In these trying times it can help to have a target to work towards, and lots of people have embraced home workouts during the COVID-19 lockdown, with the aim of getting fitter or losing weight.
However, we reckon a more precise target is better than those general goals, and here’s a doozy – learn how to do a handstand.
The School of Calisthenics (opens in new tab) has launched the #handstanduptocorona challenge to encourage people to do just that and, to help, is offering 50% off a virtual membership, which includes a comprehensive handstand training programme (opens in new tab). The challenge is free to enter, and you’re encouraged to use the challenge of achieving it to raise money for the NHS. The School of Calisthenics is doing its bit as well, donating 10% of its proceeds from virtual classroom sales throughout April to the Nottingham Hospitals Charity Help Our Hospital Heroes emergency appeal and the Robin Hood Fund.
To give you a flavour of what’s involved we asked Tim Stevenson, co-founder and director of School of Calisthenics, for a workout that will help build the strength required for handstands.
Where there are different sets and time values to choose from, start with the smallest and gradually increase the volume over time.
1 Wrist mobility drill
Sets 1 Time 1-2min each hand Rest As required
“If you’re new to handstand training then it is important to ensure your wrists are prepared and conditioned,” says Stevenson. “This begins with mobilising the joint, which also helps to improve your ability to balance by helping to create alignment throughout the rest of your body when you’re upside down.
“Kneel and place one hand on the floor with your fingers facing forwards. Gently lean forwards, keeping the heel of your hand on the floor, and feel the stretch down your forearms. Start to move around in this position by rocking forwards and backwards, side to side and rotating the elbow. You will feel the wrist being mobilised and this will improve your range of motion. You can repeat this by spinning your hand around so your fingers face towards you to get a slightly different angle and mobilisation position.”
Sets 2-3 Time 10-20sec Rest 60sec
“Lie on your back with your hands behind your head,” says Stevenson. “Lift your feet, hands and shoulders off the floor and make yourself into a shallow dish shape. Imagine you’re locking your ribs down on top of your hips like you’re ready to take a punch in the stomach. Hold this dish shape without allowing your lower back to arch off the ground. If this is difficult you can bring your arms and legs higher so you make a deeper dish shape.
3 Frog stand
Sets 2-3 Reps 3-4 Time 10-20sec Rest 1-2min
“Our handstand training process is split into three chunks, meaning we break the movement down and learn it from the bottom up, then the top down, and then connect in the middle,” says Stevenson. “The first bottom-up progression is the frog stand, which helps you to build confidence balancing on your hands for the first time and teaches you some of the basics of grip and balance.
“Start by placing your hands on the floor, around shoulder-distance apart. Grip the floor with your fingertips so there is a little space between the floor and your fingers. Imagine you’re screwing your hands outwards even though your fingers stay facing forwards. This helps to create stability around the shoulder.
“Sit into a deep squat position, then rise onto your tiptoes and rest your knees on your slightly bent elbows. Push the ground down hard and rock forwards so that you can take one foot off the floor. As you feel more confident, try to take the other one off too. Practise this position until you can find the balance point. You can make this easier by trying to stack your hips above your shoulders and hands.”
Sets 2-3 Reps 3-4 each side (more if you’re having fun) Rest 1-2min
“It might have been many years since you did a cartwheel but we’re going to bring it back because it’s an important part of building confidence for the handstand,” says Stevenson. “Cartwheels are a fun way to get upside down and they offer some conditioning for the wrist and shoulders, but most importantly they teach you how to bail out of a handstand. If you lose your balance against the wall or in free space it’s useful to know how to get your feet back on the floor safely.
“Stand side on with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your hands in the air and keep your arms straight throughout the movement. Initiate the cartwheel by simultaneously moving your hand down towards the floor and pushing off from your feet, letting your legs swing over your head. As you move over the centre point put your other hand on the floor as well and let your momentum take your feet all the way over to the other side."
5 Wall kick-up
Sets 2-3 Reps 3-4 Time 5-10sec Rest 1-2min
“To learn to do a handstand your brain needs time to practise the fine motor control required to help you balance,” says Stevenson. “The wall kick-up allows you to do this in a way that progresses the difficulty until you can handstand next to the wall without touching it.
“Place your hands on the floor about 20-30cm from a sturdy wall. In a split stance position like you’re in the blocks at the start of a sprint, push upwards with the front leg and flick the back leg over your head. Progressively push and flick harder, allowing your head and shoulders to rotate between your biceps. The objective is to get your back leg to hit the wall and then bring your front leg to meet it so you’re in a handstand position using the wall for support.
“It’s important to practise your alignment once in the handstand position. Keep your feet together and push your feet towards the ceiling to make yourself as straight, strong and long as possible. As you get confident you can try to take one foot off the wall, and then both feet and hold a handstand.”
6 Wall walk
Sets 2-3 Reps 1-2 Rest 1-2min
“The wall walk is a great handstand strength and stability builder,” says Stevenson. “It conditions your shoulders and wrists and improves the stability of your movement chain, all of which are important attributes for the handstand.
“Start in a press-up position with your feet next to a wall. Lift your feet and place them on the wall and start walking your hands backwards and your feet up so you progressively start moving into a handstand. You can walk as far as you feel confident going, before walking your hands forwards again and back into the press-up position.”
7 Freestanding kick-up
Sets 2-3 Time 5-10 minutes of practice Rest As required
“This is the final piece of the puzzle and is a progression to try once you can kick up to a wall handstand without your feet touching the wall,” says Stevenson.
“Place your hands on the floor in front of you and assume the same split stance position you did with the wall kick-up. Push with your front leg and flick your back leg up over your head. Use the back leg like a pendulum so you’re trying to position it above your head while the front leg stays at around 90°. This helps to limit the amount of momentum going overhead which often causes people to topple over. Kick up and work on trying to find the balance position.”
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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