Handstand myths raise because of how elusively simple the practice is: hands down, legs up, and how complex it can become, with every muscle having to perform a “special” task. In the effort to achieve a handstand a lot of theories have surfaced and circulated in the training rooms.
The different theories may raise either due to a different background (ie. Gymnastics, Capoeira) or due to insufficient understanding of the subject.
It is safe to say that: the more absolute the claim the more likely it is to be invalid. The flip side of that coin is that: all handstand myths have some validity under certain circumstances. In this article, I am listing 25 claims I have heard either from past teachers or from students of mine. I will group them into 3 categories. Those that:
🔴 will slow you down if you follow*
🟠 make an important point but have to be put into context
🟢 are true but a bit exaggerated
*Whoever came up with these sees the world (of handstands) completely different from me.
🔴 Handstand Science Fiction
1 Your body’s intuition is your best guide
A handstand is an unnatural thing to do. Our hands are not developed to stand on them. Intuition can be a bad advisor even on things we are meant to do, such as running correctly. I have met some people genetically gifted with better intuition for hardstanding than others, but even in these cases, proprioception needed work.
Should you not listen to your body when hardstanding then?
In handstands, you have to control your body in an unnatural position. Listen to what your body asks you to do but you will find that often you will have to do the exact opposite if you want to stay upside down.
2 You should breathe regularly in a handstand
You will breathe “semi-regularly” in a handstand when you are experienced enough to hold it “effortlessly”. When you are learning how to handstand you should expect your breath to be challenged, similar to most inversions.
Would you expect to breathe regularly if you were to hold your bodyweight overhead on your hands? No. Why you should breathe regularly when you have to do that + balance on your hands (which are smaller than your feet)?
3 It’s best to not overthink it & just do it
This idea usually comes up when practitioners get disheartened or teachers are not able to identify what the fault is. When performing a handstand (especially in the learning phase) one needs to be fully present mentally. Throwing themselves in the air is unlikely to have any benefits because even if they have a successful attempt the lack of awareness will make it hard for it to be replicated.
On the other hand, there comes a time that one needs to commit to an attempt. Staying calm and centered (with the breath being your best friend) will allow you to think of what you need to do while executing it.
4 The entire palm should press on the floor
In a handstand you want to:
a. Balance on a surface as big as possible (which is why spreading your fingers a bit is a good idea)
b. Make this surface as responsive as possible (so you can make the necessary adjustments).
If you press your entire palm on the floor, your fingertips will have very little contact with the floor. The fingertips are:
a. More responsive towards adjusting your balance than the middle of the palm
b. Provide more leverage than the knuckles as they are on the edge of your hand.
By pressing the entire palm on the floor your ability to adjust your balance is reduced significantly. Do you think this is a good idea?
5 Handstanding against the wall & the middle of the room are one & the same
While I doubt anyone ever made such a claim, a few people “buy” into that idea, avoiding training in the middle of the room. Even if you don’t touch the wall, if you handstand near the wall, treating it as a safety net, you have potentially some work to do prior to moving to the middle of the room.
Where you handstand matters… If you don’t believe me try handstanding at the top of the stairs.
6 Try different approaches until you find what works
Each handstand line and each entrance to the handstand require different skills. Trying every time a different approach is equivalent to trying to communicate in a different new foreign language every time you meet a stranger. Even if the languages you attempt to speak are related it will slow the learning process a lot.
In the mind of a beginner: kicking into, cartwheeling into, or jumping into a handstand may look similar. The reality is that each is very different from the other. The proof is that there are individuals that can achieve one but not the rest. I suggest you stick to one approach at a time.
7 It takes years to learn
How fast you will learn depends on many parameters, including how good the instructions you will receive are but also your genetics, background, and commitment,… There are individuals that went from no handstand to one arm in a year. While that is not the average expected time if you limit your expectations chances are you will slow the process.
8 You should not handstand during menstruation
Some women feel weak during these days and are probably better off taking some time off training. At the same time, there are others that may only have to modify their training slightly for a day or two. If you feel well, train, there is no need to take time off.
9 You need to start young
Starting young helps for sure. Is that a requirement though? I start learning at the age of 31. I have students that started much older. After all, we cannot turn back time ⏱.
🟠 Handstand Fairy Tales
10 An alignment-based approach to handstands is the best
The word alignment is thrown around a lot and means different things to different people. Is correct alignment important? Of course. Does it help though, to know the names of the 4 rotator cuff muscles when hardstanding? No. Does it help to have strong rotator cuff muscles? Yes.
It’s of little use knowing what makes up good alignment if you cannot do it. At the same time, too much emphasis on alignment may distract you from balancing, which I think was your goal…
11 It’s not a handstand unless there is perfect stillness
Balance is achieved as a result of many micro corrections. When you first stood upright as a toddler were you perfectly still? Clearly, you didn’t have enough muscle tissue at the time to support your frame but nonetheless, I hope you get my point.
How you want to define a successful handstand is up to you, but to expect your 1st, 30th or 100th 10sec handstand to be in stillness is delusional.
So, stillness doesn’t matter in handstands?
It does. The more still you are the more energy efficient your hold will be. Adjustments cost a lot of energy. Stillness in a handstand comes naturally over time though, as the balancing adjustments become smaller and smaller. When you can hold a 1-minute handstand, chances are your first 15 seconds to be still. If you can hold a sub 20 seconds handstand, … you do the math❗️
12 It’s all in the core
This idea is very popular among those with a gymnastics background and it holds some merit if your goal is to handstand on a trampoline, rings, parallettes 2 meters above the ground, or to use a handstand as a transition to tumble or summersault.
A regular handstand however on the floor will demand a bit more core strength than a headstand (which requires very little core strength). Instead of core strength, what handstands really demand are proprioception and the ability to control one’s midsection and lower extremities.
Is core strength bad for handstands then?
Of course not. Midsection strength is an asset useful in most physical skills. If however, you put all your energy into strengthening your core, you are unlikely to achieve balance in your hands faster.
13 Practice will make perfect
There are practitioners that have been trying to learn how to handstand for 2, 5, and 10 years and they haven’t managed.
Practice makes permanent, not perfect, and bad habits take time to unlearn.
There is no doubt that one needs to put in the hours but it’s equally important:
- The drills are appropriate to the practitioner’s level
- The intensity and frequency of training are adequate
- There is a feedback mechanism for corrections
14 Handstand walks is an advanced skill
Handstand walking requires temporary balance. If you cannot hold your balance for 3 seconds then walking is advanced. If you can hold the balance for a few seconds then you can either work on holding the balance for longer or walk. Each has each own challenges.
15 You need to point your toes
Having active legs will help the body behave as one piece. Pointing the toes will help keep the legs active. While most of the work takes place in the upper body, the observer’s attention mostly focuses on the legs, which is why the feet have a big impact on the aesthetics.
The above are arguments in favor of pointing your toes. It doesn’t mean though that pointed toes is an integral element of handstands.
16 You need to headstand prior to handstanding
Headstand is many times easier than handstand and there is some carryover in terms of proprioception. For that reason, it is not a bad idea to learn how to headstand first. But it’s not a pre-requisite.
You will learn what you are inspired to practice the most. If that’s handstands, practice handstands.
17 You need to forearmstand prior to handstanding
Forearmstand is a different animal than handstand due to the elbows been bent. The flexibility demands in the shoulders are higher in forearm stands as the triceps are more stretched (triceps attach to the elbow and the shoulder joint).
It will not hurt if you know how to forearm stand but it is not a pre-requisite for hardstanding.
18 Handstands are all about strength
Handstands are a skill that demands some strength, a fair amount of flexibility (in the wrists, shoulders, even the hips, and hamstrings), and lots of coordination.
Many subjectively strong people cannot handstand and many subjective weak people can.
19 Everyone can achieve a perfectly straight line
Everyone can practice the principles of a straight line handstand but this doesn’t mean that the line will be necessarily perfectly straight or that he will have an advantage compared to holding a non-straight line.
A strict straight handstand line is:
a. A great learning process,
b. A useful reference point, worth having,
c. Something that once achieved will result in a “tighter” body throughout all handstanding efforts.
a. For anatomical reasons not everyone will be perfectly straight. Think of an African woman with a big bum hardstanding,
b. A straight line is not the most efficient, energy-wise line always to work from.
20 You should not handstand while pregnant
Many women were hardstanding throughout gestation and delivered healthy babies. In most cases, these women knew how to handstand prior to getting pregnant. As the 1st trimester imposes more risks you may want to take a break then but if you feel good while handstanding so does the fetus.
🟢 Handstand Exaggerated #Facts
The only absolute truth about handstands is that there are no absolutes. There are however some #facts.
21 You need to keep your body tight to handstand
A tight body will allow you to control your entire structure as one piece. On the other hand, the tightness will:
- Cost a lot in energy and
- Make you less responsive to corrections in your balance
While a certain level of tightness is needed, I have noticed that what’s more appropriate is to maintain a balance between tightness (so that the body is behaving as one piece) and relaxation (so you can make corrections in your position). Some individuals will tend to be too relaxed and others too stiff.
22 You need to learn to fall out so you feel safe
One of the first drills gymnasts learn is to roll out of a handstand, while yoga & capoeira practitioners (especially the bendy ones) want to backbend out of a handstand.
The more comfortable you are with coming out, the more likely you will be to bale out.
I have students who learned to handstand without practicing any falling-out drills. While such drills serve a purpose, if you become “too good” at them you may stop fighting to stay up.
23 You need strong shoulders to start practicing
Strong shoulders, especially in 180 degrees of flexion, are a massive benefit when hanstanding. It is important however to have the strength at the end range of motion (I repeat: in flexion). If you are missing the flexibility all the strength in the world will not help.
With practice, your flexibility and strength will improve, so don’t be disheartened if you are currently not confident in your shoulders.
24 Those with sensitive wrists cannot handstand
Those with sensitive wrists have to condition their wrists, potentially use parallettes or inclined blocks, and warm-up prior to training. That’s not to say you cannot learn how to handstand. After all most new handstanders will need to go through an adaptation phase during which their wrists will feel a bit soar.
25 First achieve a straight line, then other handstand lines
This is a popular teaching approach with some benefits but not the only approach. A straight line is very challenging to achieve as the center of mass is as high as it gets. As it is a very important line nonetheless, and sooner or later it is worth learning.
A lot of beginners start by trying to achieve a two-arm handstand in a straight line, while most people working on a one-arm handstand learn first in straddle. By learning how to handstand first in an easier line you may accelerate the learning process.