Turning yourself upside down is not the first thing that you think of when you contemplate calisthenics exercises, but it is, in fact, a good way to make use of your bodyweight to build up the shoulders and arms. The large muscles of the legs do a lot of the literal “heavy lifting” in many types of calisthenics, which is good for your overall strength but can sometimes leave you feeling as if your arms and upper body are being developed only secondarily.
This is not a problem with handstands, because the positions of your arms and legs and literally reversed while carrying them out. Your legs become a secondary burden held aloft above the ground, while your arms become the load bearing limbs.
You should not attempt handstands as part of your calisthenics regimen until you are quite muscular – you need to be able to support your whole bodyweight with your arms, after all. Handstands are somewhat dangerous, and especially so for beginners – after all, if you slip or lose control, your whole weight will come down on your head, quite possibly snapping your neck and killing you. Never overestimate the sturdiness of the human neck – it is probably the body’s weakest point.
With that said, handstands are safe and effective for those who are, in the first place, muscular and well toned (as you will be after a few months if you pursue a rigorous calisthenics exercise program), and in the second place, careful and cautious. Remember that you are not carrying out handstands to “prove” anything or to show off. You are making use of them for the serious purpose of building up your arms, shoulders, and upper body, and for this reason, you should carry them out in a thoughtful, measured way.
The technique for calisthenic handstands
The following sequence is used to carry out a calisthenic handstand:
Do a few ordinary pushups to warm up your body, get your blood flowing, and limber up your joints and muscles. A handful of these exercises will do – you will need your full muscular strength to carry out the handstands successfully, and tiring yourself before you begin will be counterproductive.
Getting into a handstand is a complex matter which is fully discussed in the next article, which is supplemental to this.
Kick your feet up and over, raising your body into a vertical position and resting the soles of your feet against the wall. This is essential for stability; while some people have the strength and balance to do a calisthenic handstand pushup in the middle of the floor, with their feet pointing up into midair, this is very difficult and requires long practice.
Establish a stable balance of your weight, adjusting your feet and moving your hands slightly if this give you great stability.
Slowly and smoothly bend your arms, lowering your head towards the floor, while keeping your feet in contact with the wall. The ultimate goal is to be able to touch your head gently to the floor at the bottom of your handstand, but this will likely be impossible at first. Remember to move slowly to avoid slipping and falling on your head. Stop your descent as soon as you feel that you will soon be unable to stop or control it – do not continue for that “extra second”.
Shove yourself back up with a hard, sharp motion. You may not be able to push up as far as your theoretical limit – go as far as you can.
Use of a spotter is recommended if you are having trouble with your first handstands. This person can help you if you get in trouble – for example, if you feel that you cannot recover from your descent and are going to continue it until you hit your head on the floor due to momentum, your spotter can grab your ankles and pull you back up.