Dynamic Dan: How Did He Learn How To Handstand Consistently?

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Dan Learning How to Handstand

Meet Dan, the full time nursing student who learned how to handstand. He now holds 15-second handstands consistently!

Dan is a busy guy.  He’s changing careers, is a full time student, and he likes to stay active.  He has been on the fitness scene for a while as a gym rat, kettlebell athlete and self-taught bodyweight trainee.

When Dan started learning how to handstand in March, he was cobbling together information from a few different sources, and trying to achieve solid, consistent handstand holds.  He made some good progress, and even learned how to try and kick up…but he couldn’t get his handstands to be more consistent!

Only on the rarest of occasions would he hold a freestanding handstand.  Aside from that, he couldn’t hold a handstand for even a few seconds.

It was frustrating, because he felt so close, yet so far.  And things stopped improving.

Then Dan started the 28-Day Handstand Challenge.

Dan saw a program from a trusted author that was getting rave reviews.  He saw others were making huge progress in learning how to handstand, so what did he have to lose?

He signed up for the challenge in July and worked just 5-minutes a day on his handstand holds.  He felt like he was finally progressing again.  The challenge was promoting consistency, fear conquering and super-simple progressions generate results.  All of this is crucial when trying to learn how to handstand.

After 28 days, he built the habit and was 100% sure that he was over his fears, but he was still lacking crucial elements of his technique.

Since he had such a good experience with the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, he didn’t have to look too far for the next steps – he knew where to find them. He bought my course, The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide without a second thought.

Within one day, I received this message from him, showing he was making huge progress in learning how to handstand:

I read Challenge #4 per your advice and I think I’m making a mini breakthrough already. I realized that I was jumping into the handstands which explained my inconsistencies with the kick ups. I am currently practicing The 4-Points Checklist and making sure that my kick up is smooth and controlled.

And exactly one month after that, I received another message, with valuable “How To Handstand” lessons for all newcomers:

I found out quickly that it was the small details that were eluding me. I was more muscling the handstand hold than relying on technique. And it’s through proper technique that more consistent and aesthetically pleasing handstands can be attained. My handstand ability improved more in the first few weeks of using this guide than it had in the previous 6 months of training. My handstands are far from perfect, but I now truly feel that my more advanced handstand goals are truly within reach.

Even though his handstand form isn’t perfect, Dan can consistently hold 15-second handstands. 

He made huge progress, learned how to handstand, and progress makes him feel successful.  Now, he feels empowered to pursue even more advanced goals because they actually feel within reach.

This is his story.

DAN’S STORY: LEARNING HOW TO HANDSTAND

Dan Learning How to Handstand

Chris:  Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Dan!  Let’s get this started – who are you and what do you do?

Dan: My name is Dan, and I am a 37 year old full time nursing student.

Chris: A full time student?  Sounds like a career change…does that keep you very busy?

Dan: It definitely keeps me very busy.  When I started using your methods to learn how to handstand, I was only doing the bare minimum of 5 minutes per day because of time constraints.

Chris: So were you too busy to work out at all before trying to learn how to handstand?

Dan: Well, a few years back I started off as a typical gym rat obsessed with typical gym rat lifts like the bench press and all that.  I eventually moved into kettle bell training, which led to bodyweight/gymnastics training.  I moved over to bodyweight-only training a few years ago after that discovery, and that’s when I found the 28-Day Handstand Challenge for learning how to handstand.

Chris: I see, so you wanted to learn how to handstand as part of your bodyweight/gymnastics training…

Dan:  It looked like a movement that was not only functional and fun, but attainable as well. But I was just…stuck.  I had decided to seriously tackle the handstand for about 6 months and I was regressing.  On rare occasions I could hold my handstand for 20 seconds, but it wasn’t consistent.  Some days it would go OK, then there would be several days where I could only hit a very shaky handstand once in every 10 attempts.  I couldn’t learn how to handstand consistently.  It was really frustrating.

Chris: It can be very frustrating to get stuck or hit a plateau in your training for so long.  How did you get over it?

Dan: When I was doing the handstands with no guidance or while using other materials, my consistency was nonexistent. I was just about to give up on it when I decided to do one last Google search for any tip, trick or product that might hold the “how to handstand” key. That’s when I stumbled upon your course.

Chris: You said that you were about to give up, then decided to do one last Google search…after trying to learn how to handstand all on your own.  What made you say, “OK, this isn’t working – I need some help”?

Dan: Basically, when I got to the point where I could hold a 20-second handstand out of the blue, but then wouldn’t even be able to hold a handstand for even 1-second over several days. It was all or nothing. This went on for a while. I got so frustrated that I tried kicking up for 30 minutes in the park, under the hot sun, just trying to get one before I left. I ended up feeling very faint for the rest of the day with a massive headache. I still have sore wrists from that day as well, which I’m still working on. I had no blueprint for doing handstands. I had the will, but didn’t have a plan to learn how to handstand.

Chris: Since you had the will, I assume it was easy for you to stick with the first 28 days of the 28-Day Handstand Challenge?

Dan: To be honest it was mostly stubbornness that kept me going.  I wasn’t sure if anything would help me learn how to handstand at that point. The 28-Day Handstand Challenge was free and looked like a really easy read. At that point I had made a deal with myself to start over and give it one last shot. I used the spreadsheet at first to make sure I was setting the habit, but I made sure to do several 5-minute sessions everyday.

Chris: You gave it one last shot, and then the 28-Day Handstand Challenge finished.  You still didn’t hit your goal yet!  So what pushed you to see it through?

Dan: Success. Pure and simple. Although I still wasn’t hitting every single kick up attempt I was getting solid handstands every day. I felt like I was closer to learning how to handstand. This was in stark contrast to when I would go days without hitting even one shaky handstand. This motivated me to keep going and brought back the fun that was what motivated me in the first place.

Chris: Success is a great motivator.  It usually only takes one small change to our training (or our lifestyle) to have a massive impact and create that success.  What was the most important, small, daily change you made that helped you learn how to handstand – to help you hit your handstand goal?

Dan: Just establishing a habit or a trigger. Sometimes, when I have more time available, I’ll plan out how many sessions I want to hit for that day. Other days I’ll just use the trigger of taking a study break to just attempt one handstand. Sometimes it’s just any break in my routine. For example, if I’m going to be leaving the apartment I’ll try to kick up once. When I get back I’ll try to kick up into another. It’s not fancy, but it allows me to keep some consistency and not go days without even attempting one. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up to 10 or more attempts on days that I would have normally chalked up to not having enough time. I still don’t hit every single one, but I hold far more handstands than I don’t these days.

Chris: What would you tell someone who is just starting to learn how to handstand for the first time?

Dan: I would tell them that if I can do it, anyone can. I wasn’t the smallest guy at 230 pounds when I first started, and not all of that was solid mass, either. I could have stood to lose about 20 pounds. I also have terrible shoulder flexibility, which is posing a challenge as I try to get closer to achieving a more aesthetically pleasing handstand. I’m not the worst off, but my body type is definitely not what people would envision for a handbalancer. I was still able to get consistent freestanding handstands after 4 weeks of using the program.

Chris: I want to talk for a second about fear.  We all face fear as we learn how to handstand, but that seems to get ignored by teachers and new students alike… Did you have any fears when you started learning how to handstand?  Did you overcome them?

Dan: My main fear was the same as a lot of people. Injuring myself. I overcame this by learning how to pirouette bail as you outline in your course.  Hands down this one technique allowed me to practice almost anywhere and way more often. It’s so simple and easy to learn. Before your program, I was bailing by rolling, not pirouetting. I needed a lot of room for this and it wasn’t always pain free. I would come thudding down onto my upper back and shoulders sometimes. I replaced my roll-out bail with the pirouette bail and there was no looking back. Once you know that you can escape a bad attempt with ease, with no chance of injury, you will increase your practice sessions more and more.

Chris: With fear out of the way, and the handstand under your belt, what is your next goal?!

Dan: My goals are to press up into the handstand, do a freestanding handstand pushup, and even walk on my hands. Just to keep getting better and better and continuing to have fun with them. My other bodyweight goals include the human flag, a full planche and a strict muscle up on rings or the bar.

Chris: Thanks Dan!  It was awesome to hear your story!!

BECOME THE NEXT SUCCESS STORY

Dan Learning How to Handstand

Does Dan’s story sound familiar?  Do you think that nagging injuries or training plateaus mean you won’t ever hit your goal?  Do you feel you’re “too busy” or “too big” to waste your time on something like learning how to handstand?

Fortunately, Dan and others show us that it can be done.

Everyone who has had success with the 28-Day Handstand Challenge had an epiphany: they realized that small changes make a huge difference.  It’s often a small, smart change to your training or your lifestyle that will push you to the next level, that will make you hit those goals that you just can’t reach today.

Dan was able to build a system for his success.  It wasn’t a quick fix, either.  It took Dan about a month for the changes to pay off, and for everything to finally “click”.  But a month of consistent progress is a lot faster (and a lot more fun) than years and years of plateaus and frustration.  You just need to focus on proper direction and consistency.

These small steps won’t get you to learn how to handstand overnight, but within a few weeks you will surprise yourself at how much progress you will make.  These same habits will take you way beyond learning how to handstand, just like they have for Dan.

Dan took action:

Identified His Goal: Dan was already pretty experienced when he started to consider handstands.  But when he moved over to bodyweight-only training, he realized that learning how to handstand was something that he wanted to do.  And he set out to do it.  Often times, we forget how important it is to explicitly say, “I will do <some goal>!”… but it can make all the difference.  This declaration is the first commitment, the first step.  It is crucial to success.

Solid Stubbornness: Some may call it stubbornness…I just call it perseverance. Dan hit road block after road block and he wanted to give up. Seriously, he was on his last straw.  But he DIDN’T give up, and that makes all the difference.  You already know that it takes small changes and gradual improvements to blast through plateaus – but it can take months or years to find that one small change.  If you give up, you will never find it. If your goals are important to you, then giving up is unacceptable. And anything less than daily practice won’t cut it.

Abandon “Tutorials”: Dan tried tutorial after tutorial, video after video, book after book.  Dan shows us that tutorials, progressions and lists of tricks and tips are easy to find, but not reliable.  In fact, tutorials and progressions are often only a small part of what generates success. You need much more than tutorials.  You need systems that work – that focus on the major obstacles.  Dan had a technique for bailing (the rolling bail), and he still had fear of falling over.  No tutorial addresses that fear, no set of tips can help you overcome it.  It’s the system that is tested on thousands of people that generates results… not dogmatic tutorials based on one guy’s experiences or beliefs.

Dan felt successful: As soon as Dan started the challenge, he started marking a red “X” on his handstand commitment sheet every day.  But after a few days, he started seeing improvement and allowed himself to feel successful.  Focusing on the positives in your training – the small wins – lets you feel successful and accomplished.  You feel rewarded, and you want to keep going.  It’s like you’re a labrador who just received a treat after rolling over. (Good dog!) You have an incentive to keep going, and so you do.  Then you hit your goal, like Dan.

Dan found his plan: After banging his head against the wall for years, Dan found a step-by-step guide. Let’s be honest, researching what needs to be done is a lot more difficult than following specific, effective instructions…but we can talk ourselves out of anything if there are too many choices or too much uncertainty. The material in The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide took thinking out of the process for him and spoke his language. Dan had already read a million different resources or ways to learn how to handstand (which can overwhelm anybody)…but when he found a resource that made sense to him and gave it a solid chance, he hit his goal within weeks.  What progress have you made in the last few weeks?

Congrats to Dan on hitting his long time goal.  I know he is already moving onto his next goal and will become even more awesome!

Do you have any questions for the man?

When will you be sending in YOUR success story?  I don’t publish everyone’s story, but I love hearing about everyone’s successes…no matter how small.  Able to stick with 5-minutes-per-day for a week?  Held your first 15s wall plank?  That’s good work!

Share your success!

If you start with small commitments, you can do anything.  Just 5-minutes a day.

And then celebrate your success, like Dan!

-Chris

PS: Of course, I think its awesome that Dan used my course The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide to succeed.  It spoke his language and laid out things in a step-by-step progression.  It gave him a plan that works. If you are struggling to learn how to handstand, get constantly get overwhelmed or simply want to have more fun and be more impressive, don’t underestimate the importance of picking a plan that makes sense to you. I don’t care if it’s the The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide or any other plan, as long as you pick one and stick with it!

Overcoming Handstand Wrist Inflexibility (and Pain!)

Handstand Wrist Pain

With several thousand handstand challengers now, I get a lot of people who come to me with the same questions: “My wrists are too inflexible for handstands!  How can I fix this?” or “I have wrist pain or hand numbness when performing handstands, what can I do to overcome this?”.  And for the longest time, I needed to tell those people to seek out a good wrist mobility program, or to see a qualified healthcare pro.  Then I remembered I knew Jarlo Ilano from Gold Medal Bodies, a qualified and practicing physical therapist (MPT) since 1998 and board certified orthopedic clinical specialist (OCS)!!  I reached out to him for advice to give to handstand challengers and enthusiasts, and he wrote this terrific post to help you guys out.  Take it away Jarlo!

Wrist and hand pain is a common complaint for many people as they begin handstand work, especially for those that haven’t been involved in consistent weight-bearing activities on their hands. Which is to say, the majority of people!

It’s completely natural to have discomfort as you begin handbalancing training. You are simply not used to supporting your bodyweight through your hands.

It’s often a simple matter of spending the proper amount of time and activity in conditioning and strengthening the wrists and hands.

BEGIN WITH THE FUNDAMENTALS

Your best bet for avoiding wrist problems is prevention because injuries to this area are often long lasting and can make you more vulnerable to re-injury. Wrist pain can derail your training and stop your progress in its tracks.

The key is to find the proper amount of time and activity. Too little won’t prepare you and too much can lead to injury.

A quick internet search reveals a wide variety of wrist exercises, some better than others, and only a few specifically useful for handstand preparation. But before you follow the recommendation of any famous handstand guru, you’d be best served to start at the beginning.

Work on the primary wrist motions of flexion and extension in weight bearing…THEN build strength and flexibility with flexion and extension alone, before moving on to “preparation” activities that may be inappropriate for you. Those advanced “preparation” exercises often require personalization and modification to fit your needs.

wrist flexion extension

If you are trying to perform a handstand, but can’t extend  your wrist (bend it backwards) to at least 90 degrees without a lot of force, then you are already setting yourself up for problems.  You are basically attempting to place your entire bodyweight through an inflexible structure.

The same goes for wrist flexion (bending it forward). Though it is not the same position as in a handstand, it is part of having the adequate range of motion for proper positioning and hand and forearm muscle control. Decreased motion in this position can indicate that your wrist joints are inadequately prepared for the rigors of consistent, daily handstand training.

FOUNDATIONAL WRIST MOVEMENTS FOR FLEXIBILITY

These videos show the most fundamental wrist movements and stretches.  They are outtakes from the Gold Medal Bodies Focused Flexibility Program and serve as both stretches and as wrist conditioning, depending on how you modify the repetition and force of pressure through your hands.

For improvement of wrist flexibility by itself, follow the directions as stated in the videos. But for wrist strengthening and conditioning exercise you will need to adjust the exercises to fit your needs.

WRIST EXTENSION

Start with 10 pulses, followed by a 30-second hold, for a total of 3 sets each. Rest for one minute between sets.

WRIST FLEXION

Start with 10 pulses, followed by a 30-second hold, for a total of 3 sets. Rest for one minute between sets.

BUILDING STRENGTH IN THE WRISTS

Handstand in a Suit

There is quite a bit of strength-endurance needed for holding a handstand safely, especially in the beginning stages of training when you use a wall for assistance and hold for long periods of time.

To train with proper handstand form, you need to focus on repetition and increasing the time you are loading weight onto your hands. This will condition your body in the appropriate manner. Unfortunately, the wrists and hands are often the weak links in the chain, so they may give out before the rest of your body receives the proper training effect.

To modify the above stretches and turn them into a strengthening exercise, you need to adjust the amount of pressure you place through your fingers and hands and perform the movements as repetitions rather than holding for a stretch…just like you would train biceps curls or bench presses or any other feat of strength.

To do this, shift your weight forward onto your hands and apply enough pressure so that you experience fatigue and difficulty continuing after 10 to 15 repetitions. I hesitate to say the word “failure”, but you should feel as if the last repetitions in the set are difficult, and to continue on would require taking pressure off your hands.

  • Wrist flexion strengthening: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, with a minute of rest in between sets.
  • Wrist extension strengthening: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, with a minute of rest in between sets.

RECOVERING FROM AN INJURY

Lego Stretcher

If you’re suffering from nagging pain or numbness, then you need to first, seek a health care professional.  These are signs of an injury, and you need to get checked out and cleared to start any handstand exercises or wrist strengthening. If you think you may have an injury at all, go and get checked by a doctor or physical therapist!  This article is no substitute for appropriate medical care!

Following an injury, there is an acute period of significant pain and it’s best to perform range of motion exercises in as much pain free repetition as possible. It could be as simple as active wrist flexion and extension, and wrist circles. If you have been prescribed exercises by your physician or physical therapist, then that is what you need to do.

As you improve and are ready to begin exercise again, you can modify the above exercises to fit a recovery protocol to improve circulation and slowly prepare your wrist and hand joint and soft tissues for increased work.

Begin in the same position and apply pressure to your hands by shifting your weight forward as before, closely following the caveat of “no pain(!)”, and apply enough pressure to experience moderate fatigue when reaching at least 30 repetitions. This high repetition count encourages circulation of both blood and synovial joint fluid to assist in healing, as well as preparation for harder work.

  • Wrist flexion recovery: 3 sets of 30 repetitions with 30 seconds of rest in between sets.
  • Wrist extension recovery: 3 sets of 30 repetitions with 30 seconds of rest in between sets.

Follow these movements up with the flexibility protocol after these exercises, again closely paying heed to having no pain in the performance.

STEP-BY-STEP WRIST CONDITIONING PLAN

Hands Down

The following is a step by step plan integrating the above wrist exercises into your handstand training practice.

  1. Perform the wrist flexion and extension weight bearing movements, with high repetition and light pressure. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 20-30 repetitions, again using light pressure. This is simply a warmup.
  2. Perform plank holds with an emphasis on leaning your shoulders over and past your hands to condition the wrists and hands. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 10-20 second holds. This move is demonstrated in this video.
  3. Move on to your handstand training with your appropriate progression and plan.
  4. Perform the strength-endurance protocol for your wrists as described above.
  5. Finish the session with the wrist flexibility protocol as described above.

Following this plan with an emphasis on wrist and hand preparation, conditioning, and flexibility will assist in preventing injury and properly preparing you for hand balance training.

Adding the few extra minutes it takes to perform the exercises can save you from weeks of frustration and poor progress because of wrist problems. Take the time now to prepare yourself the right way and reap the benefits of consistent steady training.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Thumbs Up

Do you feel you are ready to tackle your wrist inflexibility?

Did this information work for you?

Do you have any questions for Jarlo?

Let us know!

Note: Jarlo and the rest of the guys at Gold Medal Bodies recently released an amazing, totally comprehensive stretching program to help you conquer wrist flexibility and other flexibility goals, like the splits.  If you happen to buy their flexibility program, I do receive a commission.  I don’t do this often, so when I do, it’s only because its a product or service that I would use myself, have used myself or would recommend to my close friends!

photo credit: wrist positions thumbs up suit stretcher hands down

My Story: Fat to Acrobat

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slackline

Hi, I’m Chris.

If you don’t know me, this is my website.  I love hand balancing and gymnastics. I love moving and being active.

But I wasn’t born that way, and a lot of my readers ask about my story. “How long did it take for you to master handstands?” they ask, “Did you ever put your personal story out there?”

Up until now, I haven’t revealed a lot about my own story…mostly because I thought it would just sound like I was just tooting my own horn.  I realized later that many people want to know my story because you are facing the same challenges I conquered…or I am still conquering them myself.

I also realized that there are a lot of adults who want to start gymnastics training, but they don’t know how to get started. There are few people who understand the challenges that adults face when starting gymnastics or acrobatics training.

I want trying to dispel the myth that you need to be young to start training these impressive skills.

You see, the first impressive skill I ever trained was the handstand at the age of 23.  Since then I have advised other people, aged 20 to 70, on how to hit impressive goals like the handstand for the first time.

Skills that help you master your own body are not as demanding or difficult as most people think.

When I started, I had no idea what I was doing and still hit my most impressive goals within the first 5 years of my training.  From the time I trained my first handstand attempt at age 23, it only took me three years to hit incredibly impressive skill milestones like:

Now, I’m not listing these achievements to show off or something.  I am just trying to show you what’s possible with consistent training. You can make amazing progress towards things that you never thought possible.

It only takes consistent practice and small changes – one at a time.

My path wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as people think.  I’m not a super special case.

This is my story.

Rocky Roads and Chubby Beginnings

fat-chris

I started training in things like handstands and flips when I was in my twenties…but surely I must have been really strong and fit before that.  I probably had good genes, right?  It must have been smooth sailing for me!

Well, it definitely wasn’t smooth sailing.

The thing is…I was a pretty chubby kid when I was growing up.  OK, that’s a lie.  I was definitely a fat kid.

That picture is me at 18 years old – 2 years before I started any training.  I was 40 pounds overweight.  (Also, you have my permission to make fun of that ridiculous haircut.)

It all started when I was 13.  See, that’s when I hit my breaking point.  I was tired of being fat and out of shape and the butt of every other fat joke.  I had serious body image problems.  I begged my parents for help and advice on losing weight.

My mother gave me diet advice…but I didn’t take it.

She bought me a weight set after I begged her for weeks…but I never used it.

I even started looking up breakdancing tutorials online (keep in mind, this was 1998 and YouTube didn’t exist!)  After my first handstand attempt left a huge hole in my mother’s basement ceiling, I flat-out gave up.

It wasn’t until three years later (at age 16) that some friends got into weight lifting. I started going to the gym with them.  We had no idea what we were doing, so I just did some random workouts on various machines.  I started to see some progress…but I created some major muscle imbalances in my shoulders.

Within a year of starting weight training, I had caused both of my shoulders to dislocate.  And it wasn’t just a single shoulder dislocation.  Oh no, my shoulder’s were completely ruined.  They would dislocate several times every day.  I couldn’t reach into the back of my fridge without a shoulder popping out!

I gave up working out for a few more years.  By the time I was nineteen, I had two shoulder surgeries, and neither of them worked.  Yup, I went under the knife two times, and my shoulders still dislocated several times every day.

So when my friends got involved in martial arts and asked me to come along, I had my reservations.

     What if my shoulders dislocated during martial arts classes?  
     What would people think if I wasn’t any good?  
     What if I embarrassed myself by even trying?

And then I saw the membership costs: $360 for three months.  I was a poor college student.  This was a lot of money for me.

But obsessing about the cost was just another fear creeping up on me.  I mean, if I joined the classes and actually went then I would get so many benefits.  I would be spending time with my friends, would learn to be a better fighter, and maybe even finally lose weight.  The benefit would definitely be worth $360.  After all, some people spend $400 on a treadmill they never use, or on workout DVDs that turn into door stops.

The real reason I didn’t want to join was fear.  I was scared that I wouldn’t go and lose my money.  I was scared that I would fail again, like I had so many times in the past.

My friends were supportive though, and I wound up paying the fee.  For me, spending the money actually strengthened my commitment.  Now, I was paying money for these classes, so I was going to make sure I got my money’s worth.

And that was when everything changed.

Small Changes Create Success

mountain-handstand

Once I started, I was in the zone.

I went to my martial arts classes every day, 6 days a week, for three months straight. I would show up early and leave late, sometimes spending as much as 4 hours a day training martial arts – but it was all mindless.  I only made ONE CHANGE: show up for classes and do as I was told.

Within the first month, I experienced dramatic weight loss, and it made me consider my diet.  After all, I was turning my body into a machine, and I needed my diet to be the best fuel possible.  Since my exercise program was dialed in, it freed up my brain to research changes to my diet.

Taking the same approach, I made one change a week to my diet.  One week it was to cut out anything that came in a crinkly bag.  The next it was to remove vegetable oils…and so on.

I would systematically make one change at a time to cut out “bad things” and introduce “good things” – but only ONE THING AT A TIME.

By the third month, I had so much confidence it was coming out of my ears.  I attempted some aerial cartwheels and even a handstand or two, even though I had no idea what I was doing.  But before I made progress on these gymnastics skills, I stopped my martial arts training…

See, I had to go back to college which was 400 miles away from the martial arts gym I joined.  When I finally settled back into schoolwork, I practiced what I could in my apartment, but realized that I didn’t have an instructor telling me what to do anymore.

I would need to take matters into my own hands.

I started using the gym that was included with my college tuition just to keep active.  I didn’t know what to do, and was getting bored and frustrated.  (And my shoulder’s still weren’t fixed yet. I didn’t want to make them any worse.)

I kept going to the gym, through the frustration.  But I ALSO started to read my first anatomy and physiology textbook.

I told myself that my next ONE SMALL CHANGE was to read at least one page in that massive textbook every day.  I started with the chapters that covered muscles and joints, and I took it from there.

After six months, this one small change resulted in me reading an entire 500 page anatomy and physiology textbook from cover to cover.  I also changed my minor to focus on biomedical sciences.  I was starting to find that I knew more about muscle and exercise physiology than some medical professionals.

I continued with my ONE SMALL CHANGE method to get through two more (successful) shoulder surgeries and learn as much as I could about exercise physiology.

If there is one thing you should take from my story so far it’s the fact that ONE SMALL CHANGE, taken one at a time, can significantly impact your training and life in the long run.  (That is the whole reason why I am telling you this story!)

The Final Key: Safety Nets

human-flag

I was well into a “fitness lifestyle” when I started working on skills that most people consider dangerous or impressive.  For the first 18 months of my training lifestyle, I had barely even started messing around with bodyweight skills or acrobatic.

Then I found CrossFit, which introduced me to more regimented handstand training.  As soon as I started CrossFit, I really wanted to do handstand pushups.

But, since CrossFit isn’t the best for learning handstands, I had no idea how to get away from the wall..  I was throwing up wall handstands every day at work, at home, and at the gym.

Even with so much handstand training, I was stuck against the wall for months! No hope of progress was in sight.

But through all of this, I continued reading more textbooks, more medical journals, more books on training, and more articles.  I came across one that really struck a chord with me.  Another small event that changed the entire course of my training, and my life.

This article changed everything: “Parkour Basics” by Jessy Woody.

See, nothing in the article was particularly revolutionary – but it opened my eyes to parkour.  I fell in love with the idea of moving through an environment safely and efficiently.

By September 2007, about 18 months from starting any fitness program at all, I started going to several dozen parkour meet ups.  I was learning new skills like under bars, kong vaults, lazy vaults and speed vaults.  But I was about 7 months into handstand training, and was still stuck against the wall.

Randomly, someone approached me at a parkour meet up when he saw my shoddy freestanding handstand attempts.  He introduced me to the pirouette bail which is very different to the rolling bail technique I was using at the time.

The pirouette bail is a much better way to bail.  By learning it, I could effectively train handstand kick-ups ANYWHERE.  Before that, I had to be on a soft surface and couldn’t train in most places.

The pirouette bail was the perfect safety net.  It completely removed fear from the equation.

Now I was attempting handstands every five minutes instead of just a few times a day.

I went form 7 months of no progress to my first 5-second freestanding handstand within one week.  Within two weeks, I was up to 15 seconds.

This is why I emphasize the pirouette bail so much in my book.  I learned that safety nets like the pirouette bail are crucial to removing fear.  The safety net concept has greatly impacted my success..and not just in acrobatics and gymnastics…

Safety nets have made me more bold in any situation where there is fear and perceived risk.  That’s true in all of my training and many other aspects of my life (like dropping my entire career to focus on getting people to hit amazing fitness goals, or moving to another country).

Lessons Learned

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It’s been about 5 years since I held my first handstand for 15-seconds, performed my first handstand press, and executed my first muscle up.

Since then I have used that time to continue to work towards the other goals that I have achieved.  Those other goals weren’t without their challenges, either.

I hit many road blocks, like a two year bout with knee tendinitis, a separated shoulder and a dislocated elbow.  I had to take several breaks from training to let my body recover.

I had to start and restart training – getting back into the habit – several times in my 7 year fitness journey.

I need to learn new tricks, and learn more about my mind and body every time I do it.

Getting into the habit is difficult each and every time.  

Great lessons come from these experiences:

Good direction is worth the cost: Before I got started, I struggled with a decision to spend $360 on martial arts classes.  That one small decision changed my life.  A few years later, other small changes dramatically improved my training – like a single article on parkour and a random tip to learn the pirouette bail.  That’s why I created The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide; I wanted to create the guide that would have saved me years back when I started.

Fundamentals come quicker than you think: Before I started learning handstands and flips, they seemed incredibly difficult and nebulous.  It seemed like attaining these skills would take ages if you didn’t start when you were a child.  I really want to dispel that myth.  My handstand and flipping journey took a long time, but I have seen a 30-year old get their first back handspring in 15 minutes, and a 58-year old (who was using The 15-Second Handstand) get his first handstand in 60 days.  Sure, the more advanced skills will take years of training, but you can nail the fundamentals in less than year. (If you have good direction).

Small, single changes are key: Hitting more advanced skills will take time, but you can work up to them – one small step at a time.  By focusing on ONE SMALL CHANGE you can consistently feel successful and make huge progress towards your goals.  Maybe its just five minutes of handstand training.  Maybe its just deciding to focus on one super important goal.  Thats why my book focuses on only one goal: getting your first handstand.  My method breaks the handstand into distinct challenges that you overcome, one at a time, without any distractions.  Ask yourself this: what is the one small thing I can do today to make myself feel like I hit a small success in my training?

Fear holds you back: Fear is natural, but a lot of our fears are irrational.  Fear is what holds people back from even “normal” workouts at the gym (“What if I look stupid?”), let alone more advanced training like acrobatics or gymnastics (“What if I hurt myself?”).  Once you identify the fears that hold you back, you can put in the steps to conquer them, one small change at a time.  That’s why I cover fear conquering in most of my book, including a whole step in the progression focusing on mastering bails.

Safety Nets remove fear: Things like handstands and backflips are scary when you are new.  But there are ways you can eliminate the fear, like pirouette bails and foam pits.  Once you recognize your fears, you can identify safety nets that completely remove risk while you build your confidence.  When you perceive that the risk is minimal, you can unlock your true potential.

Perception is more important than programming: If you don’t perceive that you are successful every day, then you will lose motivation and eventually just stop training.  If you perceive that everyone is judging you, then you will feel awkward in the gym.  If you perceive that you can’t achieve an awesome skill, then you will never get there.  Managing your perceptions of the situation, making sure you always feel that you are moving forward, is much more important than a magical progression or workout plan.  The best plans are those that constantly make you feel like a success…and that’s just what each challenge of The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide has done for Sam.

What do you think?

table-jump

What are your thoughts on my training experiences?

Do you think my story is useful?  Or am I just a fitness dope, droning on and on about myself?

Do you have any questions about how I achieved certain skills?

Let me know what you think!

Big Changes are Big Failures

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change

You want to make big changes.

You decided it’s time to take your fitness to the next level.

There are big goals that you want to hit.

Maybe you want to be a gymnast, maybe you just want to do handstands, but you sat yourself down and said, “OK, I want to do this!”

So you found some awesome resource (like chrissalvato.com!) and did your research.  You might have even put together a workout plan that addresses every single goal that you want to hit.  Who cares that you’re working on five or ten or twenty things at once?  You want to be awesome and the TIME IS NOW!

You set your goals.  You made your plans.  Now it’s just time to execute!  Go go go!  This should be the easy part, right?

Fast forward one month.  How did it go?  My guess is that, at least once, you’ve probably had an experience similar to another one of my readers…

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I get a lot of emails like this.  It’s not your fault.

You get SUPER PSYCHED about taking control of your fitness. You say, “I’m going to be so much better in just one month!”

You take a 28-Day Challenge for your handstands, and 30-Day Challenge for your workouts , and another 30-Day Challenge for your diet.

And then, a month comes and goes and nothing happens.  And you feel like you really tried.

It’s demoralizing and it may have actually left you worse off than when you started – because now you feel defeated.  And being defeated really sucks.

Being Overwhelmed Destroys You

defeated

This time, fear isn’t what’s holding you back.

You know that I blame fear for  a lot of fitness, gymnastics and acrobatics failures.  People may say they “don’t have time”, which really means they are afraid that their workouts will take too long.  Or they say that acrobatics is dangerous, which really means that they are afraid of getting hurt.

In reality, hitting your fitness or acrobatics goals doesn’t require more than 5-minutes of training per day.  And its not dangerous, because most acrobatics skills have progressions that can be done very safely – it’s no more dangerous than running a mile or performing a set of bench presses.

But if you’re trying to do too much at once, then fear isn’t your problem.  There is no fear to get over.  Not this time.

You’re just legitimately overwhelmed and trying to do too much.  Your brain just isn’t capable of coping with making so many changes in such a short period of time.  It gives up.  And when the mind gives up, the body follows.  Then you have to face the fact that two parts of your brain are fighting each other.

Brain A:  “I AM GOING TO DO THIS”
Brain B:  “I FAILED”

Unfortunately, you need to figure out what happened.  How did you miss the mark?  You did everything right, you knew just what to do, but you never got there…

…so you just assume that you’re a failure.  That you can’t stick with a program.  That you are doomed and unable to stay on track.

BUT that’s not it!

You’re not a failure.  You can achieve your goals.

See, willpower isn’t enough.  The “right tutorial” or magical progression is not enough.  Determination is not even enough. No, you need to understand the psychology of what’s stopping you.  If you got this far, if you’re reading this RIGHT NOW then you definitely want to hit your goals and get to the top of that mountain…

You have determination.
You have the right tools.
You have willpower.

You are just really freaking overwhelmed.  You need to simplify.

The Lesson I Couldn’t Teach Anyone

flagpole

When I was a kid, I was a little chubby.  OK, scrap that, I was fat. 

By the time I hit 13, I had gotten so fed up with being fat that I begged my mother to help me figure out what to do.

She would try to give me advice on what to eat…but I didn’t change how I was eating.
She bought me a weight set to get started exercising…but I never used it.

I would sit and think about cleaning up my diet and about exercising.  I would say “In just 4 months, I could turn my whole body around.  I know I can.”  But it wasn’t until I was 20 years old, over seven years later, when I fell into a martial arts class that finally turned my life around.

See, taking a class was only a single change to my daily routine.  I didn’t need to think about doing such-and-such workout and hitting this-and-that goal.  From my perspective, I just needed to make one change.  I just needed to show up for my martial arts class.

I got addicted to my classes.  Going to my martial arts classes didn’t just become part of my day.  It became part of me.  I didn’t need to think about exercising anymore – it was on autopilot.

With my exercise dialed in, I didn’t need to think about it at all…and that freed up my brain to focus on another goal – fixing my diet.  I would still show up for training every day, performing my workouts thoughtlessly, but in the daytime I was reading medical journals and websites about diet, and figuring out how to make headway on eating better.

I decided to log everything I ate – and that was it.  I didn’t try to make huge changes to my diet in one fell swoop.  It was one small change.  Within a few weeks, logging every morsel that went into my mouth became part of every meal.  It was a habit.  I carried a pocket notebook everywhere, and compiled all my food into a spreadsheet at the end of the day.

Eventually, it wasn’t just a part of every meal.  It was a part of me.

See, I was on autopilot again.  I set up a system of exercise that was thoughtless, and I just needed to continue going through the motions.  Now I had my diet logging on autopilot, and I could actually start making changes to what I was eating.  Because of my diet logs, I was able to learn how different foods loaded on the calories, and how other foods didn’t.  I was able to get a new perspective on my diet — which led to another set of small changes.

And every change became a part of me…one at a time.  Then, and only then, did I move on to the next change.

But even though I did this for myself, I didn’t actually realize it was the secret to my success for several years.  When people would fail after asking for my advice, I would get up on my high horse.  “They didn’t really want it bad enough,” I would say, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

The problem was actually how I gave advice. See, I was packing every lesson I learned into a laundry lists of changes that someone should make, all at one.

I would say to log all of your food, eat more vegetables, eliminate foods in a crinkly bag, stop eating processed foods, start training at least three times a week, focus on relevant skills, start squatting, start deadlifting, start overhead pressing, get into a gymnastics gym, get your first pull-up, learn proper form, do a back flip, get a muscle up, learn to kip, and a million other things. (Feeling overwhelmed yet?)

You see, there’s a big difference between being successful and learning how to teach success.  You don’t need to be examine yourself and your processes to successful.  You can fall into a great set of processes – a great set of “autopilots” – and wake up a superstar in a few year’s time.  But to TEACH SUCCESS you need to learn how to analyze success and the psychology that enables success.

And from all of that analysis; from working with thousands of people; do you know the one lesson I learned that I couldn’t teach for nearly 8 years?

Simplify. Focus on only one change at a time.

The “Just One Change” Rule

focus

Keep it ridiculously simple and focus on “Just One Change” at a time.

Even though you did all of this really hard stuff like creating a plan and setting goals, its really easy to completely ignore simplicity.  A lot of people fall into this trap – but its the keystone of making any major life change.

When you focus intently on only one thing, and ignore all of the other noise, it becomes part of your day…then it becomes part of you.  Once its part of you, it becomes natural and thoughtless.  And that’s when you tackle the next change!

If you have a goal that you want to hit, then break it down into the smallest and most digestible steps as possible.  If you can’t do this, or you don’t know how, then find someone who knows all of the steps and turn to them.  That might be an instructor, a great book with progressions, or a pre-made workout plan. Just make sure that whoever/whatever you turn to has a track record of success.

Once you know WHAT to do, then you focus on squeezing that one thing into your daily routine.  One thing.  No more.

If it’s the handstand, then focus on your 5-minutes-a-day for 28 days in a row.  Don’t worry about anything else.  (And certainly don’t focus on doing three different workout challenges AND starting a 3-day-a-week workout program!)

The bottom line if that you made really huge progress just by sitting yourself down and saying, “I want to do this!” Don’t waste that huge step by trying to focus on too many things at once.  Pick the goal that is the most important to you and focus entirely on that.  Even if its not one of the goals that I write about, like getting your first handstand, or learning adult gymnastics.

Case Study: Mike’s Story

mike

Mike, my brother, has been a big guy for a while.

He wasn’t exactly happy about it and he knew that I had my fitness dialed in…so he would ask me for advice.  But whenever we had a conversation, I would rattle off the hundreds of things that he needed to do to turn his life around.

Eat better.  More veggies; less crap.

Move more. Exercise a lot; squats and deadlifts; run sprints.

Year after year would pass but nothing would happen.  Mike would make no progress.  It was frustrating for both of us, and he had seemed to have hit a wall…resigned to his fate.

This was before I realized the power of small single changes, though…so my advice was pretty useless.

Then he told me he found a DVD Yoga program that really sung to him.  He had been doing it for the past few days and he really enjoyed it so far.  This time I was smarter, though.

I told him, “just focus on doing the program solidly for one month…ignore everything else”.

And he did.  Now he’s been sticking with yoga for several months, is down over 30 lbs. and feeling great.  His exercise regimen was on autopilot, so he started paying more attention to his diet.  He’s now feeling great and looking better (and I’m sure its just a matter of time before I can convince him to get on his hands!)

Now, his yoga program doesn’t have a “special sauce”.  Sure, its a great program to help people get introduced to Yoga and fitness…but nothing about the program is particularly revolutionary.  Just like there is nothing magical or innovative about The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide, Starting Strength, the Nerd Fitness’ Rebel Fitness Guides or Gold Medal Bodies’ Workout plans.

Magical workouts and progressions don’t exist.

The secret here is that these programs and resources make it really easy to put your training on autopilot.  Once you find a program that speaks your language and addresses the person you want to become, you just need to follow it and not think about it.

Then the habit just becomes part of you, and you can easily swap out DDP Yoga, Rebel Fitness or the 15-Second Handstand out for something that meets your new goals…like becoming a powerlifter, distance runner or gymnast.

Small Changes are Small Successes

cant-stop

Small changes create small successes.  Small successes turn into big wins.

But what do you think?

What is the one goal you want to work on that can change everything?

Have you found one small change that has become part of you?

I want to hear from you!

-Chris

photo credit: change, defeat, pole climb, focus, can’t stop

Strong Sam: A Mixed Martial Arts Fighter Who Achieved a Handstand in 30 Days

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Sam Kickup

Meet Sam, the MMA fighter who achieved his first handstand.

When Sam found the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, he was already training MMA for 10 hours a week.  While he doesn’t compete, his workouts are always geared towards improving his performance for his sport.

And like most MMA fighters, Sam enjoyed reading good books on solid training.  He figures that if he is going to spend his time doing something, he might as well achieve his fullest potential.

So, when handstands caught his eye several months ago, he was hesitant to start.  He assumed the time commitment to get a freestanding handstand was gargantuan.  With a schedule filled with school, MMA training and family, there was no room for hours of handstand training.

Then he found the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, and my program, The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide.

He saw a program from a legitimate, trusted author that said 5 minutes per day was all that was needed. The time constraint was no longer an issue. That meant there was no sacrifice.  He could achieve a freestanding handstand with no risk, and no drawbacks…he started working on them immediately.

His first session was the standard 5-minutes per day.  Having a strong fitness background, learning the handstand was a cake walk. Within the first week of purchasing The 15-Second Handstand, he was holding 60-second handstands against the wall.  By his second week, he was solidly working on his kickups.  Within three weeks, he was holding 5-second freestanding holds.  At the 28 day mark, Sam was holding 18- to 20-second freestanding handstands.  The mission was accomplished within four weeks.

More important than these accomplishments, Sam felt like he was progressing.

Sam felt successful.

This is his story.

Sam’s Story

Sam Gym

Chris: Thanks for sharing your story Sam! To start off, who are you and what do you do?

Sam: I am a 21 year old professional student, but when I am off of school, I generally train MMA for 1-2 hours a day, 4-5 days a week.  My workouts during the off-season (when I’m in school) are also geared towards improved performance in MMA.  I also enjoy reading good solid books on training.

Chris: It sounds like you train a lot, so did handstands ever work their way into your training?

Sam: I didn’t train handstands immediately prior to reading your book [part of the The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide].  I had been working towards handstand pushups against the wall, but I stopped doing these at the end of last year.  I had been working on them for a really long time, and felt it was no longer a productive exercise as my progress had all but ceased, regardless of what I tried.

Chris: Your progress on handstand pushups halted, but you still wanted to learn freestanding handstands?

Sam: Since I participate in a sport where body control and spatial awareness are crucial, I figured handstands would improve those qualities immensely. Also, I don’t really have consistent access to weights, so I need ways to strengthen my body with nothing but itself if I want to be consistently improving. Handstands in and of themselves get you stronger, but more importantly they are the gateway to movements that need freakish levels of strength.

Chris: But before you started using The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide, you hadn’t worked on handstands at all….so what was holding you back from trying to learn freestanding handstands?

Sam: I assumed the time commitment required to get a freestanding handstand was gargantuan. As such, since handstands weren’t on the top of my priority list (largely due to time constraints), they didn’t make the cut of what I could spend my limited time working on.

Chris: Most people grossly overestimate how much time and effort is necessary to achieve the freestanding handstand. It definitely holds them back.  There is also a fear of wasting time on something that is not achievable.  Did something change for you?  What prompted you to finally get started?

Sam: When I saw a program from a legitimate trusted author that said 5 minutes a day was all I needed, the time constraint was no longer an issue. That means that I didn’t have to sacrifice any of my other goals to achieve a freestanding handstand, so I started working on them.

Chris: …and then you hit your first 20-second handstands within 30 days of using my methods.  Mission accomplished in less than one month!  I received a lot of videos from you doing handstands near your friends and family.  How did they react when you started throwing up handstands everywhere?

Sam: They weren’t surprised at all. They’ve viewed me as a fitness nut for a long time, so they’re already desensitized to my unhealthy obsession with stuff like this.

Chris: Being a nut like that is a good reputation to have…I should know.  A lot of people are scared of what others will think – but most of the time people are pretty positive.  That aside, what was the most important change to your handstand training that helped you to succeed?

Sam: Training the handstand in the style of skill training (5 minutes per day, 6-7 days a week), as opposed to workout style (for example, 3 days a week for 15 minutes).

Chris: This is definitely one thing that most people overlook, but its so important.  Handstands are a skill and need to be trained frequently!  But even with a small 5-minutes-per-day commitment, its can be hard to stay motivated.  How did you stay in the zone, and stick with handstand training?

Sam: I enjoyed the process itself (usually), but on the days I didn’t, knowing my goal would be achieved within 40-60 days kept me going. Knowing there is a definite end in sight (and knowing to expect that end) is critical to continued effort and progress.

Chris: But did handstands help with your MMA?  Or was it just this cool parlor trick you learned?

Sam: While my handstands were going from “iffy” to “okay”, my footwork in MMA improved dramatically. By no means did I do a scientifically sound experiment, where I eliminated all other variables and determined the only reason for improvement was working handstands. There were plenty of other things that could have been the cause or contributed to my footwork improvement.  The improvement however did coincide with my handstands getting significantly better. Do with that information as you see fit.

Chris: Based on all you learned, what would you tell someone who is just starting to consider training freestanding handstands?

Sam: Everyone has 5 minutes somewhere in their day. And it’s not like you’re committing to 5 minutes a day for the rest of your life. Just 4 weeks, 28 days. Five minutes a day for 28 days is almost a laughable commitment. If you told someone that was your New Year’s resolution, they’d give you a nice sarcastic round of applause. I have class from 7:30 am to 10:45 pm. What’s your excuse?

Chris: There is no excuse really.  If you have a goal, you should go out and achieve it…epecially if it only requires a small time commitment!  So what’s your next goal, Sam?

Sam: I think handstand presses are next in line, because they’re really cool, and they’re a great body weight exercise for your lower back.  Exercises like that are very hard to come by.

Become The Next Success Story

Sam Handstand Press

Does Sam’s story sound familiar? Do you find yourself consumed by your sport, your life, your family, your commitments and responsibilities?  Where do you find the time for learning things that will enhance your life?  Things enable you to hit lifelong goals?

Fortunately, there are several people like Sam that inspire us.  They show us that it only takes a small (almost laughable) time commitment to achieve things that you have been putting off for months or years.  Even if you think you are “too busy” like Sam, retired like Lyle, or big like Greg.

If the handstand has been on your list of goals for a while, people like Sam show us that it’s still possible to squeeze it in.

Sam was able to adapt his training and create a system for handstand success.  Sam came from an MMA background, and already had a solid foundation of strength, so he only needed to take a few key steps to hit his goal.

This isn’t some sort of “quick fix”.  Sam still had to put in a month’s worth of consistent training.  But these small changes have a huge impact, not just on handstand training, but in all aspects of living a fit and impressive life. It’s usually only a small set of changes that have the biggest impact.

Sam took action:

Sam set aside time: Sam felt like he had too much in his schedule, and that handstands were going to take a lot of time.  Once he learned that you can get to your first handstand by training for just 5 minutes per day, he carved 5 minutes out of his busy life to train his handstand.  Maybe that was before breakfast every day, or after dinner.  Maybe he wasn’t so regimented…but he did fit in his handstand training, 6-7 days a week.  And once he had the habit in place, it turned into an addiction.  Because you can train handstands nearly anywhere, he was training for much more than 5 minutes every day.  He would throw up handstands here and there and everywhere.  It didn’t feel like a burden at all.  This is typical for people who develop the handstand habit.

Strong Sam turned skillful: Like most MMA fighters and serious athletes, Sam was already strong enough to hold himself upside down for 45-60 seconds.  He had a good foundation of strength – just the foundation you need for hand balancing.  But he didn’t realize that the handstand is mostly a skill at that point.  Once he realized that, he was able to change the way he thought about his training, which opened the door to consistent training, and nearly-obsessive practice.

Sam practiced daily: Nearly everyone I have ever worked with overlooks the value of consistent, habitual practice. Sam was no exception.  Sam used to look at the handstand as a feat of strength, thinking it needed to be trained in the same way as a pull-up or deadlift: taxing workouts that require rest and recovery.  The handstand is different, though.  Handstands are a skill, and skills need to be practiced regularly.  As Sam told me in one of his first emails: “The main thing this taught me is there’s no comparison between 5 minutes/7 days a week and 15 minutes/3 days a week.”  If you want to get to the handstand, you need to be consistent and frequent!

Sam asked for help: Do you ever watch those TV shows where celebrities learn to figure skate or dance in just a few weeks?  What about that guy at your gym who seemed to go from powder-puff to beast in 6 months?  Sure, these people aren’t ready for a pro career, but they are still crazy impressive. But how did they get so much better in such a short period of time?  Aside from consistent practice, they are locked in a room with a private teacher who answers all of their questions, and shows them the way.  They ask for advice.  When I first started training martial arts, I had stayed late every night to ask questions of my instructors.  I was doing advanced holds, and sparring with black belts within a two months.  Sam knew the value of having someone to ask for help, and reached out to me at least once a week with a fistful of questions.  I gave him answers, and he made progress with every email.  Don’t underestimate the value of having a trainer in your pocket.

Sam found his manual: Sam clearly knew the benefit of good information and going in the right direction, so he found a guide he could trust and followed it to the letter, immediately. Sam knew that he had classes, training and family consuming his time…he didn’t want to waste time researching random handstand progressions online – an effort that usually results in getting overwhelmed.  While most tutorials and videos are created with good-intentions, they are usually lacking in research and results.  The material in The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide has results and reputation behind it.  It set him in the right direction and spoke his language. He didn’t waste any time.  By taking this no-nonsense approach, Sam hit his goal within one month.  What progress have you made in the last month?

Congrats to Sam on achieving the handstand faster than anyone I have ever met! We are already working together to help him achieve his first handstand press, so he can continue to master his body for his sport.

When will you be sending in YOUR success story? (Seriously, I am getting in the habit of collecting these things.  I love success stories.  Even if you didn’t use my book – send me your story so we can feature you on the site too!)

If you think you’re too busy, then set aside the next 5 minutes to practice handstands.  Five minutes is less than most of your bathroom breaks, lets be honest.  Start with 5-minutes a day and a small step in the right direction.  You will make progress!

And then celebrate your success, like Sam!

-Chris

PS: I’m proud to say that Sam used the materials in The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide to help him succeed on his journey. Wouldn’t you be proud?  It enabled Sam to hit a major training goal in four weeks.  The guide spoke his language, laid out things in a step-by-step progression and gave him a blueprint for success. If you are struggling to learn the handstand, constantly get overwhelmed or think handstands take too much time, you are underestimating the importance of picking a plan that makes sense to you. I don’t care if it’s the The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide or any other program, as long as you pick one and hit your goal!

Beginner’s Guide to Adult Gymnastics

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circus-top

I love Cirque du Soleil.  

I have seen loads of Cirque shows in person.  I’ve been known to spend hours swapping epic and amazing Cirque videos with friends.  I watch these performances with my jaw on the floor.  Every. Single. Time.

Why?  Because acrobats are amazing.  They are awesome.  Most people watch an acrobat and say, “Wow!  Incredible!”

But I hit this point in my life where I didn’t want to say “Wow!” anymore.  I wanted to get up and do these awesome things.  I wanted to stop saying that I wanted to be acrobatic.  I wanted to just be acrobatic.

Maybe it was because I was finally hitting my stride with “fitness”.

Maybe it was because I had gotten over that initial hump (somewhere between Martial Arts, CrossFit and Parkour).  You know what I’m talking about.  The point where I realized how important movement is to my daily life.

Maybe I just hit a breaking point where I wanted to just freakin’ see what I could REALLY do.

Something just clicked.  I was watching an acrobat and said “I’m going to do that”.

I had big plans.  I sat myself in front of the mirror and said:

I’m going to stand on my hands.
I’m going to do a backflip.
I’m going to do a muscle up.

In a matter of a few years, I did all that and more. And, you know what?  I’m convinced that many people want to do all of these things, and just never get started.

Luckily, I was in the right environment eight years ago.  If anything were different, I wouldn’t have gotten past day one.

This article is the intro I wish I had back then.  It will guide you through the challenges associated with three skills that all new acrobats and adult gymnasts should learn immediately.

So what is holding you back?

Fear Holds You Back

stormtrooper-circus

The single thing that holds people back is fear.  It’s always fear.

After doing a lot of research, and working with a lot of people, I figured it out.  Sure, no one comes out and just says “Oh no, I’m too scared!”  They wrap it up with excuses.  They say things like:

“That’s too dangerous.”
Fear: I’m scared of getting hurt.

But is adult gymnastics really that dangerous?  Most gymnasts don’t do extremely dangerous tasks on a regular basis.  The dangerous stuff is only for really advanced acrobats…and even then it’s only when they are putting on a death-defying performance.  Despite popular perception, most acrobatic skills are pretty safe.

“That must have taken you forever.”
Fear: “I’m scared that I won’t have enough time.”

Adult gymnastics doesn’t take that much time.  Most of the fundamentals is actually skill work, not strength work…and skills only require a minimum of a few minutes training every day.  If you have taken the 28-Day Handstand Challenge then you know that building up to an impressive skill doesn’t take much more than 5-minutes-per-day.  For most of us, that’s less time than it takes to run a mile, or do a couple of sets of weightlifting.

“I would look stupid trying that.”
Fear: “I’m scared of what other people might think.”

While some people may think what you are doing is stupid, you will find that most people are humbled, impressed and inspired when they see you doing something amazing like a handstand or a flip.  And when some oddball decides to be snide (which isn’t that common) you gotta remember to ignore haters!  You can’t please everyone – and if adult gymnastics and acrobatics makes you happy then you need to at least please yourself.

But there is one argument that I hear more often than any other.  I hear it SO often that it gets super special attention…

“Don’t I Need to Start When I’m Really Young?”

baby

NO WAY.  You can be an impressive gymnast whether you start when you’re in your 20’s or your 60’s or anywhere in between.

Sure, you won’t be able to do the most advanced skills if you start later in life.  Maybe you will never be the best gymnast in the world.  But that wouldn’t happen even if you started training at a young age…unless your parents sold you to an acrobatic troop when you were two years old.

You can still be incredible, inspiring and impressive, all the same.  Even just the fundamentals of acrobatics – the simplest of the simplest gymnastics maneuvers – are incredibly impressive to 99% of the general public.

On top of that, I honestly don’t believe that adults must learn slower than children.

Most people don’t believe that I have seen an adult learn to back handspring on a trampoline in 15 minutes.  I’ll repeat that: I have seen an adult learn to back handspring in 15 minutes.  And this person wasn’t some freak of nature.  It was a 30-year-old woman who couldn’t perform a ten-inch vertical leap without falling on her butt.  She could barely even keep her balance on the trampoline. She just had a good teacher.

I have personally worked with a 21 year old MMA fighter who achieved his first 15-second freestanding handstand in 30 days. Twenty-one is still pretty young?  What about the 29 year old powerlifter who did it in 44 days?  Or the 58 year old retiree who only needed 60 days?

A lot of people grossly overestimate the amount of time it takes to learn the fundamentals of gymnastics. You expect to take a long time…so it takes a long time!  Or, even worse, you don’t start at all…

It also doesn’t help that most of the acrobatic and gymnastics training materials that exist today are based on progressions intended for children.  When I was doing research for The 15-Second Handstand, I found one online handstand progression that actually said to have someone grab your legs and pull.  You know, that way that you could feel yourself “getting longer”.  Good luck doing this with a 235 lbs. weightlifter…!

But what are the challenges that YOU are facing:

Fear conquering is crucial, because fear halts progress for months.
You have a busy lifestyle, so gymnastics training needs to fit into your busy day.
Most adults can’t find a good coach, so a good adult’s program will minimize spotting.

When you take the right approach, the foundational gymnastics skills can be learned in weeks, not years.  Yes, some of the more advanced skills will take several months, but the fundamentals don’t need to take forever — and the fundamentals open doors for impressive skills in the future.

Gymnastics Fundamentals – Two Step Skill Method

one-armed-elbow-lever

Gymnasts learn how to skillfully control and master their own bodies.

In other words, most of what you need to learn falls into the realm of skill training.  You probably didn’t realize that strength is only a small component of gymnastics training…but in reality, once you have foundational strength, acrobatic feats just need to be practiced over and over and over again.  They just take consistent practice to learn proper execution!

In other words, you first need to make your body strong, then you make it capable.  First you prepare the body for the task, then learn you to perform it.  I like to call this the Two Step Skill Method, because it makes it easy to remember that there are only two steps you need to hit any gymnastics or acrobatic skill:

  1. Get Strong: Build the foundational strength
  2. Train Skills: Use the foundational strength to practice relevant skills

Here, lets see a few examples:

Handstand

Foundational Strength

60-second wall handstand

Relevant Skill Sets

Pirouette Bailing
The Cambered Hand Technique
Freestanding Balance
Kickups

Back Flip

Foundational Strength

10-15″ Vertical Leap

Relevant Skill Sets

Tucking Speed
Tuck Timing
Release Timing
Fear Conquering
Setting (Jumping) Technique

This is the basic blueprint for all gymnastics skill training. It is the foundation for the 28-Day Handstand Challenge and The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide.

In these books and videos, I first provide a few key tips to help you build a training habit for consistent training.  (If you aren’t consistent, then all of the training is for naught, so consistency is the absolute first priority.)  Then, I make sure you have the pre-requisite strength by laying a path for you to build up to a 60-second wall handstand — the foundational strength requirement for the handstand.  Finally, you just drill the skill over and over every single day.  It’s fun and invigorating, since you already have a good foundation in place!

BOOM! Within a few weeks, you achieve your first handstand like these guys.

And then you apply that same process to many other skills…

Starting Your First Gymnastics Skills

handstand-table

So lets actually get started on being freakin’ incredible.

I prefer to keep things simple.  There are only three skills you need to learn to start your gymnastics journey: the handstand, the handstand press and the muscle up.

These aren’t the only three skills that you should ever learn.  No, there are dozens, if not hundreds of skills, transitions, flips, twists and holds that you can learn in your acrobatic training…but these skills provide a solid foundation for all gymnastics skill sets.

The strength and skills that you learn when conquering these three skills has significant carry-over to nearly all branches of gymnastics.  That includes hand balancing and pole dancing; bar skills and rings skill; flipping and twisting; slacklining and jumping.

Once you master these three skills, you instantly open up a door into hundreds of impressive skills.  Nearly every adept gymnast or acrobat, no matter their discipline, can perform each of these three skills.

And the best part?  All three of these can usually be learned in under a year…and in most cases, one year is a gross overestimate.  I have seen people get all three within two months.

Where will you be in your training next year?  Did you ever believe that you could have three amazing skills under your belt within 12 months or less?  I know it sounds bold, but its completely true: you just need to train consistently, and take the right steps.

Handstand

handstand

The handstand is the gateway into all balance training including hand balance skills, transitions and variations.  That’s why I focused my entire career on handstands.  That’s why I wrote a book, and dozens of free articles on this one skill alone.  It’s that important.

The handstand requires that you build solid shoulder strength, incredible core stability and whole-body discipline.

You start with training handstands directly.

Foundational Strength

60-second wall handstand

Relevant Skill Sets

Pirouette Bailing
Proper Form
The Cambered Hand Technique
Freestanding Balance
Kickups

To build the handstand’s foundational strength, you need to build up the strength for a 60-second wall handstand hold.  

The best way to do this is to train wall handstands directly.  You can start by doing a normal plank position next to the wall.  If you can hold this for 60 seconds, walk your feet up the wall a little bit, and your hands closer to the wall.  Work on holding this new position for 60 seconds.  Repeat this over and over until you are about 12 inches from the wall, and then you have the foundational strength that is necessary to get started on freestanding handstands.

Once you’re there, you can transition over to training the relevant skill sets.  The most important skill to achieve is the pirouette bail, which will help you get over fear….because fear is the #1 thing that holds most people back.

All of the other relevant skill sets, including the Cambered Hand Technique make finding your balance easier.  Then it’s on to learning kickups, so that you can throw up handstands anywhere.

If you want more details on getting your first handstand, you can sign up for the 28-Day Handstand Challenge to get dozens of free articles that specifically discuss getting your first handstand as an adult trainee.

Handstand Press

sam-3

The handstand press is another gateway skill that opens up hundreds of handstand transitions.  It allows you to enter the handstand in a slow and controlled manner, letting you perform handstands on unstable surfaces (like rings) or on sketchy terrain (like the top of a stairwell).

Yes, learning the handstand press does require you to learn the freestanding handstand first.  But most people I have worked with have learned their handstand in well under 6 months.  Routinely, the majority of my students get their first 15-second freestanding handstand within 40-90 days of consistent training.  And once you have handstand under your belt, the handstand press takes balance, core strength and upper body control to a whole new level.

Now, there are actually dozens of handstand press variations, but we will keep it simple.  Start with one variation, and expand from there.

You will start with the frogstand-to-handstand press.

Foundational Strength

15-Second Frogstand
15-Second Freestanding Handstand

Relevant Skill Sets

Controlled Handstand-to-Frogstand Negative
Maintaining Balance
Harnessing Ideal Hip Position

The Frogstand-to-Handstand press, of course, requires you to hold at least a 15-second freestanding handstand.  Any less than 15 seconds means that you aren’t competent enough in handstands to learn the skills associated with the press.  In case you skipped it, you can build up to your first freestanding handstand using the methods outlined in the previous section, and it can usually be achieved in 4-12 weeks.

Also, you need at least a 15-second frog stand, which is the starting point of the frogstand-to-handstand press.  To get started on the frogstand, just place your hands on the floor, and bend at the elbows.  WIth both feet on the floor, bend your knees, and rest them just on top of your elbows.

Lean your weight forward gently, a little bit at a time.  Your knees should feel secure on your elbows as you lean forward.  Continue leaning forward until your toes are off the ground, and all of your weight is supported on your elbows and your hands.  Congrats!  You are in a frogstand…now build up to holding it for 15 seconds.

Below is an awesome demonstration performed by Ido Portal:

Once you hit these two goals to build your foundational strength, you’re ready to transition into skill training.  That means drilling controlled negatives.  If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a negative, it just means doing the move in reverse.  So, instead of starting in a frogstand and pushing up into a handstand, you start by kicking up into a handstand, and lower yourself gently down into a frogstand. Performing negatives like this teaches your body the skill at a rapid rate.

By repeatedly drilling negatives, you will quickly learn how to maintain balance; you will learn how your hips should move in relation to your hands; you will learn to master your own body.

It also builds a ton of strength, too.

Muscle Up

muscle-up

In general, a muscle up is when you start in a hang from a bar or rings, and pull yourself up and over your hands into support. Muscle ups open the door to dozens of more difficult skills.

The strength that the muscle up builds can be easily applied to nearly every branch of acrobatics and gymnastics…not just the ones that require a set of rings or a sturdy pull-up bar.  Advanced gymnastics, pole dancing, slacklining and flipping skills all benefit from the lessons learned through muscle up training.

The best way to train muscle ups is on a pair of rings.  Rings can be purchased for as little at $50-60, or you can get wooden rings (my preference) for as little as $70-80.  Rings make learning the muscle up easier; progress comes faster.  You can hang them from a doorway pull-up bar, or from a tree branch outside.

Rings present so many benefits to gymnastics training, that its criminal to not have a pair if you are serious about undertaking gymnastics.

[I’m actually partnered with a few online stores that sell rings, so I could link to them here and get a cut of sales…but I would rather you buy a pair of rings because that’s what best for your training.  I don’t want you to second guess their importance because you think I may be trying to make a quick buck on selling you rings.  Seriously get yourself some rings!  I never met a gymnast or acrobat that didn’t own their own pair.]

But, if you don’t have a pair of rings and want to get started, you can practice on a pull-up bar with clearance that allows you to get over the bar.

You start by working on big pullups and deep dips.

Foundational Strength

5 explosive chest-to-ring/bar pullups
5 chest-to-rings/bar dips
False Grip

Relevant Skill Sets

Behind-The-Bar Pulling Technique
Muscle Up Transition

The muscle up is definitely more strength-oriented than the other two fundamental skills I mentioned…but the benefits of learning to muscle up are so amazing that it’s nothing short of necessary.

Of the three skills in the beginner’s gymnastics list, the muscle up is the most difficult, and will take the longest, but it still shouldn’t take longer than a year. Even if you can’t do one pull-up today, its entirely possible that you will have a muscle up within a year.  Yes, it’s really true.  Most people can get to 5 pull-ups within a few months.  Going from 5 pull-ups to the muscle up is actually not that big of a jump!

While I would love to give you a step-by-step guide of training the muscle up, the main point in this article is to show you how to break down the most important skills into foundational strength and relevant skill sets.  I would rather not reinvent the wheel and write my own muscle up tutorial here when Jim Bathurst of Beast Skills already wrote one of the best muscle-up guides available on the web.

Gymnasts and acrobats do flips!  What about those!?

tedx-flip

Flips are awesome too!  And you should train them (so you can backflip after your TEDx talk like my friend Zac Cohn, obviously).

I love flipping.  In fact, I learned my first backflip when I was 23, and built up to performing them outside — on concrete.  I’m definitely not against flips.

Flipping is a skill that I classify as dynamic gymnastics — or a skill that requires fast movements, and quick adjustments.  Other dynamic gymnastics skills may include things like jumping, vaulting, twisting, handsprings, flashy kicks or even swinging from bars like a monkey.

You don’t need to flip and jump around to be an gymnast…but if that’s what you want to do, then you should definitely go for it!

The problem with dynamic gymnastics is that it is very difficult to learn these skills (1) on your own and (2) without a gym.  The good news is that if you want to learn dynamic skills, seeking out a gym is pretty easy (see the next section for more details).

And who will be in that gym? Other people who can help teach you these skills. Working on skills together in a gymnastics facility or circus school is actually an awesome way to make friends and speed up progress.  You may even be able to pay for one-on-one coaching sessions, which is a lot better than any online tutorial.

That aside, I haven’t found a single online resource that teaches dynamic gymnastics in a manner that I consider safe or effective.  I actually don’t think it’s even possible to learn dynamic skills from a book.  It’s just the sort of thing that you need to learn in person. (If you know something I don’t, though, let me know!)

Where Can I Get More Info?!

lego-explorer

If you’re looking to get more info on becoming a gymnast or acrobat, then I have a few resources to recommend.

Find other acrobats – I alluded to this a little bit already, but finding other like-minded gymnasts will greatly enhance your progress.  I find that people at gymnastics open gyms, parkour meetups, and some CrossFit gyms tend to be acrobatically-minded.  You may not even realize it, but a lot of cities have circus schools dedicated to teaching adults various gymnastics and circus arts.  Lucky for you, I know of a worldwide circus school directory.  If there isn’t a circus school near you (or if that sounds too intense), you can check out opens gym in your area. Just go to Google Maps and type in “gymnastics”.  Most of the places that come up will provide an open gym session thats in the range of $10-$20/session (that’s about €7-€15 or £6-£12, if you live in Europe/UK).

Find a good instructor – If you are going to pains to find a good gym, and you have some cash in your pocket, then a good instructor can really help to accelerate your progress.  A good instructor is invaluable when training dynamic gymnastics like flips and twists.  Even though most of your static gymnastics training will be on your own, an instructor can give you great feedback on other skills like handstands in a weekly session.

Do some research – If you’re the bookworm type (like me), then you may find these books, blogs and articles useful for getting started for static gymnastics skills, like the three fundamental skills I list in this article.  Some of these resources are paid, but all have some sort of free component.

The 28-Day Handstand Challenge – Yup, tooting my own horn here.  I’m an acrobat and amateur gymnast myself, and have spent a lot of time developing a handstand program that gets people to their first handstand quickly, safely and effectively. It took me over a year to nail down my first handstand, so I know it can be intimidating. But with the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, most people make huge progress within the first week (it’s free, but it only goes into detail about building the foundational strength).

The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide – If a paid guide is more your thing, then you may be interested in a comprehensive step-by-step program.  This guide takes the foundational strength of the 60-second wall handstand and teaches to achieve your first 15-Second freestanding handstand hold.

The Fundamentals of Bodyweight Strength Training – Easily the most comprehensive free article on bodyweight strength training, written by Steven Low.  This article includes a ton of information on static gymnastics skills.  This article teaches timeless lessons about building the foundational strength for nearly every static gymnastics skill out there.

Overcoming Gravity – If you want to read about bodyweight strength in a much more comprehensive book (over 540 pages!), Steven Low, covers hundreds of gymnastics skills and variations in his book, Overcoming Gravity.

Beast Skills Tutorials – Like short, step-by-step tutorials?  Then Beast Skills is right up your alley.  While some of the content hasn’t been updated in years, Jim Bathurst has written over a dozen tutorials on many gymnastics and acrobatic skills, including those covered in this article.

Drills and Skills – Despite the simple design, Drills and Skills has one of the most complete listing of acrobatics/gymnastics skills that you can learn on your own, at home.  It even includes some dynamic gymnastics skills (but I still don’t think it’s anywhere near as effective as just finding an open gym).

So, what do you think?

lego-handstand

The ball’s in your court. 

Have you tried to learn acrobatic skills in the past?  What was your experience like?  Have a criticism of the method or skills I propose?

Think I am being too conservative on teaching flips through the internet?  Do you have a resource I am missing?

Let’s hear about it!

-Chris

photo credit: big top, stormtrooper flip, baby, elbow lever, rooftop handstand, muscle up, lego explorer, lego handstand

Handstand Exploding Head Syndrome

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Watermelon Smash

It’s amazing how people let fear get in the way of hitting lifelong goals.  So many people let fear take control when they try to learn the handstand.

At least once a week, someone sends me an email asking for advice because handstands make them feel like their head is going to explode:

“As soon as I get close to vertical, my head felt like it was going to explode.”

“I get redness in my face for quite a while after handstands.”

“My eyes feel like they are about to burst!”

“I don’t mind holding the handstand, but the pressure on my head is unbearable!”

I get emails like this so frequently that I started calling it Exploding Head Syndrome.  Recently, I received an email from someone who actually removed the handstand from their workouts all together because of Exploding Head Syndrome!!

Exploding Head Syndrome Email

Sure, some people don’t have this problem at all, but many people DO.  Just because you are the only one you know who has this problem doesn’t make you any less capable to perform the handstand.

But how many people experience this and don’t reach out to me for help?  How many people feel the pain, and just figure it’s easier to put the handstand aside?

How many people try their first wall handstand, experience Exploding Head Syndrome, and give up?

I haven’t pin pointed the percentage of people who suffer from this problem and never try to fix it.  But I do know how many people have taken the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, and I know that people who complete the challenge always see progress towards their first handstand.  Yet, so many people don’t finish the challenge. They fall off the wagon somewhere — and I bet Exploding Head Syndrome is to blame in many of those cases.

If you experience this problem and you stop training, you are just letting fear get the best of you  :

Fear that you may not be ready for the handstand.
Fear that your body is not capable of being inverted.
Fear that continued practice will mean more pain, instead of more reward.
Fear that you will be wasting time on something that you can never perform.

This is unfortunate, because Exploding Head Syndrome is SO COMMON and SO EASY TO OVERCOME

Understanding Exploding Head Syndrome

Lego Stretcher

When you go into a handstand, its like turning a water bottle upside-down.  WHOOSH!  All of the blood in your body rushes to your head, and expands the blood vessels throughout, including those in your brain and eyes.  Imagine filling a water balloon, and how it swells as more water flows into it.  Yup, the same thing is happening in every blood vessel in your entire head.

But…when you get out of bed in the morning, all of the blood rushes to your feet.  WHOOSH!  So why don’t your feet feel like they are going to explode every time you stand up?!

Well, your body is supposed to know how to adjust to the stress of changing blood pressures as you move around.  When the blood rushes to your feet, your blood vessels sense the change in pressure, and they relax or stiffen based on the blood pressure that is ideal for your feet.  Since you usually stand upright, your blood vessels are well trained to adjust for the sudden rush of blood, and you don’t even notice a difference.

You’re not used to standing on your hands, though…so once you get inverted, the blood rushes to your head and your body literally doesn’t know how to cope!  The entire system that deals with blood pressure in the head is simply not trained for that situation.

If you want to overcome Exploding Head Syndrome, you need to gradually train your body to deal with the increased pressure.

But before going any further, there is a minority of new hand balancers where Exploding Head Syndrome may indicate a medical problem such as high blood pressure, low blood pressure, infection or even something more sinister…

For example, if you have problems with your blood pressure then your body is generally not coping well to changes in your circulation.  Your body may not be able to adjust to blood rushing to your head, no matter what.

Now, I don’t run into many people like this…in fact, the number of people I have worked with who have had serious medical problems is under 10%.  Most times, Exploding Head Syndrome is pretty benign…

But if you do suffer from Exploding Head Syndrome, you should probably check with your doctor first before continuing your handstand training.  If you do have a medical problem, it can lead to a bunch of horrible symptoms including headaches and burst capillaries in the eyes, among other things.

A quick visit to the doctor, where you get cleared for handstand training can save you a lot of time, frustration and headaches (literally!).  And, in some rare cases, it may also uncover something that needs medical attention.  And once you get that sorted out, you can start working on overcoming Exploding Head Syndrome.

Overcoming Exploding Head Syndrome

Watermelon Bandage

If you made it this far, then you checked that you’re cleared to do handstands, right?  So, you don’t need to worry about medical complications? Great!  You’re ready to work past this problem.

Good news! It usually only takes 7-14 days to eliminate Exploding Head Syndrome.

Remember to Breathe

The first thing you need to do is remember to breathe.  I know, I know, it sounds stupid…but it’s normal to hold your breath when you are straining yourself.  When you are really trying to hold yourself up, you tend to tighten the muscles in your trunk and hold your breath.  This is called the Valsalva maneuver  and is actually really useful when you are trying to do something like push your car down the road, or deadlift a tree.

We evolved to perform the Valsalva maneuver instinctively because it locks the truck in place, stabilizes the Lumbar spine and provides stability to the shoulder girdle.  This is great in most situations, but it works against you when you are learning to handstand.

For starters, the Valsalva maneuver temporarily increases your heart rate, so more blood is being pumped out of your heart and into your head…right to the last place you want it.  As if that weren’t bad enough, holding your breath increases the pressure in your trunk, which makes it harder for blood to leave your head.

In short, you need to force yourself to breathe steadily!  When you are first getting over the Exploding Head Syndrome, you can use a technique to make sure you are breathing.  You can count out loud.  You can recite your alphabet.  These techniques force you to pay attention to your breathing.

I can hear you cry out, “Wait!  Those guys in Cirque don’t seem to be paying so much attention to their breathing!” and you’re right.  As your handstands improve, you will be able to breathe normally, but you need to get over this initial hump first.

Gradually Increase the Pressure

If controlling your breathing doesn’t provide the relief you need, then you need to build up to the increased pressure slowwwwllly…

If you are taking the 28-Day Handstand Challenge (or using my book), the technique for overcoming Exploding Head Syndrome slips right into your daily 5-minute routine (Not taking the challenge? Working on your handstand?  You may want to sign up to get all of my free handstand material.)

GET STARTED

Sign up for free updates and receive the 28-Day Handstand Challenge eBook.

Build a handstand commitment to eliminate Exploding Head Syndrome.

Start by going into your best belly-to-wall handstand hold, and get to the point where you start to feel the pressure building up, where you start to feel uncomfortable.  Then, walk your hands a step or two away from the wall, bringing your hips down and reducing the pressure.  You should still be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be unbearable.

In the next session, try to get a little closer.  The next time, get closer.  And the time after that?  Yup, get closer.  Even if it’s just a centimeter each time.  Eventually, the discomfort will subside, and you will be able to tolerate being inverted.

This technique gradually introduces your blood vessels to the stress of increased blood flow to the head.  And, as your body gets used to it, it will learn how to adjust each and every time.

The only caveat here is that you need to be consistent, and train this daily…anything less just won’t cut it.  Luckily, you have the habit-building and commitment-strengthening techniques of the 28-Day Handstand Challenge to help keep you consistent.

A small “problem” with this technique is that it can be frustrating if you are already pretty strong, if your arms are strong enough to hold yourself upside-down near the wall.  You feel that holding wall planks (instead of wall handstands) is too elementary for someone of your strength…but you need to get past that.  The only way to get over this problem is to reprogram your body to be able to do handstands, and this method is the only way to do it.

Now…Do It!

Thumbs Up

You need to be consistent, and you need to just get out and do it.

Just like your normal handstand training, you need to work on this very frequently.  Your body needs a lot of exposure to being inverted.  That is the only way it can adjust to the increased pressure.

This method works in a vast majority of cases, and normally takes between 7-14 days until most of the pain disappears.  Sometimes it takes a bit longer (6 weeks or more) if you are an outlier or have a medical complication…

…but is two weeks (or even 6 weeks) really that long?  After all, you are trying to reprogram a major biological system in your body!  You’re trying to overcome a major obstacle towards an uber-impressive, lifelong goal!  A few weeks is nothing, in the scheme of things.

So just go out and do it.  If you are taking the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, or using my book, then you need to just remember this technique as you go through Challenges #1 and #2.  If you are reading this because you want to hit your first freestanding hold, then you should start the 28-Day Handstand Challenge to build the habit and consistency that are necessary to overcome this obstacle.

Now just get out there and train!

photo source: watermelon smash, stretcher, thumbs-up

Handstands and Beginner’s Yoga

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Yoga Handstand Kick UpPhoto Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/4521764256/

I have trained in a lot of disciplines over the years…

What originally got me hooked was Tae Kwon Do, a martial art that focuses heavily on kicking and lower limb flexibility. It wasn’t until several years later, after falling into parkour and gymnastics training, that I finally started dabbling in Yoga.

In a word, that is unfortunate. I wish that I had found Yoga much earlier in life.

Yoga is an awesome art that definitely helps your physical well-being by promoting flexibility, stability and body control…but Yoga has really shown me that movement provides mental clarity…

…but like any other physical discipline, Yoga can be frustrating.

The more advanced skills in acrobatic yogas, like Ashtanga or Acroyoga, can be particularly difficult. Getting frustrated (or enraged) by yoga kind of defeats the point…doesn’t it?

That’s probably why I get a lot of emails like this from yogis who are taking the 28-Day Handstand Challenge:

“I would like to conquer the handstand in my yoga practice! I need assistance with a freestanding handstand. I can sometimes kick up against the wall but don’t really know how to get balance.”Elaine

“While I’ve done handstand assisted, or against the wall in yoga class before, I’d like to feel more confident doing them at home, and hopefully one day be able to do a freestanding handstand. There are not many options for taking yoga classes in my area, and so I’ve had to practice by myself at home. ” Kara

“It never occurred to me to try a handstand until I started taking yoga classes a couple of years ago. We’ve done handstands against a wall a few times in class for short periods of time. I haven’t attempted the freestanding handstand yet because I don’t want to risk injury.”Robert

After digging a bit deeper, I found out that these are people who want to learn the handstand specifically to achieve advanced yoga poses such as the handstand, handstand press, headstand and elbow balance.

The good news is that yogis usually learn the handstand quickly – and I have personally helped yogis in this position before…for example, there is Lyle…

“It wasn’t until Chris Salvato’s experience, methodologies, and willingness to help me [overcome issues] that I was finally successful.” – Lyle, Acroyoga student

Now, I won’t pretend that I know everything about Yoga. While I love Yoga and have practiced it myself, I am not the most experienced yogi…but there is one thing I do know a ton about – and thats getting adults to balance on their hands.

In the end, a yogi trying to get their first handstand is just like every other adult – which means you need to address two keystones of adult handstand training: Consistent Practice and Fear Conquering.

This article will help you make significant progress towards the freestanding handstand for Yoga.

Practicing Handstand Consistently

Handstand in a Suit

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tsdesign/8614939084/

Based on the hundreds of yogis I have worked with who have taken the 28-Day Handstand Challenge (and personal experience), most yoga instructors don’t focus very heavily on the freestanding handstand during yoga classes.

They usually opt for one of several other inversions that are easier for an instructor to manage in a classroom, like the Plow Pose, or the headstand…and even then, the inversion training is usually limited to once a week, if at all.

What most people don’t realize about the handstand, though, is that it is a skill much more than it is a strength maneuver. (Don’t worry, yogis aren’t the only ones who make this mistake…CrossFitters do too.)

The handstand is a skill because you MUST train in subtle movements and techniques that only improve through repetition.

Training skills is usually not very taxing and your improvement is directly related to how much you train (unlike a feat of strength, which is usually taxing and requires rest and recovery).  Training handstands is actually more similar to learning to play the piano than it is to lifting weights or getting your first pushup.

So practicing just once a week isn’t ideal. Even three times a week isn’t ideal. Because of the nature of skill training, practicing at least a little bit, every day (say, 5 minutes per day) will produce the best results.

You need to take it in your own hands to practice handstands daily, even if that means practicing outside of your normal yoga workouts.

For starters, daily training will leverage habit psychology to build a positive addiction.  Daily routines become a part of your normal schedule.  They become something that must be done daily.

Once you have a 5-minute habit established, it effortlessly grows into more frequent practice…which translates into faster learning.

What starts as a single daily 5-minute training session blows up into two sessions a day, then three, then four…then maybe even hours of training every day.  We all know of at least one young musician, who is inseparable from his instrument.  It always starts with a small, consistent regimen, and grows from there.

The more time you put into the skill, the better you will be.  Period.

(Now, I know that there are some instructors that do drill handstands regularly, especially in the more acrobatic forms of yoga.  If you have an instructor like this, then consider yourself lucky! Latch onto that awesome instructor and take advantage of their knowledge and expertise!!

Most of the people who come to me, though, don’t have an instructor with that level of competence.  If you are anything like every yogi who has taken the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, then you are probably even struggling to find an Ashtanga or Acroyoga gym in your area!)

Conquering Handstand Fears

Even if you get into consistent handstand practice, you will likely face another huge problem — the fear of falling.

When it comes to handstands, a lot of instructors and “gurus” sweep fears under the rug.  To my knowledge, I am the only handstand trainer that integrates fear conquering psychology into handstand programming.

I find this shocking, because over 90% of people I have interviewed from the 28-Day Handstand Challenge tell me that fear of falling is what has held them back from handstand training…for years.

So you can’t ignore fear…

Fear is the reason you won’t step away from this article and try kicking up into a handstand.
Fear is the reason you haven’t tried kicking up into a handstand before.
Fear is the reason you won’t make progress.

If you want to perform a handstand, you need to acknowledge this fear and overcome it. There is no other way.

Getting Over Fear

The good news is that getting over this fear is actually a lot simpler than you think.  After all, I helped Lyle overcome vertigo in less than two months, resulting in one of the best beginner’s handstands I have ever seen.

You just need to systematically and gradually introduce yourself to the handstand; to being upside down; to relying on your hands to support you.

More specifically, you need to leverage a psychology technique known as systematic desensitization.  This technique is used around the world for behavior modification.  It requires consistent and regular exposure to your fears (which is another reason you need consistent practice!)

I know what you’re saying, though: “How do I translate this into something actionable?  How do I use systematic desensitization?

First, you need to break the fear down into it’s simplest parts — and after 6000+ 28-Day Handstand Challengers, I have been able to boil down most handstand fears into two key components: fear of being upside down and fear of falling over.

Without a solid strategy, many people let these fears hold them back for years without making progress.

1. Fear of Being Upside Down

Afraid that your arms will give out?  Don’t want to face plant?  Or do you just panic when inverted?!

You are suffering from a general fear of being upside down — but there is hope.

Overcoming this fear is simple and completely risk free – you just need to start in a normal plank, with your feet on the ground.  Then, you put your feet on the wall, and walk your hands a little closer.  Then a little closer.  Then closer still.  Eventually you will find yourself 12 inches from the wall and, *ta-da* you are holding a wall handstand with almost no risk of falling over.

This approach is so powerful because it also takes advantage of normal progressive overloading.  You are gradually loading your hands and shoulders with more of your bodyweight…so you get stronger and reduce fear!  Sounds like a win/win to me.

2. Fear of Falling Over

Scared to kick up and falling flat on your back?  Think you will kick up too powerfully and slingshot your back right into the ground?  Maybe you are scared of actually holding the handstand, then freaking out, losing control, and crashing into a messy heap, sprawled out and crying on the floor…?

But think, would this fear exist if you fell onto a fluffy mat?  Or a soft pit of foam?  What if there was no possibility of being in pain after falling over?  What if there literally was no risk?  What if you had a safety net?

The answer is simple, we need to remove the possibility of you falling over yourself…and no, I don’t mean surrounding yourself with old mattresses and Fluff….

Fluff

Mmmmm…Fluff

You need to learn to save yourself from a failed handstand.  You need to learn to bail safely.  Once you do that, the fear disappears completely.

I know this sounds too good to be true.  I know it sounds too simple.  But it is true; it is simple.

I have seen hundreds of people conquer both of these fears in less than 28 days.  Even those with vertigo-like symptoms;  even those who never trained the handstand before.

You just need to consistently practice.

Learn to Handstand for Yoga

Handstand Party

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dingatx/4601864798/

You know that you need to focus on two things: overcoming your fears and building a daily handstand habit.

You know the tools to overcome fear: consistent exposure and learning to bail.

So put it all together….the result is a straightforward progression that you can start immediately.

1. Wall Planks

Start by going into a plank pose with your feet on the floor near the wall.  As a yogi, you should be in comfortable territory here!

If you can hold this for 60-seconds (5-8 long breaths), then move your hands a little closer to the wall by walking your hands backwards, and your feet up the wall.  Work on holding the resulting position for 60-seconds.

Repeat this over time, until your hands get to be about 12 inches from the wall (you can measure this by leaving a ruler on the ground just before you start to walk up!)

By approaching the first step in this way, you start in a safe position, and gradually increase your exposure to the fear, while building strength.  This constant exposure reduces the fear.

Also, by starting with a familiar pose, you can feel successful immediately, and every time you get closer, you feel successful still.  This positive reinforcement creates the habit.

2. Wall Handstands

As you get closer to the wall, your plank starts to transform.  As your hips get higher over your head, it turns into a wall handstand instead of a wall plank!

If this took some work for you, then it will hit you like a slap in the face.  Once day, you will turn around and say, “Hey!  I am doing a handstand against the wall!  And I’m not scared!”

But the best part of this challenge is that it’s so similar to the real handstand…and you won’t have any fear.  How could you?  It’s nearly impossible to fall over in this position.

And, even better, this position prepares you to learn the bail, which is the next important part of the process.

3. Pirouette Bailing

While you are on the wall, you can learn the best bailing technique around – the pirouette bail.  I cover this move in 30+ pages in my book, but I also produced a free resource to help you get started on learning to bail without spending a dime.

The bail, like the handstand, is a skill.  You can practice bailing frequently, without fear, since you can set up a safe environment to learn bailing against the wall.

4. Freestanding Control/Kickups

Finally, you can start taking the steps that are necessary to learn freestanding handstand balance.  By the time you get to this stage, you can practice kicking up without fear at any time, anywhere.

The elimination of fear will have completely liberated you to actually start working on the handstand, and then its just a matter of practicing as much as possible…but no less than 5-minutes a day, every day.

In my experience, yogis typically achieve their first successful pirouette bail within 1-4 weeks.  That’s only one week to one month and you will make significant progress.  You can quickly remove a fear that you have been carrying around for years…

Once that fear is eliminated, and you master standard kick ups, you will be able to start working on yoga-specific handstand poses, like jumping from downward facing dog into handstand or extremely advanced skills, like the Handstand Scorpion.

Applying the Process

If you are already taking The 28-Day Handstand Challenge, then you’re ahead of the curve. Keep on training using the challenge, and you will see how it walks you through these steps to get your first handstand (and now you have a better understanding for why the handstand challenge is so powerful for yogis).

But, if you aren’t taking the challenge…you can take the steps I outline above and just wing it.

…or you can take advantage of a free resource (The 28-Day Handstand Challenge) that walks you through the first and most important steps of getting your first freestanding handstand.

If you decide to take The 28-Day Handstand Challenge, you will get a free eBook that outlines getting to your first 60-second wall handstand, including a 5-minute routine that you can do virtually anywhere.  You also get a spreadsheet that helps keep you committed to building the handstand habit.

GET STARTED

Sign up for for the 28-Day Handstand Challenge Toolkit.

A Break from “Normal”

Hands Down

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shenamt/8512390996/

If you have looked into training handstands for yoga in the past, then this may appear to be a wildly different approach.  For example, many yogis start with headstands, stay on the wall for months, or just “wing it” with the kickup….

…but you should see now that these progressions may not be so effective.

Headstands don’t address the fear of falling over, nor do they build the necessary strength in the arms and shoulders.  If you can headstand, it has almost no impact on handstand balance.  These are too entirely different skills, so learning to headstand is a waste of time if the ultimate goal is handstanding.

Staying on the wall for months is a waste of time.   Yes, you do need to spend some time on the wall, but you shouldn’t stay there any longer than necessary.  Once you can bail, you need to start moving away from the wall.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, this can be done in a few weeks, not months or years.

“Wing it” with the kickup? Are you kidding me? Anyone who has you attempting kick ups on your first day of training just doesn’t get it.  The fear of falling over is huge…and the risk of injury is even bigger. You shouldn’t be kicking up until you know how to bail safely. There is simply no reason to take that risk, when you can systematically eliminate that risk in just a few weeks.

No matter the progression, though, the biggest difference between a handstand program that works and one that doesn’t is consistency.

Most people I have worked with only take their yoga classes once or twice a week.  Even if you have an awesome instructor who is showing you exactly what you needed to do every session, you wouldn’t be practicing enough to get the handstand in a reasonable timeframe.

In fact, after working with so many new adult handbalancers, I can confidently say that training less than five times per week is a sub-optimal.  Less than three times a week is usually a waste of time.

If you aren’t going to train the handstand frequently, then you are better off spending that time on something else.

Get Started.  Right Now.

Stopwatch

You are already familiar with the Plank Pose.  You have an empty wall in your house, office or gym (or, you can clear one out).

Go there now and do a quick 5-minute sessions of wall planks by walking up the wall and seeing how far you can get without fear. You should embrace the motivation right now, while you are inspired and motivated.

I’ll give you 5 minutes.  Go do it.  It’s just 5 minutes.  Pretend it’s a bathroom break, or something.

Did you do it?  How did it feel?

Now, take the 28-Day Handstand Challenge and you will get the free Handstand Toolkit (including an against-the-wall progression and commitment spreadsheet).  Follow that progression, and practice every day.  You will make huge progress!

Now just go out there and train!

GET STARTED

Sign up for for the 28-Day Handstand Challenge Toolkit.

Amazing Lyle: How a Retiree Hit His Handstand Goal

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lyle-lewis-headshot

Meet Lyle, the retiree who achieved his lifelong handstand goal.

When Lyle retired from being a scientist and biologist, he wanted to run away and join the circus…!  He wanted to be an acrobat!

Lyle has been working on handstands for nearly 4 years. And, a few months ago, progress wasn’t coming.  Lyle purchased scores of bodyweight fitness books, scoured the internet for tips and tricks, attended to handstand seminars…and still couldn’t get away from the wall.

Lyle was frustrated. Lyle was stuck. Lyle was going nowhere fast.

But, through all of his internet searching and research, Lyle found the 28-Day Handstand Challenge. He accepted the challenge and immediately sent me an email.  He let me know the the number one thing holding him back…fear.

Lyle Email

Lyle ultimately purchased The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide, which was a small investment compared to the other six books he purchased, and the seminars he attended.  That’s when I started working with him directly.

As I got to working with Lyle, I realized that this wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill fear we had to conquer.  Oh, no.  Whenever Lyle would get inverted, his world would spin.  He gut would wrench.  He would get severely nauseous.  Lyle was suffering from vertigo, and it was not pleasant.

On top of that, Lyle had undergone over 10 major surgeries in his lifetime, including four that addressed key handstand anatomy – the hands, wrists and facial sinuses.

With the deck was stacked against him, Lyle still had this goal.. and he really wanted it.  What’s most surprising is that it was only a few small changes that took him from 4 years of stagnation to his first handstand hold.

He’s lucky that he didn’t take the easy way out, and just write it off as impossible…

On July 19th, just over two months after he started  the 28-Day Hhandstand Challenge, I received a video that shocked me. Lyle sent me his first freestanding handstand video and it was one of the most impressive beginner’s handstands I had ever seen!!  

This is his story.

Lyle’s Story

Lyle's Handstand

Chris: Thanks for sharing your story Lyle! To start off, we know that you’re retired…but what did you do before retiring?

Lyle: Prior to retiring, I was a biologist specializing in endangered species.  During a 33-year career, I worked with many different species of plants and animals, but spent the most time on conservation efforts for bats and carnivores.

Chris: You told me you wanted to retire and be an acrobat! Is that why you wanted to learn to perform the handstand?

Lyle: I wanted to learn the handstand because the movement personifies strength, balance, body awareness, and coordination.  It also looks neat!

Chris: That’s awesome! But you really had the deck stacked against you.  What was the biggest help when you were overcoming vertigo and fears of falling over?

Lyle: The pseudo-vertigo condition I deal with significantly limited my pirouette bailing practice because of nausea.  Vertigo virtually eliminated the possibility of using a rolling bail technique.  I was also afraid that the rotational force on an injured wrist would be problematic.  There were three keys to finally succeeding.  One was definitely the pirouette bailing methodology prescribed in The 15-Second Handstand.  Another was the help and suggestions from your emails.  Most importantly, a great deal of perseverance.  As I gain more and more control of the pirouette bails, I have less discomfort.  I have found that the pirouette bail results in less rapid eye movement.  This enables me to practice more/longer with no ill effects.

Chris: It seems like you acquired a lot of information… I mean, you had emails with me, the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, my 15-Second Handstand book, half a dozen other books and handstand seminars… From all of these resources, what is the BEST piece of advice you received during your handstand journey?

Lyle: Consistent practice is the single most important piece of advice.  In the beginning of my journey, wall handstands were a strength movement.  I failed to recognize that.  By the time I could hold a 90 second wall handstand, moving to free handstands was actually a skill movement and required more regular practice. Before the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, I was practicing once every 8 days to do a free handstand.  It was an exercise in futility.  I needed to practice more frequently.

Chris: I heavily push daily practice in the 28-Day Handstand Challenge, and am always talking about it (like in this article, about CrossFit and Handstands).  When we were working together, you kept telling me that you had these “bad habits” that needed fixing.  Do you think you really had bad habits?  Or did you just need proper direction?

Lyle: There is no question that proper direction (as provided by The 15-Second Handstand) would have significantly shortened my handstand journey.

Chris:  Its amazing how many people over analyze the handstand.  Most times, you just need to simplify it down to a few key steps.. One question I get a lot is about finding a place to train…where did you practice your handstands?

Lyle: I have practiced handstands anywhere I could find a bare wall with some space in front of it.  The majority of my practice has been at gyms, home, and motel rooms and hallways.  I have much more freedom now that I am no longer confined by a wall.

Chris: Well, I find your handstand journey inspirational and awesome.  Not to mention, you have the best beginner’s handstand I have ever seen.  To wrap this up, why don’t you let everyone know your biggest handstand influence…?

Lyle: Over the last year, I’ve been working out with some acroyogis and acrobats.  Nothing but perfect form is acceptable (if you can’t make it look nice, it isn’t worth doing).  They are almost all 30+ years younger than me and fairly idealistic, but a lot of fun nonetheless.  As a result, form has taken precedence over success.

Chris: And whats your goal as you go beyond 15-Second handstands?

Lyle: Once I have developed more consistency with handstands, I would like to learn to press into a handstand.  The movement takes all the positive attributes of the handstand to the next level.  The ability to press into a handstand would be an(other) incredible accomplishment.

Become The Next Success Story

Lyle Pirouette Bailing

Does Lyle’s story sound familiar? Do you doubt yourself or your abilities because you are “too fat”, “too frail” or “too old” to perform a handstand?

Fortunately, Lyle and others show us that it can be done.

By making smart, small adjustments to your lifestyle and attitude, you can make real progress and achieve things that you thought couldn’t be done “in a million years”.  Things you have been working on for months, years or even decades.

Lyle was able to build a system for his success. This wasn’t a quick fix…these were real changes that start with taking a challenge and building positive habits.  It’s focusing on proper direction, and consistent progress.

These small steps won’t get you the handstand overnight. BUT you can build a system of habits to get there in just a few weeks…and these same habits will take you way beyond handstands.

Lyle took action:

Continued Perseverance: Lyle hit road block after road block.  It took me over a year to get my first handstand – but Lyle was trying for nearly four.  When something wasn’t generating results, of course Lyle was frustrated, but he kept looking for different approaches, until he found one that worked for him.

Consistent, Steady Practice: Before Lyle started on my programs, he was only practicing once every 8 days.  It took him years to realize that handstands are mostly a skill…and all skills need to be practiced regularly.  Switching over to daily practice and making handstands a regular habit are crucial to success.  For any skill, you want to train as frequently as possible.  Once Lyle had that epiphany, it only took him a few months to hit his first handstand.

Lyle educated himself: When Lyle hit a sticking point, he would back up and try again.  He would find another resource, and read it voraciously.  (When I think of people doing handstand research, I think of an acolyte reading tomes of parchment by candlelight.  I think I am reading too much Game of Thrones…). He would find another expert, and get all of the information he could out of them. This is why Lyle’s form is one of the best I have seen in a new hand balancer.  Lyle really knows where all of the pieces fit, and puts them together beautifully – but thats not an accident.

Lyle fixed over analysis:  This is what separates Lyle from the masses who try and try but don’t achieve…or the people who get so overwhelmed that they give up.  Lyle was bombarding himself with information.  This helped his form, but destroyed his confidence.  He kept thinking he had “bad habits” that didn’t exist – when he really just needed to know the one thing he should be working on at any given point.  And since I lay this out step by step in The 15-Second Handstand he was able to fix his over analysis and break through his plateau.

Lyle surrounded himself with his heroes: Do you know the #1 predictor of the time of your marriage?  Don’t know?  It when all of your friends are getting married. What about the #1 most effective way to quit smoking? Suddenly surround yourself with non-smokers.  Your environment is a powerful thing.  When Lyle retired, he wanted to learn more acrobatic skills…and he changed his environment.  He sought out acrobats and acroyogis.  He attended seminars for bodyweight fitness and hand balancing.  He emailed me personally to discuss his handstands (and, as I always do, I responded personally back to him). Surrounding yourself with positive people who are a few steps ahead of you is a surefire way to make progress and stay committed.

Lyle found his manual: After banging his head against the wall, Lyle found a step-by-step guide. Let’s be honest, researching what needs to be done is a lot more difficult than following specific, effective instructions…but we can talk ourselves out of anything if there are too many choices or too much uncertainty. The material in The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide took thinking out of the process for him and spoke his language. Lyle had already read a million different resources or ways to get the handstand (which can overwhelm anybody)…but when he found a resource that made sense to him and gave it a solid chance he hit his goal within 8 weeks.  What progress have you made in the last 8 weeks?

Congrats to Lyle on hitting an amazing goal. I know he is already moving onto his next goal and will become even more impressive!!

Do you have any questions for the man?

When will you be sending in YOUR success story? (Seriously, I love success stories, even if you didn’t use my book – send me your story so we can feature you on the site too!)

Start with small commitments.  Just 5-minutes a day to start. You can train the handstand anywhere!

And then celebrate your success, like Lyle!

-Chris

PS: Of course, I’m proud that Lyle used the materials in The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide to help him succeed on his journey. It spoke his language, laid out things in a step-by-step progression and gave him a blueprint to manage. If you are struggling to learn the handstand, get constantly get overwhelmed or simply want to be more impressive, don’t underestimate the importance of picking a plan that makes sense to you. I don’t care if it’s the The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide or any other plan, as long as you pick one and stick with it!

CrossFit and Handstands

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CrossFit Wall Handstand

I’ve been hand balancing for several years now, but I actually got my start in hand balancing from CrossFit.

Yup, I was an avid CrossFitter for several years and used to teach parkour classes out of a CrossFit gym in Colorado Springs.  I got my first muscle up while CrossFitting, hit a Fran PR of 5:55, and got my first freestanding handstand.  It was nothing special, but I was proud of it at the time.

Back when I first started learning handstands, it was mostly because of how much it was discussed in CrossFit circles.  HSPU (Handstand Pushups, for those who live under a rock) felt relatively common, and I wanted to get better at my WODs…so I started focusing on hand standing against the wall.  As my HSPU got better and better, I wanted to move away from the wall, so I started taking the necessary steps to do that.

Unfortunately, it took me over 12 months of training and research to get away from the wall and start performing freestanding handstands.  That’s is a big difference from the 4-8 weeks that most people experience when they work with me now.

The key for me was to actually look outside of CrossFit for advice, and I found a lot of great advice on hand balancing when I started branding out from CrossFit into parkour.

Since then, I have trained hundreds of people to get their first handstand, and thousands have started the 28 day handstand challenge.  A lot of people who sign up for the challenge mention that they are signing up specifically to get better at handstands for CrossFit.

This article will help you get better at Freestanding Handstands or Handstands for CrossFit.

CrossFit for Handstands

Rugged Wall Handstand

If you want to do CrossFit to learn freestanding handstands, then I have some bad news for you….

Achieving your first freestanding handstand through CrossFit alone is very unlikely.

This may come as a shock…. but CrossFit is not an effective way to get your first freestanding handstand.

I know firsthand.  I tried it myself, and I have several people who use the 28-Day Handstand Challenge who have also told me they just aren’t progressing on handstands using CrossFit alone.

There are a few reasons for this, starting with the fact that…

CrossFit doesn’t train the handstand frequently enough.

At the end of the day, the handstand is a skill and doesn’t require a significant amount of strength or “multi modal” training.
After all, once you can hold a handstand against the wall for about 60 seconds, you have more than enough strength to perform a freestanding handstand.  Nothing else aside from dedicated skill work can get you there.

The handstand is a skill because improving requires training in subtle movements and techniques.  Training skills are usually not very taxing and your improvement is directly related to how much you train (unlike a feat of strength, which is very physically taxing and requires adequate rest and recovery periods).

So, think about this for a second.  Once you are at an adequate base-level of strength (60-second wall handstand), handstands training is actually skill training that is no different to other skills, like juggling or playing the piano.

Let’s compare the skill training of the handstand to the skill training of learning the piano.

Imagine three budding musicians:
Musician 1: Practices 5 minutes, every day
Musician 2: Practices 10 minutes, 2x a week
Musician 3: Practices 20 minutes, 1x per month

Who do you think makes the most progress?

Because of the nature of skill training, the person who practices the piano at least a little bit every day will make the most progress.  For starters, they are building a habit…a positive addiction… something that must be done daily.  Fortunately, habits and addictions have a tendency to snowball on themselves.

Once you have a 5-minute habit established, it effortlessly grows into more frequent practice.

What starts as a single daily 5-minute training session blows up into two sessions a day, then three, then four…then maybe even hours of training every day.  We all know of at least one young musician, who is inseparable from his instrument.  It always starts with a small, consistent regimen, and grows from there.

You also have less time to forget.

Our budding pianist that trains 5 minutes a day is constantly exposed to the skill, so they have less time to forget (consciously or subconsciously) the lessons they learned in their last session.

If our musician just spent 20 minutes learning how to play “Let It be” by the Beatles, they will probably not remember the hand positions and movements 1 month from now.  They will need some sort of “refresher” period that can take at least 20 minutes all on its own.

And because our once-a-month musician is practicing so infrequently, their practice isn’t a part of a normal routine, it feels more like it is an intrusion on the day, rather than business-as-usual.

Now, if you just learned “Let It Be” yesterday, you won’t need as much time (or any time at all) to refresh, so the skill can be reinforced and built upon immediately.

Consistency is king.

And the time invested builds up much more quickly.

With all skill training, the amount of time that you invest is directly related to your performance.  This is something that Malcom Gladwell explores in his book Outliers. In his book, Gladwell suggests that 10,000 Hours is a requirement for mastery of a skill.

When it comes to getting handstands, your first handstand hold can likely be achieved with only 5-10 hours of work (2-4 months of daily 5-minute sessions), but the bottom line is the same.

The more time you put into the skill, the better you will be.  Period.

Using our example again, the first musician will have built up 2.5 hours of handstand work, whereas the second musician would shave only hit 2 hours, and the third would only have hit 0.33 hours!  When you practice a little bit every day, even if you don’t expand beyond 5 minutes a day, the amount of time invested balloons quickly.

(Never mind the fact that most people who really want to get the skill wind up training 2-50x more than that!)

For some reason, this is much more obvious when I use the example of a pianist, or a juggler or a writer…but the same principles apply to the handstand. In fact, I have put it to the test with the 28-Day Handstand Challenge and it works every time someone starts with the 5-minute a day commitment.

CrossFit doesn’t train handstands very frequently.

The boxes on the calendar below indicates handstand training days on CrossFit main page , the GymnasticsWOD and the 28-Day Handstand Challenge.  Notice how long it takes to get up to 14 days of consistent practice using the CrossFit/WOD approaches vs. the 28-Day Handstand Challenge…when we already determined that you should be training a new skill every day.

CrossFit vs. 28-Day Challenge

Notice how long it takes to get up to 14 days of consistent practice using each of these approaches…when we already determined that you should be training a new skill every day.

If you follow the CrossFit main page, you will be training handstands maybe 1-2x a month…usually in the form of HSPU.  This is more like Musician #3, which is a far cry from an ideal situation for learning a new skill.  (Let’s ignore the fact that CrossFit main page sticks mostly to HSPU — there is no build up or progression for freestanding handstands).

Lets assume you are a little bit more savvy though, and are using the Gymnastics WOD site, then you are more like Musician #2.  GymnasticsWOD even has a handstand progression, which is very helpful, but overall the frequency is still not ideal.  Most of the handstand-related WODs also revolve around HSPU, instead of on freestanding handstand progressions.

Compare that now to the 28-Day Handstand Challenge which is more like Musician #1 who practices for just 5-minutes every day.  This is where you want to be, with frequent skill practice.

In fact, people who use the 28-Day Handstand Challenge have told me that there is a HUGE difference between 5 minutes every day and 15 minutes, 3x a week.  Frequency is crucial to getting your first freestanding handstand.

But if that’s the case, why doesn’t CrossFit daily programming put more of an emphasis on handstand work? Well, thats because…

The Ideal CrossFit HSPU Doesn’t Translate to Real Handstands

The typical goal with CrossFit WODs is to do things as quickly as possible.  In the context of CrossFit, the handstand is used to load the hands with more weight, rather than actually work towards a real freestanding HSPU.

The picture above shows the difference between a CrossFit HSPU and a Freestanding HSPU.  There are some notable differences here.

In order to do HSPU as fast as possible, a typical CrossFit HSPU…

Involves a significant arch and closed shoulder, so that the chest muscles are much more involved.  This helps to recruit the pecs more thoroughly, which obviously makes it easier to perform the HSPU.

Benefits from a wider stance, since this will reduce the distance that you need to lower your body.  And, of course, less distance travelled during a movement means less work, and thus its easier and faster to perform.

Flares your elbows out, because of the wider stance, and also because flared elbows more thoroughly involve the triceps and pecs.  This makes it easier to perform the movement, but is a severely limiting factor in freestanding balance.  This is different from the freestanding handstand and freestanding HSPU, where you tuck the elbows in to maintain balance, and keep the Center of Mass (CoM) over the hands/Center of Pressure (CoP).

And, aside from all of these form deviations, there is the inconvenient fact that staying against the wall for all of your handstand work ignores balance training. Crucial skills like learning to pirouette bail and the Cambered Hand Technique go completely ignored.

To put it succinctly, an as-fast-as-possible, typical CrossFit-style HSPU is a huge deviation from freestanding HSPU form.  And, an undeniable truth about any athletic endeavor is that you always get better at what you train — so CrossFit’s approach to handstand will never get you to a freestanding hold.

Since you aren’t training freestanding handstands, you won’t make progress towards a freestanding handstand if you are only doing CrossFit HSPU.

That’s all well and good, and I am not hating on CrossFit here.  This isn’t a problem, insomuch as a difference.  The CrossFit HSPU has evolved over time to be fast and efficient, and performed against a wall.

Unfortunately, that means that the CrossFit HSPU doesn’t translate to real handstands…but is the reverse true?  Does freestanding handstand work help with your CrossFit performance?

Handstands for CrossFit

Handstand Feet

So, we know that CrossFit HSPU work (as per the WODs) has no translation to freestanding handstands or freestanding HSPU…but you may still think that training your freestanding handstands you will actually improve your WOD times.

Unfortunately, freestanding handstand work does not help with your WOD times.

The CrossFit HSPU is very good for faster, wall-relying handstand pushups.  It involves stronger muscles, and more musculature overall; the ROM is shorter; its easier to learn.  By contrast, the form for freestanding HSPU results in a slower, more difficult movement.

If you try to incorporate the form for freestanding HSPU into your WODs, your times will suffer significantly, and you won’t actually get better at CrossFit.  You will get worse.

And, consider that the past 6 months of main-page WODs involve only 14 handstand movements (out of over 150 workouts), and the 2013 Regional Events only involved one handstand movement in 6 workouts.

When you look at it that way, HSPU aren’t a big part of CrossFit at all…

Learning freestanding handstands or freestanding handstand pushups will prepare you for only a very small part of CrossFitting.

Focusing intently on freestanding handstands will not improve your overall CrossFit performance.

At best, you can hope for a translation from freestanding handstands to other CrossFit skills…

Maybe handstands will help you learn the benefits of an active shoulder, so your OH Squats and push presses/jerks will benefit. But even then, you run into the indisputable fact that you will always get better at what you train directly…so if you want to get better at OH squats and push presses, nine out of ten times you should just be focusing your training on OH squats and push presses/jerks.

If you want to learn freestanding handstands, the motivation should be that you want to accomplish the freestanding handstand and freestanding handstand pushups because they are a cool skill on their own.  A skill that is worthwhile, cool or impressive.

You should train handstands for a want to do handstands, not to help with CrossFit.

I wouldn’t want you to be deluded into thinking that good freestanding handstands will have a profound effect on your WOD times. They won’t.  They may help, but not that much.

If you really don’t care about hand balancing and just want to get better at CrossFit, you should really be working on your handstand pushups against the wall…and not much else in terms of handstand skills.

You have no reason to adjust form for freestanding handstands if you have no desire to obtain a freestanding handstand or freestanding HSPU.

In fact, fixing your form may actually hurt your WOD times as the CrossFit-style HSPU will recruit more relevant muscles and reduce your WOD times substantially.

Improving WOD Performance by focusing on CrossFit Style HSPUs

Now, lets just say that all you really care about is your WOD performance, and you don’t give a rat crap about getting a freestanding handstand hold.  If you find that you are getting caught up or held back by your HSPU performance, then you should work on that directly.

To do this, follow these few and simple steps:

1. Get a 60-Second handstand against the wall.

This is most easily done by performing only 5-minutes of against-the-wall handstand holds every day (a la the 28-Day Handstand Challenge)

You can do your holds after your warmup, but before your WOD.  (Doing them immediately after a WOD won’t be very effective.)  You can also train your handstand holds at any other point in the day before your workout…like on “coffee breaks” at work.  I used to do mine in the bathroom of my office, so people wouldn’t gawk at me while I worked on my goal.

When getting started, stick to a belly-to-wall position because it avoids suddenly loading your entire bodyweight onto your hands when you aren’t ready for it.  The belly-to-wall position is one I used with a lot of success in the (free) 28-Day Handstand Challenge and my book The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide.

It is crucial to get to a respectable hold against the wall.  You can’t possibly expect to hold yourself up long enough for 15 HSPU (let alone actually perform the pushups) if you can’t hold yourself upside down for at least 60 seconds.

2. Train HSPU Negatives

Once you can hold 60-second handstands against the wall, the best way to build the strength that you need for HSPU is to perform some negatives.

Negatives generally work a lot better than using the more complicated kipping HSPU technique.  Kipping can actually be a lot slower than strong handstand pushups.

Kipping HSPU are more useful when you are already competent in HSPU but very fatigued, and need to squeak out a few more reps to wrap up the WOD.

So, start with 1-5 reps of HSPU negatives for 3-5 sets.  Do that 2-3x a week before your WOD.  Yes, just one rep is enough to make significant progress, so long as you move on to 2, 3, 4 or 5 reps when you are strong enough.

And when you are at 5 reps, you start training the concentrics, and build up the volume from there.  At that point, you may even be ready to tackle it as part of your WOD.

Since HSPU Negatives can be quite intense, you should be doing them before your WOD, but after your warmups.  It should take about 10 minutes to do 3 sets of however many reps you can handle – which is hardly a big time investment.

You won’t need to branch out beyond CrossFit-style HSPU since you don’t care about freestanding handstands…

But what if your goal is to get a freestanding handstand because you think they are cool, awesome, incredible, inspiring, amazing, and all that stuff?

Getting Your First Freestanding Handstand as a CrossFitter

Badlands Handstand

If you are reading this section, I know that you want to get freestanding handstands; its in line with your goals, whether or not it will help your WOD times.  That’s exactly why I started learning handstands as a CrossFitter, too!

So then, how do you progress to your first freestanding handstand?

The first step is to build a daily handstand habit.

Since freestanding handstands are 90% skill and only 10% strength, you need to get your body up to the base level of strength as soon as possible – then practice as frequently as possible.  As a skill, you know that you will benefit from more frequent practice – so building a habit is absolutely necessary.

Eventually, your habit will turn into an addiction where you will want to practice all the time, everywhere.

Now, training everywhere and all the time isn’t necessary – its just a common trend I have seen in thousands of new hand balancers I have worked with.

Most people can see progress with only five minutes a day, so don’t feel like handstands need to have handstands consume your whole life.  Five minutes is a relatively small commitment that will go a long way.

You don’t even need to do your handstand training as part of your CrossFit workout session – you can do them at work, in the bathroom, in your home, during breakfast, etc.  You can literally train handstands anywhere since you just need a hard floor, a clear wall and 5 minutes of your time.

The Handstand Progression

Awesome.  You’re ready to carve a measly five minutes of practice into your day…but what do you do to build up to the handstand?

1. Start the 28-Day Handstand Challenge

The 28-Day Handstand Challenge has helped thousands of people get to their first handstand.  It lays out the progression to get a good handstand against the wall (which builds up the strength) and then, after a couple of weeks, introduces a bailing technique.

Many people who take the challenge also buy my book, The 15-Second Handstand: A Beginner’s Guide, because it provides rock-solid, tested techniques for moving off of the wall and into freestanding.

The book is a continuation of the 28-Day Handstand Challenge and includes a step-by-step progression, and a comprehensive look at the science of the handstand, including preparation for advanced skills.

The reason why The 28-Day Handstand Challenge (and my book) are so effective is because they don’t focus on just the progressions.

Most other articles, books, YouTube videos and progressions treat you as if you are some mindless machine that needs to just step through a series of steps…

Instead, the challenge and my book both focus on habit building and fear conquering, which are the two things that hold back most CrossFitters learning the freestanding handstand.

These techniques build the desire into a habit; and a habit into an addiction by using behavior modification techniques like baby steps and anchor events.  These are tried-and-true techniques that are promoted and researched by psychology labs around the world, including the lab of BJ Fogg at Stanford.

2. Integrate the 28-Day Handstand Challenge into CrossFit

The good thing about handstands is that they can be trained anywhere where you have a clear wall, a solid floor and 5 minutes of free time.

The freestanding handstand is not nearly as intense as HSPU training, so you can train much more frequently (and more frequent training will help you progress faster, right?).

You can practice outside of CrossFit training sessions, including squeezing 5 minutes of handstand work into a coffee break, before breakfast, or as soon as you get home from work or school.

You can practice during your CrossFit warmup by taking 5 minutes (literally 5 minutes) after your main warmup to do some dedicated freestanding handstand work.

You can integrate the handstand into your CrossFit WOD, if you are the kind of person who makes your own WODs.  For example, if you are still building up to a 60-second wall handstand, you can add wall handstand holds into your WOD circuit.  Here, lets look at an example of a handstand swap-out that you can use for Diane:

BEFORE
Diane
21-15-9 reps of:
225 pound Deadlift
Handstand push-ups

AFTER
Diane-MODIFIED
21-15-9 reps of:
225 pound Deadlift
30 second wall handstand

While this isn’t the best way to get to your first handstand, its definitely better than doing nothing at all.

What about rest days??

Your rest days should be sacred, where you don’t do anything taxing.  Doing heavy strength work is definitely not something you should do on rest days but…

..rest days are a perfect time for handstand skill training!

Once you build up to a 60-second wall handstand, and are working on freestanding holds, then you can train without restriction on rest days.  This usually results is very fast progress.

…But, if you are building up to your first 60-second wall handstand, the handstand is still considered strength training and should be avoided on rest days until it’s not so taxing.

Start Training. Right now.

Stopwatch

As my regular readers know, it always makes the most sense to start as soon as you are most motivated.  Start building the habit immediately and then it will be even harder to break.  If you let it go until you are “more motivated” or until “your next workout” then you will probably forget, or lose your motivation to get started.

So, sign up for the 28-Day Handstand Challenge right now, and get started on tackling the wall handstand.

If freestanding handstands aren’t your goal, and you are interested in just getting better at HSPU for CrossFit, then you need to focus specifically on CrossFit-style HSPU.  You need a to get your first 60-second wall handstand (which can be done with the 28-Day Handstand Challenge), but once you get there my book won’t be of use to you.

If you are a CrossFitter who found this article useful for getting better at handstands or HSPU, then do me a solid and tweet it for your other CrossFit comrades to see.

You also benefit from tweeting….my last survey suggests that if you get other people to do the 28-Day Handstand Challenge with you, your chances of success are much higher.

Happy handstanding!  Now go out and train!