First and foremost it goes without saying that the most important thing when it comes to developing a perfect handstand is practicing the handstand itself along with appropriate regressions, progressions and drills. Even top level gymnasts and acrobats take years to develop this skill and spend countless hours a week maintaining it. In addition to this there are many strength and mobility markers that affect a person’s ability to create and hold the perfect handstand line that can be tackled.
For athletes that can achieve a good handstand line but are unable to hold it core control can be the issue. When the correct core and abdominal engagement cannot be achieved it can potentially lead to that poor control through the mid section that can create an arch in the back or tip the athlete off balance.
Areas to look at to address this issue are:
- Isometric Holds: for example plank variations with a focus on a slight posterior tuck of the pelvis (tucking hips under) whilst drawing the belly button into the spine (very important!!).
- Lower Abdominal and Transverse Abdominus: Often overlooked by gymnasts and cross fitters, these two muscle groups are often under developed in these populations due to over development of hip flexors and upper abs with all the explosive hip flexion required. These muscles are vital in maintaining a neutral hip position that will assist in achieving a correct handstand line so strengthening them will result in improved handstand control.
The athlete must be able to achieve an ‘open’ (180 deg) shoulder line both actively and passively. Deficits in this area can’t always be sorted out by stretching alone as the tightness can be caused by poor mechanics or muscle imbalances etc.
- Flexibility:Stretch Lats and Pecs in isolation in addition to the usual shoulder flexion stretches (performed in both internal and externally rotated positions).
- Other issues: Contrary to popular belief closed shoulder lines in handstands aren’t always to do with flexibility as such – often the flexibility issues are a byproduct of strength imbalances or poor Scapular positioning or issues with shoulder stability. Incorporating shoulder stability exercises as well as a lot of retraction based exercises can help correct this problem as well as including more exercises for posterior shoulder development (e.g. Posterior Delts, Triceps, Lats) in the strength program. All three of these things will help to ‘open’ the shoulder line
HIP MOBILITY & STRENGTH:
- Flexibility: Cross-fitters and gymnasts alike are all prone to anterior chain and hip flexor dominance and this must be heavily accounted for in the stretching and mobility program. Ensuring that there are isolated quad and hip flexor stretches in addition to deep lunge and split-based stretches will ensure that the athlete can achieve the open hip position more easily without having to muscle through tightness. Best results will be achieved by utilising static, dynamic and PNF stretching in addition to tools such as voodoo banding, trigger ball and power band assisted mobility work.
- Strength:As mentioned previously overdevelopment of anterior musculature (quads, hip flexors, pecs etc) can inhibit efforts to achieve a good body line. Ensuring that this is balanced out by glute and hamstring development along with the appropriate lower and intrinsic core work will not only improve the handstand line but will also help in developing optimum force production of the lower body in running and jumping.
In summary it’s vital to spend time both practicing the handstand hold itself whilst also incorporating some more targeted strengthening and flexibility exercises into your program to ensure you are developing a body that is more capable of achieving the correct body line.