CrossFit it has been one giant game of research, practice, repeat as I try to move toward mastery of certain movements.
Two goals that have inspired my training for some time now have been a bodyweight snatch and handstands. Now, the snatch goal was a measurable, achievable task that I was able to work toward (and recently attain…200 lbs, woo!). There was a concrete number I was looking for, 200 pounds, and that made training a lot less hazy. Achieving a “handstand” was not something that I could measure. Just kick up and fall down? Walk on hands? Legs together? Against the wall? Way too many variables. So, a few months ago I put a hard number on it and set out to achieve it once and for all. My new goal became to perform a :30 static freestanding handstand. [This article is a report of my experiences while learning and practicing the handstand. There are many ways to go about tackling this skill, and this is how I did it. I have a long ways to go, but hey...it's progress! I won't be including exact numbers from training days, but sharing some resources that informed my training.] 3-2-1 go!
A few years ago, a master of hand balancing paid a visit to Tempe and I was lucky enough to attend some of his seminars. Ido Portal is an “okay” hand balancer (his words), but an incredible teacher. His words and programming inspired me to achieve skills in this elusive art. Much of the foundation about how I would tackle this challenge came from his philosophies and approach.
Body line & wrist strength
These two factors, for me, were the largest challenges and contributing factors to attaining any sort of controllable balance on my hands. Luckily, a lot of this can be trained without ever kicking up on to your hands. In fact, I decided that for the first two weeks getting upside-down would take a back seat to properly prepping my wrists and working on developing a strong body line. This paid solid dividends with training and injury prevention.
The body line is important because it is far easier to balance a rigid body than a wiggly, loose body. Try balancing a long piece of PVC (or broom handle) straight up in your palm. Pretty easy right? You make small, minor adjustments at the base that carries through the (rigid) PVC body to help ensure the top stays above the point of support. Now, try balancing your leather belt length-wise straight up in your hand. Impossible right? This is an extreme example, I know, but all the adjustments in the world won’t keep that loose, wiggly belt from toppling over. For similar reasons, a solid body line is important for achieving a handstand. Here are some tools for developing a strong body line:
- Hollow rocks
- Static hollow body holds (prone & supine) weighted & unweighted
- FLR (front leaning rest) – plank on the rings with very protracted shoulder girdle
Handstand holds facing the wall, minimizing the distance between your hands and the wall
- Ring shoulder flexion work – start in a pushup position on knees. Slowly move to a flexed shoulder position with hands stretched out overhead like superman. Return to push up position. Elbows stay fully extended.
While learning and practicing any hand balancing skill, your wrists will take a beating. It is absolutely imperative that you take the proper care in prepping them for aggressive use or you will be sidelined from injury.
- wrist circles, up-downs, side to sides
- various closed chain forearm stretching putting the wrist in extension and flexion
- push ups to support on middle three fingers with wrist neutral at top
- pushups where you push off the palm onto the metacarpalphalangeal ridge (where your fingers extend out from your palm)
- finger tip push ups
- wrist push ups
These drills should be performed slowly, building up to more complex variations. Start from the knees where needed or even decrease the distance between the knees and hands to make things easier. Perform 1-2 sets during warmup or after as general wrist prehab.
One last topic for building a solid foundation for starting handstand development is scapular mobility. If you can’t arrange yourself in a proper position (i.e. get yourself into a flexed shoulder position), you will be fighting against your own tightness AND gravity. This is something I need a lot of work on, as my shoulders have a hard time getting into a fully flexed overhead position without breaking my body line.
- Dislocates with a band or pvc (weighted eventually)
- Scapula mobilization routine
- Scapula pull ups
If balancing on your hands is a skill you would like to master (it should be), consider adding some of these elements to your daily regimen in preparation for more aggressive hand balancing drills. I will follow up with another post about the drills and moves I practiced to help with balancing!
One false start plus :30 handstand, woo! More progress to come!