About a year ago, I decided to make a handstand a serious goal of mine.
So I decided to practice balancing on my hands at least five days per week. After about five months, I was still doing the classic "banana" handstand. I couldn't get my body into a straight line. When you do something every day, you feel as though you are certainly improving, but I wasn't. If I was, it was at a very slow pace, because the way I was training—back-against-the-wall handstand and practicing kicking up from the open floor—was not effective.
During the fifth month of my journey to a straight line, I moved to Boulder, Colorado. I made the move to train with Matthew Bernstein, a movement and gymnastics coach at CrossFit Sanitas. As a student of Ido Portal, I knew exactly what Matt was about. I knew if I came here and trained with him as much as I could, I would get massive improvement in a shorter amount of time.
I was right. From months five to six, I went from looking like a banana and not being able to hold a handstand to a 60-second freestanding straight line.
Here are the three exercises that I learned that dramatically transformed my handstands:
1. Knuckle raises
Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the ground. Next, spread your fingers apart with your index fingers pointed straight. With straight arms, shoulders over your hands, and the weight poured in between the index and middle finger knuckles, slowly raise your palms off the ground and lower down for three sets of 20 reps.
This exercise builds wrist and forearm strength that gives you more control and the ability to prevent yourself from toppling over when you are losing balance.
2. PVC floor drill
This exercise builds lower-trap strength and teaches your body and brain how to hold a proper handstand position. Start by lying facedown on the ground with your feet together and arms above your head, holding a PVC pipe in your hands.
While keeping your thighs, face, and chest on the ground, squeeze your butt and tilt the pelvis so that only your abs are off the ground. Next, lift the PVC pipe about 2 inches off the ground and hold this position for three sets of 60 seconds each. The wider you grip the PVC pipe, the easier it will be to hold.
3. Wall-facing handstand
Get into a handstand facing the wall with your hands about one foot from the wall. Make sure your fingers are spread and index fingers are pointed forward. Keeping your toes pointed and against the wall, squeeze your butt, push through the shoulders into the ground, and tilt your pelvis to engage your abs (the same position as the PVC floor drill).
Always make sure to externally rotate your arms to create torsion for a more stable position. You will be holding the same position during the PVC floorwork exercise as you will against the wall. Hold this position for three sets of 60 seconds each.
These exercises build strength and teach your body how to hold the correct position for a handstand. After practicing on the floor and against the wall, this position will later translate into your freestanding handstand, giving you a straight line.
I find it common that people (including me) want to get ahead of the game and start practicing things they are not ready for. Oftentimes, we need to be focusing on just practicing the basics.
The lesson here is to not get ahead of yourself with this type of thing. Everyone wants to do freestanding handstands on the open floor, but many of us haven't spent enough time practicing the basics that allow us to hold a good position.