What are the benefits of doing handstands? You get to stand on your hands and look kind of cool. That’s pretty much as far as it goes. But we believe there are additional, definitive benefits that come out of training handstands.
Coordination and physical awareness
With Emmet’s personal training students, in addition to their training goals, he will often have them train handstands. With those students he has noticed there’s a level of challenge to the body with handbalancing that begins to fill in the gaps of their physical awareness. There is a strong correlation, over the course of their handstand training, with how much more coordinated they get in everything they’re doing.
Before they might have been doing bodyweight training, or normal weightlifting, and still feel disconnected in their body. The novelty about handstand training challenges the body in ways it’s not normally challenged. With handstands in particular, we have to force the mind into the body. We have to get you to feel your kneecap. Is one contracting and the other not? Why did you externally rotate one leg but not the other? Why were your toes pointed but now you unpoint? Just by constantly self-checking in on the body seems to fill some proprioceptive gaps people have, that isn’t done in other skills.
And best of all, these benefits are easily achieved because handbalancing is inherently simple. It’s simple to just turn yourself upside down and stand on your hands, but something in your body isn’t allowing that at the time, so something else has to change. And it’s these changes that bring people in contact with their body.
While we said handbalancing may be simple, it is not shallow. In a pushup, say, you’re moving the body up and down. But handstands have a kind of skill tree. You see how the body works, how the mind and body coincide, and you want to make them work together. Now you’re balancing upside down, and you’re in the chaos of balancing. Your whole proprioceptive map you built up is gone and you have to find it again.
In one sense, you’re re-experiencing what you experienced as a baby learning to stand. And just as a child giggles with satisfaction on learning to stand, there seems to be a primordial joy in accomplishing a new handbalancing feat. On a practical level, that is what we’re doing, even on the mytho-poetic level, you’re learning to stand again.
Particularly in the early stage of handstand training, basic wall drills and alignments are complicated. They have variety, but internal variety. It’s why was this rep different, or this setup? It’s not an outside variety, like you dodged the ball, but it came at a different angle. This repeated action – we hypothesize – seems to be giving these people the chance for more practice at something, so they slowly start filling in the gaps. While it’s observational evidence, our students say they feel more in tune with their body, more connected, and feel things they weren’t able to before. They feel more coordinated in my day to day life, things that were challenging before aren’t anymore.
Temperance and Problem Solving
Handbalancing, being a skill-based discipline, involves a direct confrontation with the self. I managed to stay up and held my handstand, or, I did not hold it. This clear-cut results and dichotomy of success and failure can bring you in touch with both very furious and very calm parts of yourself. It also correlates to our psychological feelings around control. It’s blatantly direct with a handstand. Do I have the control to actually hold it? Checking whether or not you are in control, and that allows you this “good feeling.”
There’s loads of fury when it doesn’t work, or frustration. It’s the Sisyphean task where you constantly push this rock up the mountain and it rolls back down again, but you’re happy to keep pushing it up. When framed in this lens, handstands touch so many mental and emotional things in a person. Knowing of your inevitable failure, but satiating a desire to face that failure directly to try to improve build temperance in a practitioner. This is why we think it can have such a strong impact and make people want to repeat the task.
Of course, the first time you fall out of a handstand it’s a rush to manage your emotions. Time number 500, it’s no longer a rush but it’s a test of some sorts. You constantly keep pushing trying to learn new things, make corrections, and find solutions to keep your balance. You find yourself in this area of learning, testing, and challenge. We believe that because handbalancing has all these facets gives you both a practice that is beautiful, and one that is utterly soul-destroyingly frustrating. What you’re constantly doing every single nanosecond is problem solving, and there to experience the problem solving.
Now your handstand practice will just be the practice, that’s all it is. But, in the practice itself, as you touched on there, there’s an infinite amount of things to be found.
Consistency in training, and in life
For many people who have a handbalancing practice, including us, find it enjoyable. And we realize to get better at handstands, we have to be consistent. Then consistency and training gets better.
But if you want to be consistent with training, you have to be consistent in your daily life. Emmet has a metric he uses with his students: for every hour you spend in the gym in a week, you have to spend 15-20 minutes doing stuff outside the gym to facilitate that. That’s either washing your gym gear, precooking meals, packing stuff for the next day… simple bits and pieces that go into your daily routine.
So if you want to get good at anything, you have to be disciplined. The need and the space this thing takes up in your life is what begins to force the discipline upon you. Then you become disciplined. In Mikael’s case, his handstand training helps him be organized, because for handstands consistency is the primary parameter. With handstands, you need that ridiculous amount of repetition to get absolutely anywhere. It makes you need to do it, and structure your day in a way to be consistent.
We hope you feel inspired to train handstands, with a new perspective on the multitude of benefits a skill-based discipline can bring to your life. If you’d like to hear about these benefits in more detail, give our podcast, the Handstandcast, a listen. In Episode 19, we take a deeper dive into these topics, provide personal anecdotes, and wax philosophically about being upside-down.