Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and efficiency for Handstand Walks you must master it’s specific mobility, strength and skill demands: the three-headed monster every athlete must conquer. Let’s take on the monster one “head” at a time.
The Handstand Walk is a midline movement. Therefore, there is only one key position requiring mobility:
1) ‘Stacked’ Overhead Position: ‘Stacked’ is defined as bone structural supporting load by joints being placed directly over one another. Think “when the arms bend the power ends.”
If you can’t effortlessly lockout your arms in line with your ears you are having to work against yourself in the Handstand Walk and expose yourself to injuries. If you cannot open up the shoulder fully you will never be able to hit an effortless Handstand Walk.
Here are a few of my favorite mobilizations to work on your overhead position:
• Kettlebell-Anchored T-Spine Stretch
• Elevated Cat Pose
• Banded Tricep Overhead Stretch
• Chest Stretch
In order to solidly hit the positions needed and be safe the following strength baselines are suggested:
1) Pushing: 2-3 Strict Handstand Push-ups [view video]
Any handstand (push-up / walk / static hold) is a pushing movement. Either you are pushing yourself up (in the handstand push-up) or you are resisting falling, which is pushing yourself up again. If you cannot do at least two or three strict handstand push-ups time invested in walking on your hands is a waste.
2) Overhead Stability & Stamina: 2-minute Static Hold against wall. [view video]
This is largely a test of midline stability, as well as pressing and shoulder stamina. This will be very challenging without a stacked position or without a strong lockout.
If you do not have all the Mobility and Strength requirements, time spent learning skill will be much less productive. Build the basics, then layer on top.
There is no magic pill for mastering the Handstand Walk. You must consistently put in practice. As you do here is what to focus on…
Handstand Walk Focal Points
(1) The “Kick Up”
Be ultra-consistent with your kick up into the handstand. Drill the details. Foot placement, distance to hands touching, how quickly the feet come together, etc. The more consistent you can be the quicker you will learn the skill of being upside down and balanced.
(2) Find the Tipping Point
Once your feet come together and you have gotten inverted your must immediately feel your Center of Mass (CoM). Think about your CoM as your navel. If your navel is always directly over top of your hands you will not fall. As soon as your CoM shifts you must counter the movement or move your hands back under your CoM or you will fall. To layman’s terms, CoM can be referred to as the tipping point.
Movement Mistakes | Tipping Point [Too Little or Too Much]
Beginners to Handstand Walks often struggle to find the tipping point. That is, the point where a controlled lean or “fall” can help propel you forward during the walk. It is the same thing you do when running on your feet. Too large or too small of a kick up will result in missing the tipping point.
(3) Chase Your Heels
In the Handstand Walk the goal is to move. Essentially this means getting momentum going and then moving your hands to stop from falling. To get your momentum going you must move your CoM in front of your body. It is helpful to think about pushing your heels tall and out in front of the body. As your CoM shifts you will begin to build momentum and you will start moving your hands. Chase those heels.
(4) Mimic Lower Body Walking
Think about how ridiculous it would look if someone walked with locked out knees through their entire gait. The same thing goes for the upper body in the Handstand Walk.
Since for much of the ‘walk’ one hand is off the ground think about bending the elbow and pulling the hand through just like you do when walking upright.
Likewise, people don’t walk on their heels only. They balance using their full foot and their toes. Same applies to the hands. Don’t just use the palm…use all those fingers to balance too.
Often people ‘lose their midline’ when upside down. If you experience any degree of low back pain when Handstand Walking this one is for you. Often this is because the focus is pulled from thinking about quality movement to thinking about staying balanced. These things should be similar.
Something to focus on is squeezing your Butt & Gut…or if you prefer…Abs & Ass. Practice it just standing upright or inverted on a wall to feel the difference. Right away the structures above and below the low back fire and protect your spine. It will also improve your movement capacity when done correctly.
(5) Butt & Gut
Movement Mistakes | The “Scorpion” & Spreading the Legs
The most frequent ways that a lack of midline integrity (Butt & Gut) show up in the Handstand Walk is with the legs breaking forward or apart. Because your center of mass is higher during inverted walking, it places more demand on the midline. These mistakes are often tell-tale signs of mobility restrictions as well.
(6) Hand Orientation
Hand position is a bit of personal preference and matters less in the Handstand Walk than the Handstand Push-up or a Handstand Static Hold.
Think about how much you “toe-out” in a squat. Likely you have some play with the exact position, but you have a range that makes you feel comfortable, stable and mobile. The same is true for your hands in the Handstand Walk.
For people with poor wrist mobility, pointing hands out to the sides (90 degree relative to the wrist or 3 O’Clock and 9 O’Clock) can make the movement easier because they are able to lean over their thumbs.
For a static handstand hold you want your fingers pointed straight forward. This will be a needed skill when completing the 10-Step Progression of drills below. Splay your fingers and dig them into the ground.
Feel the relationship of tension between your fingers and the palm of your hand, and do a mental comparison to standing with the pressure and balance of your feet in relationship to your heel and your toes.
It is much easier to balance a bike than a unicycle. Use both your palms and your fingers.
When you go to walk on your hands, most athletes find it helpful to turn their hands out so their fingers are pointed laterally, especially those with immobile wrists.
The Handstand Push-up uses a 45 degree orientation because it allows the elbows to be pointed back, giving the athlete accessibility to the triceps and increasing overhead pressing strength.
Another help cue is to “Make Gecko Hands.” Basically, splay your fingers to cover as much surface areas as possible. This wider base of support allows for superior balance.
Some athletes with poor wrist mobility are forced to turn out their hands for all handstand variations. This is not conducive to creating a solid base of support, especially in static holds.
A similar movement fault is common in the lower body when an athlete turns out their feet (“Toes Out”) because he or she lacks ankle mobility. Here is my favorite stretch to improve wrist flexion…
This progression is effective on two fronts.
One, it can help a beginner develop skill and strength over the course of weeks or months of practice so he or she can work toward being able to walk several five-foot “reps” unbroken.
And two, it can be useful to an advanced athlete to move through the drills rather quickly over the course of a few minutes to piece together a solid movement-specific warm-up.
Top Accessory Exercises
Lockout (Maintaining stacked, static pressing)
• L-Sit Plate Overhead Hold
• Wall-Facing Handstand Hold
• Push Jerks
• Overhead Yoke Carry (also a great midline exercise)
• Overhead Carries, Dumbbells or Kettlebells (also a great midline exercise)
• Strict Handstand Push-Ups (also a great midline exercise)
Midline (Prevention of sagging or overarching)
• Plank Variations
• FLR Hold
• Inchworm Planks
• Hollow & Arch Hold + Rocks
• L-Sit Raises (or) L-Sit Holds
• Tuck Holds
• Hanging Leg Raises (or) Strict Toes-to-Bar
Gymnastics Density for the Big Five (12-Week Program)
Are your gymnastics movements holding you back from reaching your potential?
Statistics show five movements are far and away the most likely to show up in local competitions and online qualifiers like the Open. That’s why this program focuses on improving “The Big Five.”
1) Muscle-Ups (Bar & Ring)
2) Handstand Push-Ups
3) Handstand Walks
If your capacity in these movements is holding you back from taking your fitness to the next level, this program is for you!