Learn to Stay Tight!
The first priority in any handstand development effort must be body awareness and the ability to maintain body stiffness while in motion and upside down. Without fully developing this skill, all further progress will be hit or miss.
“Hollow Body” is the phrase used to describe the appropriate posture for handstand work. Hollow refers to the slightly hollowed, or wing shaped body, created when the top edge of your pelvis is tilted backwards. To get a sense of this shape lay flat on your back, squeeze your abdominal muscles very strongly and push your lower back into the floor. You should be able to hold a rounded shape in your lower back and rock smoothly back and forth like a rocking chair. This exercise is called the Hollow Rock and it is much harder than it sounds.
Developing the hollow body posture for hand balancing involves learning to maintain a strong contraction of quadriceps and abdominal muscles on the front of the body while simultaneously strongly contracting gluteus and latisimus on the back of the body. In addition you must strongly engage your trapezius and rhomboid muscles to support and elevate your shoulder blades. If this all sounds contradictory – it is! Picture guy wires supporting a radio tower. All the cables are pulling down, but in different directions. The opposing forces generated by the support wires are what create stability for the tower. You will use opposing tension in your body in the same way, to create stability. This co-contraction of opposing muscle groups makes the trunk very rigid and allows use of your hands and shoulders to generate the necessary position corrections needed to maintain a hand balance.
This skill is closely related to the powerful trunk co-contraction needed for squats and deadlifts – but there are differences. Proper trunk posture for weightlifting is slightly hyper-extended or “arched”. Proper posture for handstands (and many other gymnastics derived movements) is slightly flexed or “hollow”. You will make much better progress if the first stage of your handstand training is dedicated to learning to maintain a hollow body under different circumstances.
Below is a list of drills and positions that will help you develop great strength in controlling your trunk and maintaining a hollow body. Develop these skills in the order listed and do not look for any short cuts. Effort spent here will pay many dividends in your future training.
• Plank position with strong hollow body engagement and proper pelvic tilt
• Weighted plank. Use a partner or chains to add load at the waist and maintain a tight hollow body
• Plank on unstable support, such as rings, to develop high levels of shoulder and trunk stability
• Hollow body hold. Used to practice intense abdominal engagement
• Hollow body rocks. Pull abs so tight that a smooth rocking motion on your back is possible
• One arm plank. Shift to strong support on one shoulder. Legs, hips and trunk don’t move at all!
• One arm – one leg plank holds. Trunk perfectly stable while moving limbs
• One arm ring plank to further develop shoulder strength and stability, and to correct bilateral strength imbalances
• Moving plank. Partner supports ankles and lifts you to handstand, maintain hollow body!
• Plank walk. Feet on dolly, do not allow any twisting or wiggling in hips or trunk
• Ab-wheel rollout. Arms straight
The plank exercises teach you how to get your trunk stable and keep it stable, while your body position changes. They can also be surprisingly challenging and are great for conditioning.
Stay tuned as we continue showing you how to create a solid handstand! Next up is part 3 of the Handstand Series, where you will get an in depth look at what goes into creating stable shoulder blades.