When it comes to frustrating skills and complex exercises, it’s a no-brainer to turn to a longstanding expert for help — asking a USA Weightlifting-certified National Coach and Referee for advice on split jerks, for instance.
But sometimes, the most helpful cues and suggestions can come from someone who has had to work especially hard to master a movement. Think about that old sports adage: the best coaches are the athletes who had to struggle the most to stay in the game.
In this edition of “Ask the Coach,” we’re turning to Coach Steph for some help with a movement that was, at one point, a personal Achilles heel: the handstand.
Q: How do I get comfortable getting upside down?
A: While there are some basic cues that everyone should focus on when getting inverted (tight core, active shoulders, neutral spine), there are many different ways to approach and practice the handstand. Here are a few suggestions based on my experience!
Having had no experience with any gymnastics movements growing up, not even cartwheels (apparently not a thing we do in China!), made me terrified of being upside down.
When I started CrossFit, every time handstand work came up in class, I would try to kick up and end up in tears by the end. This lasted weeks, maybe even months.
I think the biggest difference for me was asking Tom to help me get into the handstand position against the wall by holding my legs, so I could focus on all the cues you’re supposed to keep in mind in that position, without having to worry about falling on my head:
– neutral spine (look across the room and not at the floor)
– press the hands into the floor,
– shrug the shoulders into the ears,
– squeeze the abs and butt,
– tuck the pelvis forward/hip under, and
– tighten the quads.
I’d recommend giving this a try with a friend or coach who’s about your size, so that they can support your weight without either of you crumbling!
If you’re unable to hold yourself up without the help of someone else, assess what the culprits might be — a loose core, broken head/spine alignment, soft shoulders, all of the above? Or do you simply need some more time to develop a little more strength?
If the former, running through the checklist above might be a helpful way to do some self-assessment. Then, start by picking just one or two of the cues to focus on when you kick up again.
If strength is the primary limiting factor, you’re in luck — as you might recall, handstands are one of the focal points in this current training cycle, and much of our gymnastics programming will continue to focus on developing the upper-body and core strength that you need for strong handstands.
Once I was more comfortable with getting into the handstand with the help of someone supporting me, the next step was to ask them to just take their hands off for a few seconds to see if I could still hold myself up. This gave me a lot more confidence to try kicking up myself again.
From there on, I started figuring out what worked best for me, starting from the setup. For example, in terms of kicking up into the handstand position, at least against the wall, I prefer the method of having your hands set and then swinging the legs into position, rather than the method of starting from standing and stepping into a handstand.
Since then, I’ve continued to work on strength and form. There’s always room for improvement!
Hope you learn as much as we did from Coach Steph’s example — about not only mastering handstands in particular, but also persistence and smart practice when tackling tricky movements in general. Got any follow-up questions? Ask away right here in the comments section!