Fitness

So You Want to Do a Handstand?

  • July 8, 2014

Guest post by  Nick English.

Photos: Heather Gene

What does it mean to be fit? Think about it. Is it the ability to run a 5K? Perform a  pull-up? Maintain a  six-pack? The answer varies from person to person, but the best definition might come from Greatist Expert and Doctor of Physical Therapy, Eugene Babenko: “The fitter you are, the more you can control your body, and the more prepared you are for the unexpected.”Few skills hone these qualities as well as the handstand – and the fact that it’s the world’s coolest-looking exercise is a nice bonus, too!

Handstand at Attention!

Coolness aside, a proper handstand is a symphony of strength, balance, coordination, and  proprioception — which means it improves one’s awareness of one’s own body.

That’s a big deal:  Training the body to become better aware of where it’s located in space comes with a whole range of benefits. Not only does it reduce the risk of injury (ankle sprains, for instance, are often linked to  poor proprioception  in the lower body), but it’s even been shown to improve intelligence  [1]. Seriously!  A recent German study  found that after only two sessions of balance training (which  improves the brain’s ability  to monitor proprioception), the brain started to develop new  grey matter,  which is linked to improved memory, attention span, and learning abilities.

All of those superhuman  balance  benefits are great, but handstands are also a kickass strength training exercise. Just about every muscle in the body needs to work together to maintain a handstand, but  it’s especially good for strengthening the core and developing  strong, stable shoulders. According to Dr. Babenko, these benefits have huge carryover to weightlifting and general physical ability, and perhaps surprisingly, handstands run a very low risk of injury – so long as you  don’t fall too hard!

How to Train For a Handstand

First, you’ll need some nice, strong shoulders. In Dr. Babenko’s opinion, the best exercise for handstand prep is the  shoulder press:  Add 3 sets of 10 to your workouts until you’re pressing at least half of your bodyweight. Simple exercises like  push-ups,  pike push-ups, and especially  pike ups on a Swiss ball  are great supplements, and a would-be handstand practitioner should get plenty of experience with long, steady  planks.

While working on strength, it’s wise to start honing balance, too.   Consistency is super important, here. The best way to advance in  handstand prep  is to practice  every day, if  only for five minutes. Unlike straightforward  strength training, which requires plenty of  rest and recovery,  working up to a handstand fits more neatly into  skill  training, and can be practiced more frequently. As always, listen to your body and take a break if it feels necessary.

Your Yoga-Based Handstand Prep

Greatist Expert and celebrity trainer  Jonathan Angelilli  feels that  yoga‘s a great way to build the right foundation. Follow the training plan below and progress to the next exercise when it becomes relatively easy to hold the pose for a minute or two. You’ll be rock solid in a matter of weeks!

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Remember to keep the eyes focused between the hands, try keeping the index fingers parallel, and, perhaps most importantly,  don’t forget to breathe calmly and deeply.

Congratulations! You are now reveling in glorious, freestanding handstandom. Practice regularly and the next step will be handstand  push-ups… but we’ll leave that to you!

 


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