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.