Handstand instruction – Sun 5.28.17

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Reminder, Monday is Memorial Day.  We will have our holiday schedule as the following:
0800 AM and 0900 AM classes only

A handstand instruction article from the folks at CrossFit Gymnastics:

How Long Can You Handstand It?

The handstand is an increasingly important skill to master for athletes who want to advance in CrossFit. Balances, handstand push-ups, walking—they all start with proper positioning and stacking of the body when inverted.

To walk for any significant distance, it’s important for athletes to first develop the skill of holding a free handstand—stand before you walk. Similarly, learning the positioning necessary for a handstand hold can eventually lead to learning such skills as free-standing handstand push-ups.

Handstand Flexibility Requirements

Optimal handstand positioning requires a certain level of flexibility, particularly in the thoracic spine and shoulders.

To test thoracic-spine mobility, the athlete begins on the hands and knees, then sits the buttocks onto the feet and places the forearms together on the floor in front of the knees.

The athlete then places one hand on the lower back and rotates that shoulder toward the ceiling, opening the chest as much as possible without allowing the spine to bend to the side.  Side bends can often be prevented by asking the athlete to imagine he or she is inside a barrel.

The athlete should be able to rotate so the collarbones are at a 45-degree angle relative to the ground. If this rotation cannot be achieved, thoracic mobility needs to be improved.

Test shoulder mobility when the athlete is supine on the ground with the hands overhead. For comparison, evaluate the athlete at two positions: with the legs flat on the ground and the hip extended, then with the feet off the floor and the hips flexed to 90 degrees (see below). In both positions, the athlete should be able to hold the upper arm in line with the ears. If the hips-flexed version shows less range of motion, focus on flexibility of the lats. If range of motion is limited in both positions, a variety of structures are responsible. For more in-depth testing, read the CrossFit Journal article “Analyzing The Handstand Position.”

Body Position

When all flexibility requirements are met, the body must be placed in the optimal position for a handstand.

In the game of “Jenga,” the structure is strongest when its pieces are stacked vertically over a solid base. For the athlete, the goal is similar: Stack the body to create the strongest, most efficient position. To practice this position, the athlete can lie prone on the floor with the arms stretched overhead at shoulder width and the hands pressed against a wall (see below). He or she should pull the heels together, then point the toes to activate the quads. The glutes should be squeezed and the hips rolled slightly under while the athlete pushes the armpits away from floor. This drill will help athletes learn the ideal handstand position without having to deal with gravity.

The Kick-Up

Slow and steady is the key to the kick-up.

The athlete should set up in front of a wall in the prone position described above. On the floor, make marks next to the athlete’s hips and ankles. He or she then stands and places the balls of the feet on the back line, then lunges the selected lead foot forward to place the ball of the foot on the second line.

The lead leg will be in a lunge position with the knee at approximately 90 degrees and the majority of the load shifted toward this lead leg. The back leg is straight and does not bear much weight. With the arms overhead at shoulder width and the shoulder angle open, the athlete reaches toward the ground by hinging at the hips. You should be able to draw a straight line from the athlete’s back foot all the way to the hands as this happens.

(Beginners should start with a “compromised” lunge position—the hands and lead leg are on the ground together. Being close to the ground might make the athlete feel more comfortable before the kick-up.)

As the hands touch the ground with fingers spread, the athlete will bring the straight back leg up toward the wall while shifting all the weight to the lunge leg before transferring it completely to the hands and fingers. This movement is controlled, and the lunging leg provides the force, not the trailing leg.

As the load shifts onto the hands, the shoulders actively push toward the floor as the athlete finds balance. He or she should “grow tall” and keep tension throughout the body by pointing the toes, keeping the back knee straight, and tucking the pelvis under to create a stacked position as the kick-up is performed. The lead leg will follow once the back leg has reached a vertical position.

The Hold

The athlete should try to create as large a foundation as possible, so the fingers must be spread and slightly turned out. Initially, the eyes will be on the hands, so the chin might be held at a 45-degree angle relative to a neutral head position. Many athletes will increase this angle so they can look at their hands, but this thoracic extension often causes the athlete to lose tension in the core and extend the spine, creating a bowed shape. The athlete should continue to reach the toes toward the ceiling (cue: “grow tall”) to eliminate this C shape or any sagging in the spine. The pelvis should be tucked under slightly to stack the spine in a neutral position.

The athlete should practice holding this position with the legs together, toes pointed and glutes squeezed. As the athlete improves and can achieve a long free-standing handstand, he or she will hold the head in a more neutral position.

Balancing Act

Practice makes perfect, as they say. Practice handstands often to improve quickly.

Athletes can practice with the belly to wall, as this orientation creates a more stacked position, but for safety beginners can work with the back to the wall. If an athlete is using the belly-to-wall method, the position can be entered via a wall walk, and we recommend having a knowledgeable spotter place his or her hands by the calves in case the athlete starts to fall away from the wall.

Facing away from the wall, athletes can safely practice a free-standing handstand by pulling the heels off the wall and finding balance. We call this a scissor balance. The athlete should kick up so the middle of the palm is about 12 inches from the wall. Once inverted, he or she pulls one heel off the wall and brings the leg to a “stacked” handstand position in line with the hands, shoulders and core. Balance is found as the athlete “grips” the floor with fingers spread. He or she will slowly pull the other heel off the wall to hit a balanced handstand. This is a great drill because the wall will “catch” the athlete if balance is lost.

Athletes should continue to work on mastering balance in a safe learning zone—either against the wall or with a trained spotter.

Here are a few general guidelines that indicate an athlete is ready to try a handstand away from the wall:

  • First, the athlete can kick up to a wall slowly with full control (i.e., soft heels that land on the wall).
  • Second, he or she is able to balance for at least five to 10 seconds when pulling the heels off the wall in the scissor balance described above.
  • Third, the athlete has developed a great sense of spatial and body awareness when inverted and can achieve a body position that is stacked and tight.
  • Fourth, the environment is safe. We recommend using a knowledgeable spotter and mats. At the CrossFit Gymnastics course, spotting tehniques are taught throughout the weekend.
  • Fifth, the athlete must know how to safely “fall” out of a free-standing handstand. The safest exit is a half cartwheel. Unless you can gently lower and control a roll, we do not recommend rolling out of a handstand. You never want to lose control and slam to your back.

For safety, we recommend athletes go through the steps outlined above to master holds near a wall before they attempt free-standing holds.

Athletes should also be aware that handstand work can place a lot of pressure on the wrists. If the wrists start to ache, it’s time to take a break and revisit the skill another day.

Start with a few sets of maximum holds. Rest as needed between sets so you can be successful during the next hold. As you advance, you might do only two or three sets, holding each for 30-60 seconds.

Ideally, the longer you hold, the more success you will have with inverted skills such as walking, pirouetting, pressing and handstand push-ups.

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