Upside down inside out
January 12, 2011 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Handstand help?

I've been doing yoga for about 5 years. Every year, I resolve that this is the year I will conquer the handstand. This year, I have resolved that this is yes, for real, no kidding, the year I will get into a handstand.

I think the problem is mental. I don't feel confident that I can support myself without crashing on my head, which would be bad. It's probably not a strength issue as I've spent this past year developing back and arm strength. I do the little kick-ups with my hands on the floor and I get fairly high, but my leg doesn't go quite far enough for my heel to touch the wall. Once in a great while, I can do a *head*stand, but I don't stay too long and it feels really weird.

Do you have any suggestions or preparatory poses that you've found helpful? My instructor's advice is to "practice every day, with straight arms," but pretty much that's what he says about any pose a person doesn't like or is bad at and I don't seem to be making headway.
posted by *s to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
How about your ab strength?

If your abs and back are strong enough you shouldn't even have to do "kick ups" (not a knock on you - I still kick up.

Try to have a friend work with you - actually have them lift your legs until you get the feel for how your muscles need to control your body without it pitching forward or back. When I was a kid I'm pretty sure people helped me lift my legs.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2011

There's a technique for doing a handstand in a doorway, with your back against the jam on one side, you walk your feet up the other jam. May or may not work for you, and I'd suggest caution and maybe a spotter--or ask your instructor about it.
posted by Mngo at 10:59 AM on January 12, 2011

Along with assists, try more headstands and forearm stands. I can do both of those, and the abs and balance help to inform handstand, but am still struggling with a handstand because of the larger distance.

For handstand, keep your legs straight when you kick up. Move your head over your hands and look down at your hands as you kick up. Breath out when you kick up. And, lastly, an odd thing that helped a bunch of us when the teacher suggested it: visualize yourself doing it successfully and confidently.
posted by ldthomps at 10:59 AM on January 12, 2011

if you can find a bar (on a squat rack or a piece of playground equipment, whatever) you can hook your knees over it and then ease down onto your hands and use it as your support.

The Crossfit site has a bunch of videos on handstand development in the "Gymnastics" section. I've always found their videos to be helpful.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2011

if you're practice and against the wall and you're scared of crashing on your head, your fears are unfounded. As long as you keep your arms straight and locked you WILL NOT crash on your head. If you don't have the strength to hold yourself up, you tilt left or right and come out of it, or come back down the way you came.

Can you do a cartwheel? If you can and you have a lot of strength, you can try doing a cartwheel into it, just go slower. It will be hard this way, but it might help you get over the mental block of falling down.

Fields/backyards are nice places to practice. If you fall, it really doesn't hurt. I can do a handstand but I actually find handstands against a wall more difficult for me as i'm really bad at judging the distance.

Good luck!
posted by raccoon409 at 11:09 AM on January 12, 2011

Have you checked this out? He has some great tips.

You say it's probably not a strength issue, but, seriously, you don't know until you can hang out for about 30 seconds or so with your legs against the wall...can you do this? If you can't even kick up to rest your heels against the wall then you won't get past this. Maybe it is mental, but I don't have any tips other than the other suggestions folks have given you to work with someone else supporting you. However, you'll make more headway as soon as you can get up yourself and practice alone, even if it is against a wall.

And your instructor suggests to practice every day: have you been practicing every day? This is very solid advice.

I don't mean to be harsh but it sounds a bit like you want an easy solution to something that is, frankly, pretty tough to do. Keep working at it with consistency and you'll get there!
posted by dubitable at 11:14 AM on January 12, 2011

Practice in a field with soft grass and don't be afraid of falling. I learned to handstand in a capoeira context, so walking on hands to find your balance was encouraged. I found this helped a bit - it'll also help you from falling onto your back if your legs get too far over your head. Hopping up to handstand and remaining still is harder than walking on your hands.

Most importantly, tho - don't look at the ground! Keep your chin down as if you were in a standing posture.
posted by gnutron at 11:30 AM on January 12, 2011

One of the few things I learned in college was how to do a handstand. ;)

Make sure your hands are shoulder width apart. Try to keep your legs straight and your torso stiff. (If that makes any sense.)
posted by luckynerd at 11:33 AM on January 12, 2011

I can do a *head*stand, but I don't stay too long and it feels really weird.

You need to get your headstand down pat before moving onto the handstand. It should only take a few days to where you can hold it for about a minute.

The beastskills link from dubitable is great. That site has really good instruction. You just need to practice doing a handstand A LOT everyday if you want to be able to do it. There isn't a magic shortcut.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:34 AM on January 12, 2011

For me, the key to semi-succesful handstand, was the realazation that your legs will stay up only if you contract all of your posterior chain - glutes, hamstrings and calves. My handstand suck and I haven't practiced in a while, but this really improved it.
posted by ye#ara at 11:35 AM on January 12, 2011

Schedule a private lesson or two with your favorite teacher, and tell him/her that this is your goal.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:05 PM on January 12, 2011

For me, when I was trying to do a proper cartwheel way back when, the issue was not strength. I could do push-ups, pull-ups, etc. I just couldn't nail it until one day a "coach" held me by the hips as I turned upside-down. I accidentally discovered that once my hips were aligned with my shoulders, I could not only turn a proper cartwheel, I could also hold a handstand position. I'm approaching menopause now, and haven't done regular gymnastics in a looong time, but all these years later I can still do a handstand by placing my hands down and kicking up until the hips are over the shoulders. You may waver for a few seconds, feeling as though you're going to fall forward (into a slumpy, collapsed walkover) but you need to feel that temporary forward-falling sensation, with your legs arching over your back ever so slightly, for a moment or so in order to get your hips aligned with your shoulders. That's when your abdominals kick in and pull you into handstand position. Probably the best way to practice is not against a wall, but with a partner. Place your hands on the ground and then kick up as if you are going to do a front walkover. Have the partner catch your legs and then hold you in an upside-down position until you get your balance, so that you can feel when your hips are in proper alignment and the partner can let go. Trust me, you'll "feel" it the first time your hips get over your shoulders in the proper place, and once you get that feeling, every time you attempt a handstand you'll concentrate more on the hips-over-shoulder placement and less on the possibility of falling. Good luck!
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:41 PM on January 12, 2011

How about the crow stand (or frog stand)? You're supporting all of your weight on your hands, but the balance is easier. Depending on back strength, you can move directly from this pose into a handstand with legs tucked, then straighten out your legs for a full handstand.

You could do this starting off close to and facing a wall, so that if you overbalance, your feet will hit the wall instead of you completely falling over.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:42 PM on January 12, 2011

Unlike what other people have said, it totally IS possible to crash onto your head if your arms fail when you are up against a wall, even if you are trying to keep your arms locked. I know because it's happened to me.

But guess what? It's not really so bad. You don't TOTALLY fall, rather your arms give way gradually, so you fall onto your head relatively slowly. And the distance is not actually very high. It's no worse than when you are leaned over underneath a cupboard or table or something and stand up without realising it, bumping your head a bit. I went "ow", and rubbed my head, and forgot about it.

So don't let that fear stop you from practising.
posted by lollusc at 3:32 PM on January 12, 2011

Don't get too close to the wall. Just use it to help you find a balance point to keep yourself upright. Keep your legs straight as you kick up, squeeze your buttocks, and point your toes towards the ceiling. Think of keeping your body in a straight line, not in an arched shape.
posted by tamitang at 4:01 PM on January 12, 2011

If it's a mental thing that's keeping you from the handstand, then having a spotter or door frame or wall or some other handstand-y apparatus will not likely help solve your problem.

Try instead to start with an elbowstand. It's like a handstand, except you will be supporting your weight on your forearm and hand. Not only is it easier to master than a handstand, but you will not have to worry about collapsing on your head! I would recommend starting the handstand about a foot from a wall, so your feet have something to rest on as you get used to the feeling of being upside down. Once you start feeling comfortable with kicking your legs upward and holding yourself up there, then you should move on to handstands.

The key to a good handstand is to keep your butt tucked and your legs tight. When I teach people, I usually show them the half-stag position, which is easier to balance. Good luck!
posted by genekelly'srollerskates at 6:17 PM on January 12, 2011

I used to teach gymnastics. Keep practicing headstands. Practice forward rolls (somersaults)- this is how you save yourself when you fall over in a handstand. Do slow pushups so that your arms learn to slowly control your descent. Practice putting your feet up on things and supporting yourself on your hands. Start with the couch or an ottoman, and walk sideways on your hands with your feet elevated. When you feel confident, you can push your butt up in the air so that more weight is over your hands. Walk your hands forward and backward a little bit- from something like a pushup position with elevated feet on the couch, to a position with your hands close to the couch and your butt in the air. When you can do this, and at least a few slow pushups, try doing a forward roll out of it (leave room, use a spotter, pad the floor). Start doing all these exercises with your feet up on higher things. Eventually you want to be able to walk your feet up a wall while on your hands, and be able to roll out.

At the same time, you can practice kicking up into a handstand by doing a deep lunge, rotating your body like a teeter totter (arms straight by ears, arms, back and kicking leg aligned like the teeter-totter board). Just a little at first, then more. Don't point your whole face at your hands; you want to be able to duck and roll out if need be. Look up with your eyes (which will see the ground) but keep your neck aligned so your back isn't arched. Spotters are good once you start getting up there- they should stand to the side, catching you hips and supporting your back with their arm reaching across to your farthest hip.

Good luck! Stomach and back strength are probably most important for good handstands. You want your body to remain straight as you lunge and kick into it for efficient movement.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:24 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the great suggestions, both here and via memail. I think I needed a new way to approach it because the kick up, kick up some more business isn't doing it. I'll try it all and report back.
posted by *s at 7:27 AM on January 13, 2011

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