If you’ve been training handstands for a while, you are bound to have shown up excited for a training session, only to be sorely disappointed when absolutely nothing works. It feels like you’ve suddenly lost all your abilities, regressing on the skills you worked hard to achieve.
I certainly have. Hundreds of times over a decade and a half. I have one “bad” and three “good” things to share from my experiences. The “bad” first; it’s gonna happen again. Loads of times you’ll have a meltdown because this damn skill just isn’t possible to do, even though you could do it last week. You’ll think you must be doing something wrong, you’re sure this doesn’t happen to others, and it’s just you that just sucks.
Here is where two of the three “good” things come in. First, this happens to most people training handstands, and second, the skill will come back and you’ll realize you’ve lost nothing in a future session. The third thing I’ll discuss at the end of the article.
I have observed performance inconsistency within practice to be quite common, so don’t worry, it’s not just you. The feeling of losing the skill, while frustrating, is just an emotional reaction and not actually true. The ability level of any individual will fluctuate depending on a host of variables, and we just simply can’t control them all.
I believe this is because handbalancing is a very complex physical and mental task. It requires more than just brute force. You need your strength, your concentration, your ability to focus, and for your joints to be pain free to do your best. Since there are so many parameters it’s nearly impossible to know why some days work out so great, while others are crushingly heavy and wobbly. I’m sure you’ve had a great session despite sleeping poorly, being hungry, and sore. And terrible sessions despite being well rested, fully recovered, and stress-free. So while we can do our best to ensure we have the energy, time and space to focus on the practice, even that is not always enough. On those days we just gotta suck it up and deal with it.
But how can we do that and ensure our ‘bad’ session is still valuable? I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and thought of some strategies to decrease the amount of frustration it can cause.
This one many are guilty of, including me. If you constantly try to do the most complex or difficult skills you have, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Accepting that not every skill will be available at every time is a more reasonable starting point. As you progress over time, what was once a twice a week move will become daily practice, but don’t try to bridge that gap in a month. A common example: you didn’t “lose” your press, you just don’t actually have it in the bag yet.
It’s fine to be annoyed. In one way, it means you care about what you do. What’s not fine is to ruin what could be a fun or interesting session with a tantrum of failed attempts (believe me, I’ve done this way too often). Take a step back and do something else. That press you “lost” hasn’t gone to Narnia. Practice a skill that is less challenging, but has a high success rate. Alternatively, you can do easier progression (also with a high success rate) that trains the skill that’s annoying you today.
The forced, hardcore “no excuses” attitude is nonsense with skill work like handstands. While you need discipline to have a consistent practice, forcing it through isn’t always the best option. Accepting that it is simply not the day for a skill and coming back to it later can be a better use of your time and energy.
How you handle the inevitable frustration of learning a skill is individual, but having some active ways to cope is useful. This leads me to the third “good” thing about getting annoyed by something you are passionate about; you are forced to accept and deal with the frustration. You will be returning to the practice again and again, you’ll have to suck it up again and again.
You will be learning, progressing your skills. But you’ll also slowly get better at coping with your own emotional reactions to failure. You will go through the cycle of learning, success, doubt, failure, frustration, coping and back to learning – repeatedly. This is why I believe frustration is natural to feel for something you care about, and why delving deep into a practice can lead to deep self reflection and personal growth.