If you watch someone do a skill – whether it’s kicking up into a handstand, swinging a kettlebell, or anything else – your eyes will see the big picture of what’s happening.
Learning any new skill is about understanding how to link together a number of things to make the final outcome of “doing the skill” happen. It’s not just about mimicking what your eyes see when you watch someone do that skill.
In the case of a handstand, it looks like the person puts their hands on the ground, and then kicks their feet up over their body. Except there’s a bit more to it than that…
This blog will help you understand and address one of the major building blocks to achieving a handstand, and if handstands aren’t your thing, then take the framework laid out here and use it on any skill you wish to learn.
Identify The Building Blocks
The building blocks of a skill are the individual components that come together to make the actual skill.
For any skill, your joints will need to be able to move into specific ranges of motion so that you can get into the positions necessary to do the skill. This is the essence of movement. Whichever ways you want to move your body, your joints need to be capable of creating that motion for you. (And even though a handstand looks stationary, there is necessary movement for going into the handstand, holding it, and coming out of it.)
What is one of the specific ranges of motion you need if you want to do a handstand? It’s fairly obvious that your arms have to be able to raise up next to your ears in order to do a handstand, but in case you’ve never looked at the position of the arm and shoulder in a handstand before, here’s a picture:
This motion is called shoulder flexion and it involves moving the humerus (arm bone) in the glenohumeral joint (shoulder) so that the arm goes from hanging down at your side to 180º the opposite direction reaching up overhead.
So to do a handstand, one of the building blocks you need is 180º of shoulder flexion. Now, what happens if you don’t have that building block in place?
When You Don’t Have A Building Block
For The Thing You Want To Do
If you don’t have a building block for the skill you wish to do, your body will either completely disallow you from getting into that position, or it will try to use other tissues to get you into that position.
Neither of these options are ideal for long-term progress of your skill or your body. Take a look at this photo, I’ve turned Kirsty upside down (or is she right side up now?) so she’s side by side with myself:
In the photo, Kirsty is demonstrating adequate shoulder flexion for doing a handstand. For this building block of a handstand, she can put a checkmark in that box. When you compare the two photos, you can see a difference between my arm position and hers. I can try forcing my arms into the position necessary for the handstand but this will require other tissues in my back, shoulders, neck, and arms, to do more work than they are made for.
In addition to putting me at a greater risk for developing aches as I train the skill using this compensation, it makes it also makes it a lot harder for me to achieve the straight line of the body when upside down in a handstand.
I’ll be more likely to pull my ribcage forward and arch my lower back, and it will be harder for me to hold proper tension in my torso while upside down.
So what am I to do if I want to do a skill and I don’t have all the building blocks necessary?
Tackle Your Building Blocks
The coolest thing about discovering the building blocks for a skill and then making note of which ones you don’t have yet, is that you immediately get smarter with how you use your time in training for this skill.
Rather than spending my workout time practicing handstands with shoulders that don’t have the range of motion yet, I can spend my time building the range of motion necessary. While some look at this as a detour away from doing the thing they want to be doing, it’s actually the opposite of a detour. This time spent building my shoulder flexion so that I have the necessary amount for the handstand is actively taking me closer to a handstand each time I practice it.
Kirsty and I would like to share a drill with you that will help to improve shoulder flexion. It’s from our new course, Handstand Building Blocks, and will help your nervous system start expanding your range of motion in your shoulders. And if you’d like to be alerted when Handstand Building Blocks opens to students, put your info in the form at the bottom of this page.