MY HANDSTAND JOURNEY AND WHAT IT'S TAUGHT ME
The beginning of my journey
When I first started practicing handstands 5 years ago I had no clue what was in store for me. I knew nothing about the technique of getting into a handstand or holding a handstand. I didn’t know there were countless variations of the skill and never would have guessed that a few years later I’d be teaching it to students all over the country and even doing handstands on other people’s hands. All I knew was that it looked awesome and I wanted to be able to do it. Everyone has their own reason for wanting to be able to do a handstand, whether it’s for sport or even to conquer a fear. Mine at the time was to prove to myself that I could stay disciplined enough to teach myself something I have never done before. So for the better part of a year I found open rooms in local gyms and tried kicking up in to a handstand for hours and hours. For the record, that happens to be the exact opposite of how I would train a student now. Eventually I started to find some success, and by success I mean very short stints of balance with absolutely no core engagement or proper muscle activation. In January of 2014 I went to the LA Fit Expo and ended up surrounded by a whole bunch of talented people with a ton of experience. That’s when it really hit me and I was inspired to dive in to a never ending journey of evolving my handstand. I saw that there were countless variations of the skill that were somewhat in my reach but some serious work was going to be needed to be done.
Taking my training seriously
I was already working out for about a year before I started doing handstands so I had relatively decent upper body strength which is why I was able to balance on my hands with a disengaged core, or what is also known as a banana back handstand. I was a few months into working with my mentor Kenneth Gallarzo aka @progressive_calisthenics and I was getting noticeably stronger. My attention was drawn to core engagement and proprioception which are two big components of a handstand so I was certainly making progress. This helped tremendously but I felt I was lacking some key factors in regards to this particular skill. I was hungry for knowledge and I was going to have to search to find it if I really wanted to excel. I found out about an inversion workshop in New Jersey being taught by Irene Pappas aka @fitqueenirene. She was a huge inspiration for me to start doing yoga so I thought this would be the perfect start to building my toolbox of knowledge for my handstand journey. This was June of 2014 and it was my first yoga workshop but definitely not my last. I learned even more important tips on how to keep my wrists healthy and I have never forgotten them. This was also the first time I went to a workshop that was focused on one particular skill or move and it was exactly what I needed. I didn’t only get what I needed for myself to progress in a handstand but I also learned what other people may need to progress in their handstand. This started a small desire to start teaching handstands to others so I could help them learn from my experiences but after Irene’s workshop my plan was to go home and take everything that I learned and apply it to my training from Ken. This allowed me to get over some plateaus and start to make some serious gains on my hands. A couple of months later I was blessed with the opportunity to shadow Ken while he taught various calisthenics workouts in different cities. I was a certified personal trainer at the time but I didn’t own my business yet so this was my first real opportunity to take what I’ve learned and apply it to someone else to hopefully make their journey a little easier than mine was. It was a great experience and little did I know it was the beginning of another huge part of my fitness journey. A few months later I opened MIM Athletics which became my main focus so I wasn’t able to travel for continued education as much. I practiced with a lot of online videos and distance tips from Ken and others so I was able to continue building my skill in an educated and efficient manner. But it was only a matter of time before I hit another one of those dreadful plateaus and was sent on a search for someone to breakdown my handstand and take me to the next level. Within a year I ended up traveling to learn from instructors like Dylan Werner and Virgil Peyramaure which ended up being a game changer for how I practiced and taught handstands. Since then I have read handstand books and interacted with other practitioners ending up with an overflowing tool box of handstand tools for myself and my students. All of these tools have a purpose for me and some get used more than others. Some of them require getting on your hands in a handstand and some of them don’t. I often say that you don’t have to be doing a handstand to be working on your handstand and I truly believe that. You can train the mobility in your wrists and shoulders, or focus on core strength and stability to help with handstand form.
Keys to handstand
In my opinion an educated training program and discipline are the main things that will determine how far you make it in this journey. You can have all of the best drills in the world but no one can teach you balance. You have to take the time to build your handstand from the ground up to ensure you have a strong foundation. You have to be ready to do things that might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable. You have to be willing to fail more than you succeed. A handstand is an obtainable goal but it isn’t an easy one. You may feel like you practiced for hundreds of hours but only gained seconds of balance, and that may very well be the case. The real victories come from the process not the actual outcome, so do your best to enjoy every one of those seconds and hours.
Next I want to talk about a couple of specific tips that I consider to be game changers for everyone training handstands, whether you are someone who can already hold a handstand or someone looking to start a handstand practice.
I talk a lot about building a strong foundation for your handstand, this starts with your connection to the ground. Your hands should be shoulder width apart and your fingers facing forward. From here one of the most important things to focus on is externally rotating your arms to make sure that they do not bend. One way to enforce this even more is by making sure that your index finger is facing forward when you plant your hands. Typically we tend to start with our middle finger facing forward, some people a little more than others which makes it nearly impossible to keep the arms straight. See the example below and try to make this adjustment in your handstand practice. It may feel a little weird at first if you aren’t used to it but stick with it because this is going to level up your handstand practice in no time.
Chest to wall handstand
Using a confident and experienced spotter is the best way to make the most progress in your handstand. If you don’t have a spotter or a coach then the next best thing would be a wall. If you are looking to build strength and endurance in your handstand then there is no better way to do it than a stomach to wall handstand hold. If you can already hold a handstand this is going to help build the strength and endurance while allowing you to maintain proper core engagement. When we kick up with our back to the wall it promotes an arch in the back that I described earlier as the banana back handstand. Holding a handstand in stomach to wall fashion is much harder than back to wall but the benefits are invaluable. Below there are 3 variations to the stomach to wall handstand going from easiest to hardest. You should aim to hold the first variation for 30-60 seconds before you move on to the second variation and the same goes for the third variation. Notice in the third variation that the only body parts touching the wall are my toes and nose.
Beginner/Intermediate handstand drills
If you are a beginner looking for ways to build strength and confidence I have put together a great workout that will get you headed in the right direction. Below is a video with a few of my favorite drills to help with straight arm strength, core strength, and handstand form. Focus on these important concepts individually and they will be sure to make your handstand practice stronger when you start to get upside down.
Teaching handstands is by far the most satisfying thing in the world to me. I’ve been so lucky throughout the years to learn from some of the best trainers in the world and all I want to do is return the favor to those students who are just as eager to learn as I was and still am. A long time ago I was taught the motto of “each one teach one” so it was my goal with this blog to make your handstand journey a little bit easier whether it be getting over a mental block or a physical plateau. As I continue to learn new things I find myself saying that if I knew then what I know now and it’s my number one goal to make sure you know all of the things I wish I did when I was in your position. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and trust the path I am taking you on. If you have any questions on any of the drills I mentioned please don’t hesitate to ask.