A Good Warm-Up
Handbalancing relies on lots of small muscles and joints that don’t normally carry the load they bear when supporting the whole bodyweight. Starting with a good warm-up will prime your muscles and joints for the load and demands of a handstand. This can help prevent injury, not only by activating the tissues and nerves, but also by cluing you into aches or pains in that you might need to train around. It’s much better to notice tightness in your wrist while doing wrist circles than experience it when that wrist is bearing your entire bodyweight.
A good warm-up will also mentally focus you for the upcoming training session. You bring kinesthetic awareness to your limbs, and shift your focus away from other things in your life towards the current moment of physical training.
And lastly, warm up your sense of balance, too. Just as you would work up to a heavy lift, don’t expect to achieve peak balance in your first few sets of handstands. Instead, warm up your balance systems with some regressed drills for what you want to work on. If in this session you want to practice kicking up to a straight handstand, warm up with some leg lifts to balance and some wall-based balance drills first, such as heel or toe pulls. A more advanced handbalancer would warm-up with head-in drills to prepare for a one-arm training session.
Dress for Success
“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. As the saying goes, dressing like you want to handbalance can lead to better handstands, for suprisingly practical reasons.
Train barefoot or in socks. Shoes can pull your weight more dramatically, they can change your kick up spacing, or catch on the ground with pressing. While an inch or two of foam might not seem like much, those few inches can make a big difference with the micro-adjustments common in handbalancing. Shoes will also make pointing your toes more difficult, which can help bring awareness to where your legs are in space when you are just learning to be upside down. If you train in a gym where footwear is mandatory, wearing ballet slippers is a great work-around.
Wear mobile, but well-fitting clothes. Loose t-shirts can fall in front of your face when you invert, taking away your visual reference for balance. Stiffer pants, like non-stretchy jeans, reduce the amount your legs can split and so makes kicking-up more awkward, and can hinder your compression which will in turn make pressing more difficult.
So pick an outfit that stays out of your way, doesn’t inhibit your movement, and doesn’t add cumbersome ounces to your frame.
Throw it All Out the Window
While these rituals can bring structure and consistency to your training, we don’t want you to constantly overthink it. Only being able to handstand in a quiet room on polished walnut in your favourite yoga pants will make your handstand abilities quite restricted. By purposely removing or changing select parts of your rituals, you can bring in some controlled chaos to your practice. This will build a broader skillbase for when you just want to have some fun in the park and do handstands on the grass with friends or those inevitable scenic instagram shots.
By crafting a ritual that focuses your mind and preps your body for a handbalancing session, you can mitigate some of variance in your performance session-by-session. But situations will not always be ideal, and you should try to keep consistent anyway. So when you can, control your situation to get the most out of your practice, and when you can’t embrace the challenge of the changes that come your way.