This tutorial will explain why some handstand shapes are easier than others.
It helps for us to identify the 3 most important angles:
There are very simple reasons why some handstand shapes are more comfortable than others. The more flexible you are, the more choice you will have about where to position your body. The tighter you are, the more limited those options will be.
In order to balance, your centre of gravity must be over your hands. If one part of your body is one way, another part of your body must counterbalance it by being in the opposite direction.
Our body will tuck into a ball naturally, but it cannot open out into a back arch with the same ease.
The shoulder angle and back bend are the major limiting factors in the shapes we can achieve.
If our legs tuck to our tummy in handstand, our bum will have to stick out in the opposite direction to counterbalance it, but in order to support that back arch, our shoulders/back will have to arch open, and a lack of flexibility may not allow that to happen. The result is, the tuck is not possible for people who are tight.
If we let one or both legs hang over our head, the opposite will be true, this will be more comfortable for people with tight shoulders because it will counterbalance the closed shoulder angle.
When you begin, it’s easier to let your legs hang over the top. Point your toes so you don’t look like a jackass.
It feels great to float from downward dog to forward fold whilst practising Yoga, which is why I created this short video to give you some exercises to work on.
As with most movements – a combination of strength and flexibility is required. If you have less of one, you will need more of the other to make up the difference.
People with great shoulder mobility and forward fold will be able to position their weight nicely over their hands without relying so much on strength, and people with very strong shoulders will be able to use brute force to support their bodyweight without relying so much on form or alignment.
Any time your arms leave the vertical position and lean forward (planching forward) then shoulder strength will be required to support that lean.
Jo trained as a dancer at Trinity Laban and as a yoga teacher (200 hrs training) with the School of Yoga Institute. She has over 10 years dance teaching experience and 2.5 years of yoga teaching in Winchester. Her class is energetic and flowing. Jo also loves aerial hoop classes!
Jo taught for Circoplex as part of a Handstand + Yoga special event in September 2018.
There’s nothing wrong with shooting for a straight handstand, I’m not going to talk you out of it, but it’s not worth stressing over.
(This article does contain practical tips)
The reality is, everybody at the BBQ, everybody in Yoga class, everybody in the Crossfit Box, and everybody on Instagram, will be perfectly impressed with any kind of handstand, and may even be more impressed with pretty figure shapes (which are easier to hold).
The people who NEED a perfectly straight handstand (professional circus Handbalancers, or people who intend on mastering one-arm) are so few, so rare, they basically don’t exist as a demographic.
For most of us, balancing any kind of shape is enough to make us happy.
Going perfectly straight is quite difficult. A lot of shoulder mobility is required to have the arms in line with the spine.
Some of us are lucky, and our arms will go there without much work. Others are very tight and need a lot of stretching to get there.
In most cases, the back arch happens as compensation for the tight/closed shoulder angle. See the photo below. Also, we are stronger with the chest forward because the pecs become involved (which relieves the delts and traps). (Think how much more you can bench press than shoulder press above your head).
This will be a more comfortable position to relax into, which is why cross fit people let their legs dangle, and why yoga people opt for scorpion rather than straight.
If you do want to get straighter, you will probably need to stretch your shoulder angle open which removes the need for the back arch. Try going up into handstand against a wall, carefully lower your bum to the wall, and push your chest through so that your shoulders and upper back get a stretch.
I personally felt that the process of practising handstands gradually stretched my shoulders into position, without any deliberate stretching.
So if you’re not there yet, relax, even without stretching, you could just keep practising handstands and your alignment will improve.
If you have tight shoulders (very common), dangling one leg over your head (either straight or bent) and keeping the other knee closer to your tummy will counter-balance that shoulder angle and allow you to balance even with tight shoulders. See photos below.
For people with a good back bend, dangling both legs over your head (aka scorpion) will also be more comfortable than a straight handstand.
On the contrary. Any position where your leg weight is more towards your tummy side, (such as both knees in a tuck, or legs straight in piked position), will require even more openness from the shoulders to allow the counterbalance of the bum to work. People with tight shoulders always find tuck difficult.
Here’s something that will blow your mind. For most people, core strength is not even remotely a limiting factor. That means, if you’re working on core strength expecting it to improve your handstand, you’re wasting your time.
There can only ever be one limiting factor at any moment in time, and only improving that factor will give you progress.
The reality is, you are much more likely to be limited by a lack of shoulder strength. Building up your delts will do much more to stabilise your handstand than planks and crunches will
Ben Lowrey is a Handstand teacher based in Bristol, United Kingdom.
I live, breathe and love yoga. Having studied yoga in countries across the world, as well as attending medical school, I can bring a unique understanding and empathy for to my teaching.
In classes I unite movement, meditation and discipline into a fluid and dynamic flow. Yoga can sculpt, strengthen and shine through the body and mind. Creating a sense of equanimity and contentment.
Throughout life, we tie ourselves in knots with stress and strains. Through yoga we unravel these knots with physically and mentally, so we can move more smoothly through life. And build strength in a sustainable and nourishing way.
People who build up their arm strength have more options available to them when it comes to balancing a handstand. http://acrolibrary.com/seven-handstand-exercises-for-pressing-bodyweight/
Arm strength will give you the ability to dip forward and save a handstand if you loose balance.
Also you’ll be able to press your bodyweight from Crow or Headstand up into Handstand, and also lower down from Handstand with control and precision.
It’s important to remember that difficult moves are not the result of luck or genetics, they are the result of practise. People who can do difficult moves just patiently practise until they can do them.
Core strength gets the credit for way too much. This move in particular is reliant upon arm strength, specifically Triceps, Pecs, Front Delts, and the Erector Spinae which lifts the legs.
Mis-identifying your limiting factors will cause you to do planks and crunches when you should be doing dips and will result in wasted time and sub-optimal progress.
Core strength is the obsession of beginners and armchair experts who don’t train, and becomes less of a fixation as you learn to move.
Get to a plank position. Dip forward to a half-press-up so your elbows are bent. Bring one knee to one elbow. This has the effect of shifting your bodyweight forward and putting more weight into your arms. It also makes your shoulders and core resist the torque as your weight shifts from side to side. Repeat this for 10 reps.
Rock to crow. Crouch in the ground and prepare yourself for crow by letting your knees touch your elbows. . Keep your elbows inwards so your knee can connect directly with the top of your elbow or triceps. Bent arms make a table top which your knees and bodyweight rest on. The rocking motion is a gentle way to practise entering the smoothly and landing in balance.
Once the rocking is consistent, try the same thing with a small jump. That means your feet leave the ground before your knees make contact with your elbows and so there is a moment of air time. This will condition your arms to resist your bodyweight. It’s important to manage your expectations and remember this is difficult. It could take years!
Next Skiing crow. Balance in a crow and take one knee off on it’s elbow and bring it to the centre line so that it’s hovering. Again this will force your arms and shoulders to resist the twist and shift in weight and force them to become stronger.
Press Pulses. Start in crow, press as hard as you can and get your knees off your arms. If it’s not happening try rocking into the crow and using the momentum to help get the lift. This is tough and I usually only do 3-5 reps. 10 reps is too much even for me at this stage.
Negatives. Lower from tucked Handstand down to crow. Negative moments are a great way to get stronger, that’s when your muscles resist your weight as it lowers down as apposed to contracting. For example if you start at the top of a chin up and lower down, then you will eventually be able to pull yourself up.
If you practise the first 6 exercises it will be inevitable that you are eventually able to press your weight from crow to handstand, or from headstand to handstand.