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First off, great site, love it! You guys do a great job.

Like the subject line states I have a question about calisthenics. I've been training in calisthenics for nearly about 5 or 6 months now and have noticed my strength, functional strength, flexibility, etc. gradually increasing and its great but I'm having trouble with handstands.

I can crawl up the wall and do a handstand against the wall and wall, handstand, pushups but I can't do a reverse and flip my feet up against the wall....yet I can, nearly, do a handstand on parallel bars and hold myself for an extended period.

I was told to start with frog stances, which I can do and can do headstands quite well but still the handstand eludes me.

I know I'm just starting really and that type of progression takes time but still any help would be appreciated :)

Hello Todd,
         I am very glad to help you.  It sounds like you are on the right track.  Remember, a handstand is the most important trick in gymnastics and it takes time to master it.  Gymnastically speaking, the requirement for holding a handstand in gymnastics is 2 seconds.  The strongest handstand is performed in the hollow body position.  The hollow body position is a gymasntics shape defining a straight line.  I am going to give a complete description of “The Handstand” below.  Oh, I will also include some hollow body exercises for line strength. 
        How to Improve your Handstand
1)   Understand that all floor skills balanced on the hands are controlled the same way.  This control is either from the finger tips or the palm and thumb.  Here is how it works.  After you have achieved the position, you press on your fingers to adjust and prevent yourself from falling over (forward) and press on your palm and thumb to stop yourself from falling back to where you started.  Remember, to use this basic technique, you must first be in the position the skill demands then use the pressing technique to maintain your balance.
2)   It is always best when learning balance skills that you start at the easier skills to feel the technique.  For example, start with a tripod or frog headstand.  This is where your hands and head are on the mat and your legs are tucked on or besides your elbows.  Make sure your head is touching the mat where your hair starts growing on your head.   Do not place the top of your head on the mat.  Remember to put your head in front of your hands to make a triangle shape.  Also, make sure your head is far enough forward so you can see your fingers without turning your head.  You know you have been successful if you can hold it for at least 3 seconds.
3)   Next, try a headstand by slowly straightening out your tuck position from the tripod till your legs become fully straight.  Try not to arch your back and keep your seat muscles tight.  This helps to lock your body in a vertical line.  It is always welcome to have a spotter or someone else who can hold your legs in the beginning so you can get use to the vertical line up side down.  If your headstand balance is successful, then you are ready to try the handstand.
4)   Performing your first handstand is tough without a spotter.  You want to make sure you are strong enough not to collapse after you kick up.  A spotter is quite useful and helps you not to worry about falling.  The spotter can also reposition you so you know when you are in the perfectly straight vertical line.  Then when you are straight, you can start to make your adjustments with your hands to maintain your balance.  To help in your consistency of balancing your handstand, keep your arms straight over your head and lift your back leg at the same rate of speed as you lean over to place your hands on the mat.  Body line is very important to the success of this skill and to the progression leading to other valuable skills.
5)   To practice the handstand by yourself, I have found a pretty effective way to do it against the wall.  First, place one hand next to the wall with your finger tips touching the wall.  Now place your other hand behind the first.  Now take the first hand and place it shoulder width next to your second.  You are now ready to kick to a handstand.  You can kick up and lean your handstand against the wall.  Now slowly tap your feet away from the wall so your body will achieve the straight tight handstand position.  The wall helps you to not falling over.  Try to always step down, not to come down with together when finishing your handstand position.
   Hollow body exercises:
1.   Hollow climbers:  The gymnast lays on their stomach with their feet against a wall.  The gymnast now does a push up while walking their feet up the wall.  The gymnast continues this motion till they have climbed all the way to a handstand with stomach to the wall.  The gymnast down reverses the process to the original position.  Performing just 10 of the “hollow climbers” is quite demanding.  My team kids do not like them….but understand and respect the benefit.
2.   Hollow rocker turnovers:  This is a common exercise done at most gyms.  The only problem is most kids do not perform the technique correctly… it takes some close observations from the coaches in the beginning.  The gymnast starts laying only on their lower back with arms over head and one hand on top of the other….and the legs together several inches off the floor.  The gymnast now rolls over to their stomach with out touching the floor with their arms or legs.  The gymnast now rolls back to their lower back.  Now repeat the process at least 30 repetitions.  This is very tiring and a great hollow strengthening exercise.
3.   Handstand elbow touches:  The gymnast performs a handstand against a wall and proceeds to push from one shoulder to get their hand off the floor and touch the other elbow with their hand.  The gymnast now repeats the process touching the other elbow.  I have my team kids do 100.  This exercise is difficult and an important one to learn and do at every strength workout.
I wish you the very best in your quest and take care -- Jack Leonard.


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Jack Leonard


Former 5 time Natl. Tumbling Champ, 3 time Natl. Vaulting Champ, Natl. Floor Exercise Champ; Ass`t coach of Dominique Dawes for 6 years; Owner/Director/Head coach of Kauai Gymnastics Academy on the island of Kauai in Hawaii; Retired Physical Ed teacher; Childrens Fitness Expert; Expert Consultant for gymnastics litigation; Retired Mens & Womens HS Gymnastics coach for 32 years. National coaching honors for Men in 1981 & Women in 2001.


I value the following awards because they were given by acknowlegement through my peers: The Nissen/Grissold Award given to the outstanding Tumbling and Tramp Athlete(1972), National High School coach of the year in 1981 for men and 2001 for women, 10 time County Coach of the Year. Medal Award given at the first World Tumbling Championships in London, England for dedication to the sport. Lastly, having the opportunity to coach Wes Suter(1988 Olympian)in his intermediate years and Dominique Dawes(1992 & 1996)

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