The Elusive Freestanding Handstand

December 8, 2010 // Al Kavadlo

If you aim to master your bodyweight, the freestanding handstand is an essential skill. More than developing any one area, the freestanding handstand will help you learn to use your muscles together, allowing your entire body to function as a single unit. Developing this ability is important as you progress towards more difficult bodyweight exercises like levers and the human flag.

Before attempting a freestanding handstand, I recommend getting comfortable with simpler inversions like headstands and handstands against a wall. From there, move on to practicing basic hand balances like the crow pose.

Off The Wall
The freestanding handstand can be intimidating because there is nothing to catch you if you fall. You must take a leap of faith and go in with confidence that your body will know what to do if you tip over. If you’re having a hard time getting over your nerves, it can help to have a spotter. I also recommend practicing on a soft surface like grass or rubber.

While a freestanding handstand can be a challenging shoulder and arm workout when held for long enough, the balance is typically the most difficult part to learn. It takes a lot of time to find the “sweet spot” between over-balancing (tipping over) or under-balancing (falling back to your feet).

Unlike your foot, which was made for standing, your hand doesn’t have a true heel, so it’s best to put slightly more weight in your fingers than in your palms when balancing on them. If you are a tiny bit over-balanced, you can stay up by pressing your fingers into the ground. When you’re under-balanced, there is less you can do to keep from coming down.

A Tale of Two Handstands
In modern gymnastics, handstands are performed with a perfectly straight line from top to bottom. For this reason, a lot of people will tell you that arching your back during a handstand is bad form. In my experience, however, it is helpful to allow your back to arch while you are learning to find the balance. In time, you can work on reaching your legs upward, pressing into the floor and tightening your abs, lower back and glutes to achieve an aesthetically pleasing straight line from head to toe (or hands to toe as the case may be).

Practice, Practice, Practice
Transitioning from a handstand against a wall to a freestanding handstand is a challenging and potentially discouraging process. I was terrible at hand balancing when I started out, but I’ve been practicing for a while now. For me, the key has been consistency; I rarely miss a day of practice, even if it’s just a couple of minutes at the end of a workout. Some days it comes harder than others, but when I fall, I just get up and try again.