Acrobatic Arts

24 August, 2015


In this post I will be covering the technique that I look for in a handstand. I know articles are very wordy, but I struggle to find time to put together videos or photos. I will however do this one day when I have some spare time.

Technical Description

The basic handstand should start and finish in the same position. The gymnast should start in a stretched shape, then reach forwards into a lunge. (Shapes discussed are as shown HERE) The lunge should be at a 45 degree angle to maximise the reach into the handstand, then hands are placed onto the floor as the gymnast extends the back leg up into the handstand.
The hands should be placed onto the floor a full stretched body length away from the feet. A good way of measuring this is to have the gymnast start by laying on the floor with arms flexed up to the ears. Where their hands are, is where they should be placed when reaching into the handstand.

Once in the handstand, the aim is to keep the body in as straight a line as possible.

Hands – The gymnast should avoid placing all their weight into the heel of their hands. Instead they should have their fingers spread apart and bent slightly, distributing pressure through their finger tips. Hands placed at shoulder width.

Shoulders & Shoulder Girdle – This is an interesting point of discussion. I teach my gymnasts to elevate the shoulder girdle as much as possible while in the handstand. The reason I do this is that I believe it promotes a straighter handstand, although I haven’t found any articles explaining it in depth. Keeping the shoulder girdle elevated also helps develop strength that will later be used for blocking in handsprings and other skills. On bar, that elevation creates a longer lever which helps to accelerate a descending swing.
The gymnast should ideally not elevate the shoulders until they are about to hit vertical in their handstand, as doing this can be used as a method to stop from going past vertical.
The shoulders should also be flexed to the point where the arms are in line with the trunk.

Now, some coaches theorize that a handstand is like a piece of paper. If it is placed straight on its edge, it falls easily, but when curved, it can balance significantly longer. Therefore they teach their gymnasts to protract the shoulder girdle to imitate a curve in a piece of paper. Personally I believe a lot of gymnasts spend too much time protracting their shoulders and causing muscle imbalances. So I don’t ask them to protract, or if I do, I don’t ask them to do it too much or focus heavily on it. A gymnast is much stronger and more complex than a piece of paper.

Head – The head should be held in a neutral position. I ask my gymnasts to keep their arms by their ears, and slowly tilt their head up only until they can just see their thumbs. To me that is ideal as in my experience, seeing their hands can help their balance, although at the same time we don’t want them to stick their head out too much with neck extension.

Trunk – I teach my gymnasts to contract their upper abdominals, pulling their lower ribs inward. This helps to achieve the straight body shape. My belief is that this tension in the core helps to stabilise and balance the gymnast better.

Pelvis – The glutei should be contracted isometrically to increase the body tension to help with maintaining balance. The gymnast should also ensure that their hip flexors do the same. Most coaches also ask their gymnasts to use a posterior pelvic tilt to help straighten out the spine, whether this is actually pulling it into neutral from overly tight muscles in the back is unknown to me so far.

Legs & Feet – These should be kept straight and pointed for many reasons. Doing this may help maintain that body tension which can help the gymnast balance. Also with further development, we need them straight and pointed to perform handsprings correctly.

Prerequisite Skills
Tucked handstands, piked handstands, and 3/4 handstands.

Developmental Skills
Cartwheels, round-offs, dive-rolls, and handsprings.


Well now, this has been my article on the technique of a handstand. I never feel that I know enough of the “why”, so if anyone has further things to add, ask, or comment about, please feel free to send me a message.
My articles are not currently intended to provide lists of drills, but if you click HERE, it will take you to a good article listing ways to coach handstands.

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