Moving Beyond 15-Second Handstands

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Awesome.

You’ve just conquered (or are close to conquering) your first 15-second handstand.

If you think that your 15-second handstand is the end of the road, then this article is not for you.  Close the window or press the back button.

But if you’re asking, “So, what’s the next challenge?!”, then read on.  This article will give you an idea of the impressive skills you can start working on (or something to look forward to).

These are skills that most people see online or from afar, and think to themselves “I couldn’t do that in a million years!” but then surprise themselves… just like the thousands of people who are taking the 28-day handstand challenge and surprise themselves with huge progress in a single month.

In a matter of weeks after your first handstand, you can achieve even more impressive skills that get eye bulging reactions.  When I first learned to handstand, in a matter of months, I learned more advanced skills that turned heads.

These are the skills that make people ask, “How did you turn into such a beast?!”

But what’s the next step after your first 15-second handstand hold?

RELAX

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If you just achieved your first handstand, take a step back for a minute to congratulate yourself!  Don’t get lost in endless progressions of “What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?!?!?!”

I used to get so lost in the “next steps” that I would forget how far I had come…

You just achieved a major accomplishment – one that very few people ever achieve in their lifetime.

Now that you are done patting yourself on the back, you may be wondering why you need to move beyond handstands at all.

The truth is that the handstand is not just a skill, but a tool.  The handstand should be used as means way to get even stronger and more impressive… to learn feats that can be used to create comprehensive routines that can be done anywhere.

Sure, you can spend time increasing the time you hold your freestanding handstand.  You can take it from 15 to 30 to 60 seconds.  But then what?  Do you keep going until you hit 2 minutes?  5 minutes?  10 minutes?  To what end?  Is that any more impressive than a 60-second handstand?  Where is the fun in doing the same thing over and over for months and years?

Face it: going from a 15-second hold to a 1-minute hold will shows competence..but going from 1 minute to 5 minutes shows a complete lack of imagination.  There’s a whole world of handstand skills out there!  Why stick with just static holds?

Instead, you can use the handstand to unlock a whole host of impressive, strength building workouts.  Workouts that go way beyond boring “gymless” workouts that are focused on crazy amounts of pushups, pullups and other calisthenics that don’t scale very well to build incredible strength.

Sure they may help you to lose weight or build endurance or just get you off the couch…and that’s fine if those are your goals..but you won’t get strong and impressive that way.

For example, once you can do 5-10 reps of pushups, doing more pushups doesn’t make you any stronger. When you do dozens of pushups in a single set, you are actually building endurance.

To get stronger you need to add more weight or resistance, which increases the intensity of the workout.  But you can’t easily add more weight to pushups, and you definitely can’t add weight anywhere, like in a hotel room.

Instead, you can load more weight on your hands using the handstand.  This lets you perform movements that:

  1. Expand your fitness routines
  2. Keep your workouts fun, interesting and impressive
  3. Demonstrate great strength and control
  4. Can completely liberate you from being tied to a gym
  5. Can help break through training plateaus
  6. Empower you and inspire others
  7. Demolish fears
  8. Build body awareness that lasts well into old age

A Practical Example

Compare these two simple workout routines:

Workout 1
3×5 Pike Handstand Presses
3×5 Freestanding Handstand Pushups
3×5 Pullups

Workout 2
3×10 Diamond Pushups
3×30 Pushups
3×5 Pullups

Even if form isn’t perfect, which one do you think:

  • builds more strength?
  • is more impressive to watch?
  • builds up to more impressive skills?

If you saw someone doing Workout 1 next to someone doing Workout 2, who would you think has more body control, strength, skill, dedication and ability? It’s workout #1, hands down.  And, in reality, workout #1 isn’t that much more difficult than workout #2.

Besides, which one do you think is more FUN?

NEXT STEPS

After handstands, most people pursue handstand presses or handstand pushups. 

  • Handstand Press: a skill where you place your feet on the ground and slowly lift your legs up over your head.
  • Handstand Pushup: exactly what it sounds like – you get into a handstand, and do pushups upside down.

You can work on both if you want, but I usually like to keep things simple and work on only one at a time.  But which one should you choose???

Play to your strengths.

If you focus on the one you enjoy more and perform more easily, you will achieve more in a shorter period of time, and will feel successful.  Feeling successful is incredibly motivating!

After I learned handstands, I worked heavily on the handstand presses because I am naturally flexible, and my flexibility made the presses much easier.  My friend worked on handstand pushups first, because he already had an impressive bench press and overhead press, so the pushups came more easily to him.

Handstand Presses

The handstand press is where you enter into the handstand in a slow and controlled manner, instead of kicking up into the handstand quickly…like this video of me.

handstand-press-vid-previe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7ImI479j4A

Learning to handstand press is not only impressive, but incredibly useful.  Of course, its a great workout for the shoulders and lower back, but presses also greatly improve your handstand balance since you are moving through space while inverted.

They also enable you to move into and out of a handstand in a more controlled manner, letting you be more confident when trying to get into a handstand in a sketchy place (like on stairs).

Of course, there are dozens of handstand press variations – a quick Google or YouTube search will quickly overwhelm you with dozens of handstand press variations.

You know that here, however, I cut through all that and let you know the only ones that you need to know about.  If you can master these handstand press variations, you will experience a high translation to nearly all other handstand press variations out there.

These are the only only four that a novice needs to worry about:

  • Frog Stand to Handstand
  • Tuck Planche to Handstand
  • Straddle Press
  • Pike Press

Again, if you google any of these presses, you will get a ton of (i.e. too much) information.  For someone who just hit their first handstand, you only need to be concerned with the Frog Stand to Handstand – and that means making only one small change to your daily routine.

One Small Change: Handstand to Frog Stand Practice

In each training session, you just need to make one small change to move towards the Frog Stand to Handstand Press.

First, throw up your best handstand.  Balance for a second, and make sure you feel solid in your hold.  When you feel balanced and ready, bend your hips and knees, and tuck into a ball, slowly lowering your knees to your elbows to assume the Frog Stand.  Hold this position for a second, then return back down to the floor. Here is a video thats shows someone doing it.

frogstand-to-handstand-vid-preview

Try that for a few days, over and over.  When you start to feel secure in that, you will try to reverse it, by starting in the Frog Stand, and pushing your body upwards.

Harnessing Negatives

What I propose above is very bold.  It is saying that you can get handstand presses by doing one thing every day as part of your normal handstand training – and that you can ignore the hundreds of search results that come up when you type in “Handstand Press Tutorial”.

The reason this is so effective is because it harnesses the power of negatives (doing difficult moves in reverse).  Negatives are an effective workout tool that take advantage of the fact that your muscles are actually stronger when they are being lengthened rather than contracting.

Using negatives is a popular way for advanced hand balancers and gymnasts to get better at difficult maneuvers very quickly.

When it comes to hand balancing, negatives are also very useful in teaching your body balance.  Since you are starting from a position of comfort (the handstand), you passively learn how your muscles need to react to keep you balanced.

Does this work for everyone?  Of course not.

If you give this a go for a few weeks and see no results, then this approach is not for you and you can move on to something different.  That’s always the name of the game when it comes to learning new skills.

Handstand Pushups

Handstand pushups (HSPU) are when you start in a handstand position, lower yourself down to the floor, and lift yourself back up.  In other words, its a pushup. (Not very surprising, I know.)  Here’s a YouTube video demonstration I found

handstand-pushup-vid-preview

A true HSPU is done on parallettes or an elevated surface, so that you can hit a full range of motion.  If you do them on the floor, these are technically called Headstand Pushups (HeSPU), but we won’t split hairs about this for now…

Learning to handstand pushup is a great overhead pushing workout that rivals (if not trumps) the barbell overhead press.  By doing handstand pushups, you completely liberate yourself from the need for a gym for a high intensity pushing workout tribals any overhead barbel workout.

Mastering handstand pushups will also help improve your hand balancing ability overall, since bending at the elbows is a common means of recovering from losing your balance.  They are also uber-impressive, so becoming proficient at HSPU is a win/win/win.

One Small Change: Handstand Pushup Negatives

I’m 100% certain that you can google “Handstand Pushups” and get thousands of videos and articles on handstand pushups, perfect form, blah blah blah….but there are only two things that you need to focus on when you’re just starting out.

  1. Wall HeSPU Negatives
  2. Freestanding HeSPU Negatives

To start, kick up into a handstand against the wall.  Keep shrugging your shoulders, but bend at the elbow.  Keep your elbows tucked in (not flared out) and lower down to the ground.  When your nose nearly touches the ground, bring your legs down, and kick up again.

Repeat this for 3 sets of 1 to 5 reps every other day as part of your strength routine until you feel in control of your descent. It’s perfectly fine if you can only do ONE rep, so long as you get into the habit of practicing it — and starting small with a single rep will also let you avoid overstraining yourself as a beginner. In the case of practicing every other day, just a single rep is better than 5 reps once a week… In other words, its sometimes better to actually do LESS reps more often than to try and do a lot of reps fewer times a week!

(Note that this is strength work and should be part of your workout and not an addition to your workout, unless you’re pretty hardcore.)

Once that feels solid and controlled, do the same exact thing freestanding.  Kick up into a good handstand.  Feel yourself balance, with decent form and lower yourself down slowly, with control.  Experiment with an arched back, then with a straight body to see how it feels.

Get a hold of feeling controlled as you descend.  When you can lower yourself down, and hold steady at the bottom, and then experiment with  pushing back up. Since you are going down in a controlled fashion, you can always just lower your legs if you feel you don’t have the strength to push back up.

This technique not only builds strength but mitigates any fear you have of falling onto your face, because the negatives show you that you can control your descent to the ground, and are never in danger.  Period.

“That seems too simple”

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Not complicated enough for you?  Did you expect met to go on and on and on about hollow body positions, periodization programming for strength gains and other jargon?

To be blunt, this is simple by design – and simplicity gets results.  Overthinking hinders progress.  Overthinking causes paralysis by analysis.

I am not in this game to clutter the internet with more tutorials and “tips”.  The internet is flooded with all of that noise.  Instead, I break down progressions into the smallest possible parts – micro goals – so that we can all focus on the important things, and ignore the rest.

And just like the first steps towards the handstand presses, this micro goal focuses on negatives to learn the movement quickly and safely.

So, ignore doing “full” pushups right now.  Ignore form debates and people tearing you down with their opinions and “form critiques”.  Instead, focus on this next big goal and sweat the small stuff later.  It won’t be to your detriment so long as you consistently move towards your goal.

We’re in this for progress, not perfection.  Perfection comes later.

What if I make no progress?

We all know that there is no one-sized-fits-all program for anything – whether it be weight loss or handstands.  If these micro goals don’t produce results for you, then try something else.

In fact, I would love it if you would comment and let me know that they didn’t work for you, so that I can help you find something else.

Leave a comment here and ask why it’s not working, or a recommendation on another micro-goal that you can try…but take it one step at a time and you will see how these small changes will produce big results towards these impressive skills!

 

9 Responses to “Moving Beyond 15-Second Handstands”

  1. Peter July 17, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Wanna start by saying thanks for all the articles you send out educating and helping people get into hand balancing. A small caveat about the above post however. Are you sure it´s a good idea to recommend that people start doing Hespu negatives every other day? I know from my own experience that negatives are especially taxing and the risk that people develop injuries, tendonitis and so on are pretty high if they start doing negatives every other day.
    So maybe put out a little warning about overdoing negatives?
    Thanks again!

    • Chris Salvato July 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

      Hi Peter! I actually made a mistake when I posted this – and I am glad you caught it. Following the “one small change” thing, I meant to say 3 sets of ONE to FIVE reps, rather than 3 to 5 reps. Practically speaking, with freestanding stuff, doing 3 negatives a day, every day, will help a lot more than 5 reps every other day, anyway. I changed the article to read as I originally intended. Let me know your thoughts!

      Thanks!

      -Chris

  2. Peter July 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Hi Chris! From my perspective it seems like the new text advocates a more cautious approach. I just have to point out that what I´m saying is just my opinion from own experience, not saying it´s a fact. I see no problems with the frog to press negatives but still, Hespu negatives are very taxing on the elbows especially and I´m unsure about how frequently it should be used in terms of avoiding an injury. But that´s probably a very individual thing. Some people might very well get away with it every day. But maybe combining box pike presses with a bit higher reps, say 8-isch to get used to the movement in combination with negatives, alternating between the two. But again it will most likely depend on the person doing it as well as how the rest of their training looks like, and that´s where personal judgement and responsibility comes in to play. I don´t know if that post was the least bit helpful or just a never ending ramble…… =) Anyway, I like how the new text implies more caution and so it´s probably fine as people have to be able to use their own heads to some degree… =) Thanks again for all the info you´re putting out there!

    • Chris Salvato July 18, 2013 at 10:48 am #

      Hi Peter!

      Its no problem – I actually MEANT to write 1-5 reps, instead of 3-5 reps. And after your comment, I decided to elaborate on this a bit more since many people say things like “ONE REP!? YOU CAN’T GET ANYTHING DONE WITH ONE REP!”, when that is actually completely false.

      But the way I phrased it now is what I originally intended, and drives home the goal that CONSISTENCY is more important than INTENSITY when it comes to most forms of handstand training.

      The proof is in the pudding, after all. I hope this helps you move closer!

      Chris

  3. Peter July 17, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    I really have to work on keeping it short, I´m sorry….=)
    I just started thinking that maybe I´m wrong from the start. Everything has to be viewed in context, so it´s probably more important to consider the total amount of work one does instead of fretting about how a few negatives here and there might affect the risk of injury……. So never mind me.. =) Keep up the good work!

  4. justin August 1, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    Chris,
    Great stuff here man. I’ve been training my hs hard core for the past 2-3 months and have gone from almost nothing to a solid 30 second free hs (did 4 sets of 30 sec this morning and felt great!). My question for you is, when do you think is a good time to start the press handstand? Should I get my free hold to about 60 sec first, so the transition will be easier? And how often do you recommend training such a skill?
    Thanks man!
    Justin

    • Chris Salvato August 1, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

      Hi Justin! If you can hold 4 sets of 30 second handstands, you are good to go on training more advanced skills. I would say if you can hold a single 15-second hold reliably, you are ready to start tackling more advanced skills like presses and HSPU.

      This may sound strange, but working on these skills actually helps the handstand directly….so even if you can only manage one frogstand negative or only one HSPU, you will get the same benefit of normal handstand training with the added benefit of learning another skill on top of it.

      With handstand skill training – the more the better. Daily is good, even if only for 5 minutes. If you find that you are still building strength (the movement is impossible because you are not strong enough, for example…or your negative is too fast), then every other day is fine.

      Let me know how it goes for you!

  5. justin August 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Chris thanks for the response. Awesome news, I will be working hard daily on my handstand skills and get back to you with my progress!

  6. Tami January 28, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

    I am on day 15 of the 15 sec handstand challenge and can get one max hold handstand at just over 60 seconds and then my max goes down in seconds. I’m working challenge #4 now.

    I am a 47 yr old female with gymnastics back in elementary through high school.

    My questions is, what kind of results have you had with females working these advanced challenges in your beyond 15 second handstands articles?

    I plan to try it for myself, just curious.

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