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…
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!”
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
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
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 howI 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 TEACHSUCCESS 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
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, 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
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?
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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.
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.
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
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?
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!
PS: I’m proud to say that Sam used the materials inThe 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!
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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
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?”
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.
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
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:
Get Strong: Build the foundational strength
Train Skills: Use the foundational strength to practice relevant skills
Here, lets see a few examples:
60-second wall handstand
Relevant Skill Sets
The Cambered Hand Technique
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Controlled Handstand-to-Frogstand Negative
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.
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.
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!?
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?!
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?
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?