Emmet’s Blackboard

The Anatomy of a Handstand

I give the insight to what I feel are the main points of a good handstand. This is just a quick overview with more in-depth lectures to follow.

Okay guys, welcome.  This is the introduction what we’re going to term as ‘Emmet’s Blackboard.’  To get started, I’ve had some requests to do a few more lectures covering a few topics.  We’re going to start with the handstand.

I’m going to cover what I consider the main points in a handstand.  I have a pointing stick here and my amazing mannequin drawn here.  I’m going to go through all these points.  I’ll cover all these points in detail in a video, but just to give you an idea of what is the anatomy of a handstand.

First we’ve got to understand what exactly is standing, and then what is standing on our hands.  So standing is a position of rest where we are balanced.  Our joints and our centre of mass is over our base of support, and we control it or make small micro corrections the whole time.  If you just stand still on a spot for 60s, you’ll feel, as you breathe in, or your vision changes, your balance will change.

In a handstand, we’re basically trying to replicate this.  This is easy; I can stand here for days pretty much.  Well, not days, but you know.  There’s no reason it shouldn’t be this easy in a handstand once we’ve covered a couple points.

All we’re trying to do in a handstand is replicate this position of ease on our hands, by basically reconfiguring so our hands act as feet, our wrists act as ankles, our elbows act like knees, and our shoulders act like our hips.  Once this is covered, most of the other balance relationships in the body are the same, just inverted.

That’s a handstand.  Let’s just cover some of the main points.  We’re going to talk about them, and do videos in detail.  So don’t worry if I gloss over stuff.

So, starting from the feet – or the hands…. What is called the cambered hand position basically means your middle knuckles are raised off the ground, and we basically turn our hands into feet.

Imagine having our feet as the point of contact,  we have our heels, bottom of the foot, and toes.  Same thing on our hands; we’re going to have the heel of the hand, the ball of the hand, then the ‘toes’ of our hand.  That’s going to control our thing, rocking around on this point, the ball, basically controls our point of balance.  We’re going to cover hands and wrists in detail.

Then with wrists, the whole thing is they need to be prepared for loading.  This takes a lot of building it up.  The more you load them, the more they build.  Like ankles, basically.  That will build more cartilage and muscles.

Then at the elbow level, for preference here I should state I teach the hand balancing handstand, rather than the gymnastic handstand.  There’s some subtle differences, I’ll explain as the series progresses.

In the hand balance handstand, we want a mild bit of hyper extension.  You can see I don’t test high for hyper extension, but I have it at my elbows, and specifically developed it to make my hand balancing much easier.

Traveling up, just in the ideal position for your handstand, we want to be thinking neutral neck.  What that means is we’re just looking at the top of our eyes, and our eye line – imagine I had a line connecting this point to this point, that’s my eye line in the handstand.  That’s where I should look when I’m doing my handstand.

I look down, I’m not craning my neck, I’m not looking up.  Obviously, as you progress, you want to be able to move your head around and look up, at your toes, that’s a control issue.

For the ideal resting handstand you hold for time, that’s the ideal position.

Now we’re going to get into shoulders.  You hear a lot about three main techniques for the shoulders.  We basically have the Russian, the Chinese technique, we have Chinese/Mongolian which you see in contortions and their hand balancers.  But a bit of insider info: the Chinese have actually poached loads of coaches from the Ukraine and Russia at the moment, and are most of the head hand balance teachers in the Chinese state schools.  There’s a little tip, maybe Russians have the better technique.

The Chinese position: basically you’ll hear this – contract the shoulder blades, spread the shoulder blades, and elevate.  That doesn’t really apply too much.  Because the Ukrainian technique is elevate and retract.  And the Chinese-Mongolian, as I stated, has a bit more splay in the chest, a bit more extension to the thing, and not have the line as straight.

Different techniques, they all work.  The question is, which is better?

In my mind we’re not looking so much at what the different shoulder positions are, because they’re quite subtle and don’t really matter, long as you pick and stick with one.  More than that, we are actively resisting into the ground.  That’s what is going on with our hips.  Gravity is pulling down, we are pulling up.  This keeps the balance.  Same thing is happening in the shoulders, we’re resisting that sinking and collapsing.  We need to be actively pushing ourselves away, and it doesn’t matter too much on the shoulder position as long as you know what you’re doing.

Next thing we’re going to cover is the rib flare.  This is an interesting diagnosis for lat tightness that you will see.  The lats basically run from down here and attach up here.

If someone’s ribs flare out this way, what we have is not so much a core weakness, which you can sense by getting them to do a dish on the ground.  If they can achieve a good dish position, have them put their arms overhead.  The ribs flare, then we know we have the lats on this side of the body.  They’re pushing the ribs out, so we need to stretch the lats out.

Next, coming down, this is one of the main differences between the gymnastic and hand balancing handstand.  The posterior pelvic tilt – that whole lifting and rotating of the pelvis.

In gymnastics you want this set, as you want to be rapidly changing from an arch position to a hollow position, which generates a lot of power in tumbling and swinging, all these skills.

Obviously you want to align this.

But when we’re dealing with hand balancing, a lot of hand balancers who are far better than I’ve ever been don’t hollow.  They hold completely in their standing position with the shoulders this way.

Once you’ve developed your shoulders to that degree…because, look.  I can stand here and do anything I want with my hands, because my legs are strong enough.

Once your back and shoulder girdle is developed enough, you can do anything you want with your legs and pelvis, to a certain degree, once you get your base of support.  I don’t really coach this at the beginning, just to get people used to being tight.

Once we’ve gone onto that, I find it far superior to cue them to squeeze the legs together.  You’re going to use the glutes about 20%.  The legs are going to be squeezed together, for the specific reason that the adductors are innervated via the deep anterior fascia.  This means, by the law of irradiation, if we squeeze them, they’ll actually shift the core up for us and lock it in place.  That is one of the most important cues I teach in handstands – squeeze the legs together.  Squeeze the glutes mildly, not too tight, depends on a person’s basic level of strength.  Squeeze that, and if you get that right there will be a slight turn out in the legs.  This will also help fix the hips.  Really get into that; squeeze them, boom.  It will fix your core faster than most other things.

Then we come up to knees.  What we’re looking for in the knees is full extension.  There’s a couple of reasons for that.  Personally I like a small amount of hyper extension, just because it gives us a really nice line when looking at the handstand.  When you full extension the knees by pulling the knee caps up, once the knees are pulled up, that will straighten the leg out.

We have to point the feet, but also not sickle-ing.  We want the feet pointing straight, not sickle-ing inwards.  Once you do that, that will straighten the knees out.

Squeeze them together and also turn them out slightly.  The reason for that turn out is when we start training straight and moving into straddle handstand closed, we don’t abduct them straight, we abduct and rotate.  Having that turn out already will give you an easier time moving in and out.

I think I. have covered all points I’m looking at.  We’re going to do more in detail, but I’m going to all these points in detail now before I forget.

The most important point in your handstand is here.  Yes, it’s in your head.  We need to develop a certain state of mind for balancing on the spot in a long time.

Here’s the trick: you have to look at a spot on the wall, stand straight, and see if you can do that for 60s, keeping your focus on that spot.  if you can’t do that, you’re going to have a very difficult time doing that in your handstand.

Develop that calm, relaxed focused state of mind, rather than excitation.  The handstand should be a relaxed position we can transition into and out of, to varying degrees, be this cartwheeling into handstand and stopping, coming out, learning to transfer to one arm, these kinds of things.

If you’re not in that focused relaxed state of mind, where you can feel your body and get inside, you’re not going to have a lot of success.

So, with that, the main points that I feel are important to handstands.  If you’ve got questions, please ask them.  If you like my videos, please like and subscribe.  And, don’t worry, the rest of the series is coming.  I’ll cover all of this in a lot more detail.

Anyway, thanks for watching.