Handbalancing has gained huge popularity recently. It’s the ultimate symbol of strength and control. Long gone are the days when it was only performed by gymnasts or circus artists. It is a staple part of crossfit boxes, breakdancers, calisthenics athletes, pole dancers, yogis, and the list could go on…
Handbalancing is an umbrella term used for different types of balances that only require your hands. For example frogstands, elbow levers, handstands, etc.
Whether you want to learn a new skill, get stronger, improve your balance, have a party trick or just have fun, you will need to start with the basics. Everyone’s starting point will be different, however it’s very important that you don’t skip progressions as it will bite you later on.
The 3 main components of a handbalancing are balance, strength and mobility. When starting out focus on each of these elements and your progress will be a lot quicker.
Mobility. Start each session with a thorough warm up. Shoulder and wrist care is of utmost importance as you’ll be putting a lot of weight on them in positions that they are not used to. You can use a foam roller or peanut to mobilise your lats and thoracic spine and a corkscrew for your forearms. Move them in all different directions and once they start getting warmer, start putting more weight on them. Follow this with active flexibility exercises focusing on your wrists, lats and shoulder end range. The biggest restricting factor is normally your latissimus dorsi. This is the muscle that comes from your back and attaches to the front of your shoulder. If it’s tight it won’t let you put your arm straight overhead making you compensate elsewhere and this is how a banana back was born.
Balance. After this whilst your body and mind are still fresh I would work on some balance drills. This section completely depends on your level but things like a headstand to get used to basic balancing, frogstand for using your fingers, a kick up against a wall trying not to touch it for learning how far to kick or shifting shapes if you can already hold a freestanding handstand. This will have to be adjusted to your individual level. If you can’t even hold a headstand there is no point kicking into a freestanding handstand. The idea here is to make you master a progression before you move on. A good indicator would be if you can talk whilst holding a move. If you can that would mean that you don’t need 100% focus as your body (and brain) knows what it’s doing.
Strength. Handbalancing requires a great amount of upper body strength. It can be classed as a pushing session (if you’re doing splits). You need strong triceps, delts, rotator cuffs, upper traps and serratus anterior. You need strength in order to support your bodyweight by your arms and endurance to hold it for a period of time. Depending on your level you can start by doing banded rotator cuff exercises, wrist strengthening drill, holds, dynamic movements (wall walks, cartwheels, etc) or other exercises (L sit, compression drills, push ups, etc).
The great thing about handbalancing that it doesn’t require a great deal of space. To get better at it, you need to practice it regularly. However always listen to your body and have rest days when you need it. Especially when starting out you need extra time to strengthen your tendons which will take longer than strengthening your muscles. Overuse injuries are common however can be avoided.