Gymnastics: Tips for Practicing the Handstand

The handstand is one of the most fundamental positions in gymnastics and learning how to perform the perfect handstand is a vital skill required by all gymnasts.  There are essentially two common types of handstands – one with a natural arch in the back and the other which is straight-bodied. 

Back in the early years of the 20th century, it was common to perform handstands with a curve in the back and the head facing toward the ground.  This style of handstand was also the accepted form in gymnastics until the straight-bodied handstand became favoured.  It was only in the 70s that the straight-bodied handstand became the preferred handstand style for gymnastics because it was more pleasing to the eye.  Though more difficult to learn, the straight-bodied handstand required more rigidity which made it more appropriate to perform with various apparatus and for tumbling onto the floor.  In modern day gymnastics, it is a perfectly executed straight handstand that is the gold standard for handstands.

How Do You Perform the Perfect Handstand?

It is easiest to begin with a wall and a padded surface beneath you.  Make sure there are no obstacles around you that you can accidentally knock into if you lose your balance.  When attempting to perform a handstand it is important to remember to keep your elbows locked at all times or you will collapse to the floor.

Before attempting a handstand, there are a couple of things to be aware of. Firstly, you will need to determine your dominant leg because that is the leg you will push yourself up with.  You will also need to practice kicking your legs up into the air.  Place your hands onto the floor at shoulder width apart and practice kicking your legs up into the air.  This gives you and idea of how much force you will need to kick with to get vertical.

When you are ready:

1. Face the wall and stand about 1.2 – 1.5 meters away from it.

2. Lift your arms straight up over your head so they cover your ears.

3. Bend forwards and lift your non-dominant leg at the same time.

4. You should aim to place your hands about 30 centimeters away from the wall with your fingertips spread out and your hands shoulder-width apart. 

5. When your hands reach the floor, kick up with your dominant leg and let your dominant leg move into position next to your straight, non-dominant leg.

Once you are in the handstand position, you need to check your form and positioning:

1. Keep your arms straight and close to your head.  Always make sure your shoulders and arms are fully extended and elbows are locked out.

2. Point your toes towards the ceiling and keep your legs straight and together.

3. Keep your body tight – abdominals tucked in, back straight and bottom tense.  This helps you to keep your form and also makes your handstand looks presentable.

4. Keep the pressure on your fingertips rather than your palms or you will have a tendency to fall back.

You can also improve your form by practicing the two positions described below:

1. Stand with your feet together and lift up onto your toes.  Reach your arms straight up over your head and stretch your whole body upwards.  Turn your hands so that your palms face the ceiling - it should be as if you are performing a handstand.  This is the position you need to be familiar with as it is exactly what you want to achieve when you perform a handstand.

2. Lie on the floor, face down.  Place your hands against the wall so your palms are pressed against the wall.  Stretch your whole body to create a tight, stretched out feeling. 

Practicing these two positions helps to create the memory in your mind about the position you want to achieve when you are practicing the actual handstand.

Once you can perform the handstand, practice standing on your hands for longer and longer periods.  This will help you strengthen the muscles that are required to hold the position and to improve your balance. 

When you can hold the position well, it is time to move away from the wall.  Practice with a spotter if you don’t feel confident, or make sure you are in a padded area so you don’t hurt yourself if you fall over backwards.  You should also practice rolling out of the handstand – that is, bend your arms and tuck your chin to your chest and forward roll out of your handstand.  Alternatively, you can twist your shoulders and walk one hand around making a quarter turn before lowering your legs to the floor.  Any of these will protect you from injuring yourself while you practice performing a free-standing handstand.

Once you are able to perform a handstand without any assistance, get someone to take a look at your body position to check your form.  You should also have some pictures taken so you can see what you look like and make necessary corrections to improve your form.

The perfect handstand in gymnastics is currently one that is as straight as possible.  To maintain your form and keep your appearance sharp, it is important to hold your entire body together as tightly as possible.  Keep everything as straight as possible and remember to point your toes towards the ceiling.

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kburns421 profile image

kburns421 4 years ago

Very good tips!

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