In a hand-balancer’s training there is one important milestone – when you can stand on your hands without support and any considerable movement for 60 seconds. This article describes my journey to a 60-second handstand.
If you’re practicing handstands and you have at least some ambitions you’ll eventually start to peek at a one arm handstand. As my teachers have told me, even for those who can do one-arm, training can begin when you can stand more or less without problems in a handstand for 60 seconds. Then you have handled the basics and it’s time to focus on more difficult things. No wonder that 60-seconds is an important milestone. It’s just a number, 61 or 59 is almost the same, but mentally it’s an important milestone.
I begun to seriously train handstand on November 4, 2013, i.e. 11 month ago. Before that, as I have already described here, I made several uncoordinated trips into handstand-land but each time I rejected it saying it’s not for me, deadlift is better. This changed progressively as I was learning more and more from Ido Portal. The turning point was last year in Singapore when I found out that my handstand is a tragedy (unlike everything else we did there). I was truly the worst one there. So I said to myself that the rest of my training goes to maintanance and that I would do only handstands. I have found Yuval and… and the rest is history.
Training with Yuval
Yuval’s training was “simple” – 5 times a week, an hour, just drills for handstand and handstand itself. Each training has to be recorded in a diary, once a week send the diary and video by email. So around five hours a week. I trained with Yuval for 8 months. Besides two weeks when I trained only 3 times a week, it was 5 times a week. Like a clockwork. I wasn’t doing a handstand for max. 3 or 4 days. I have each day of training in my diary, each week on YouTube. After 8 months I came to a conclusion that I needed to be training by myself now, without the pressure on diary and video. Yuval understood that, so the last 3 months I was following only my feeling, but still 5 or 6 times a week. The first 3-4 months I was doing the same things each training, no changes. Then Yuval made a slight change, adding something, removing something else. It took a LONG time for my shoulders to open properly; after all, sitting in front of a computer for 30 years has its consequences.
There were times when I was pretty desperate, I couldn’t do it, the progress wasn’t linear at all; sometimes I made 20 seconds and sometimes hardly 5 seconds. When I complained to Yuval that I couldn’t do it, he wrote to me: “Take a breath, smile and try it again. You don’t have a choice anyway.” That’s Zen, isn’t it? I remembered that many times. He also used to say: “You and your pessimistic moods…”
I had a cold, my wrist was aching, I was on a vacation or travelling, I had a nosebleed (not related to a handstand), we were moving to different flat, or I was working all day – I did a handstand in the evening and worked on the position. As I mentioned before, my typical training time is from 10 pm till 11 pm. It’s far from being ideal but I just don’t have time during the day.
…Take a breath, smile and try it again. You don’t have a choice anyway.
I was doing a handstand outside, inside, in the living room, on a visit, on playground, at the relatives’, during a weekend with friends, in office, in hotel room, in park, on toilet (nowhere else to do it), in woods, on street, on grass, on terrace, on sand, on concrete, on asphalt, in jeans, in shorts, in shirt… Everywhere. Kind of obsession. Or consistency?
Ido once said that people used to tell him that children doing handstands were making walls dirty (sounds familiar, we had to paint the whole flat…). He replied: “Let them dirty the walls motherfuckers”. And continued that handstand is a very precious skill but you already know that, I have written about it many times.
On October 2nd, 2014 I made 65 seconds in handstand. Just like that, it happened. I wasn’t planning to break records, do some PR that day or whatever. It’s been a long time since I stopped training according to any fixed plan, or repetitions, or sets, or time - the obsession with measuring and quantifying everything starts to annoy me - I am training intuitively, I listen to my body and I’m not chasing after anything. I don’t use stopwatch, I count in my head, very slowly just to be sure. So a few sets against the wall, working on the line, then two in space. Then three and I told myself, today is a good day, 25, great, breathing in, breathing out, 35, good, toes, bottom, abs, 40, shoulders, push, push, straight, abs, 45, breathing out, perfect, what if…? What if today? 50, phew, toes, slightly forward, pheeew, 55, alright I can do it, bottom, shoulders, straighten, phew, 60. Bam, I got it!
So I counted five more and got easily back on feet. And that was it. I was very happy, immediately sending a message to my wife, to Yuval…
But in fact, nothing happened - I haven’t achieved enlightenment, nor have I formed a new muscle, nor… Nor… Nothing. All these results, and weights, and our goals - that’s all just a game. Nobody could tell on the street, that's a bummer ☺.
Just one long set in a handstand. The “bubble” of my abilities was a bit shaken and has swelled a little. Now I know, mentally, that it can be done so it’s going to be easier to repeat it.
If I sum it up - I went “from 0 to 60” after c. 220 hours of training handstands (11 months, 4 weeks a month, 5 hours a week). Some might be faster, some might be slower. But roughly - if you exercise a handstand 2 times a week for 20 minutes, when will you have 220 hours in total? Later than me. Which is fine, if you want to exercise it for five years it’s your choice but don’t live in an illusion.
Persistence is one of the hardest disciplines but victory comes to those who persist.
If I was to describe how to get to 60 seconds, it would be as follows:
- Frequency. You have to exercise frequently. 2 times a week for 10 minutes? For someone it’s OK, for me not. Move forward. A bit. Almost. Every. Day.
- Don’t rush. Enjoy the journey. Slowly build up the position, strength, confidence. It will come.
- Face failures with humbleness. Improvement is everything but linear. Like in any other discipline, sometimes I felt that I was moving as a cement bag, sometimes it was completely easy (well, not that much…). Take a breath, smile, try it again (see above).
- In the beginning, you need strength to be able to stand on your hands with your feet on the wall. Then I would say it is necessary to throw away the strength, not use it anymore, and work with feelings, feel, focus, understand (sure, you can try to wrest it but strength is not everything). And when it starts to fit in - more strength. Start fighting for persistence, for not falling down. Fingers, forearms, wrists - more strength. You don’t need hollow (hollow position) for a handstand, overly strong abs and so on. Is it useful? Yes. Is it necessary? No way. But strong fingers come in handy.
- Think. Feel yourself. Analyze why something happened, where are your shoulders, legs, head, hands, why did you fall over. I can explain everything, draw everything, and tell you what and why, but the experience is non-transferrable. If you find it out by yourself it’s worth much more. By the way - during trainings (or workshops) what’s important is not only what I say but also what I don’t say. Because of what’s been said above - experience is non-transferrable.
- Shoshin - Zen Buddhist concept describing mind of a beginner. Forget titles, belts, or diplomas. For some I may be Master of Handstand but I won’t put it on my business cards. Because in my own view I am still a beginner and always be. Humbleness, calmness, and bent head. Everything you do, you do it as a beginner and you’ll be surprised how much you can learn and how many new thing you can find. Shoshin.
- For the first four months I wasn’t fighting the position. When I couldn’t do it, I just fell down. Then I started to fight and tried to hold up there at any cost but by that time I had a good capacity to persist. But the beginning was tough. There’s something to both - for a long handstand you need “to fight”, handle even a bit worse position and then go back. But for one-arm stand you need perfect position (again, for a beginner…) so you need to work on quality.
- It is possible to do it. If I could do it - 40 years old, quite tall (187 cm), quite heavy (90 kg), more or less starting with zero seconds - everyone can do it. Come and I will teach you.
- My 2-year-old daughter is trying to do a handstand ☺. She’s been seeing me frequently upside down; when I watch a video where someone is standing on hands she murmurs “Daddy”. When I’m exercising she runs to me and does a downward-facing dog, lifts up one leg and waits for me to hold her in a handstand. In a few years, handstand will be a normal position for her. Which is going to be great because she won’t have to catch up in her forties.
- What happened to my arms can’t be described other than… transformation. Very strong.
- Many other skills are now within reach.
- Every plus I wrote about here.
- In some time, when you’re more confident, you can work on mobility, strengthen what you don’t need in a handstand (pull-ups, legs), or what you do need (work on your line) in between handstands. What I did during those 11 months was 90 % handstand, the rest was just “games” to relax (wushu stretch for example). Then you can make a serious, complete training in those 45-60 minutes.
- It took me quite a lot of time and efforts – just like everything that’s worth something.
- I wasn’t developing anything else but that’s OK, I have time.
- Doing only one thing is not good and that applies to a handstand too. People should be universal otherwise any exercise might become harmful. I felt it myself.
- My SAS (straight arm strength) is on a different level now but my BAS (bent arm strength) suffered a lot, particularly pull. Pull-ups are much worse than before so I have to make up for that.
I would like to thank to Ido, master of the movement, for lighting up a spark of curiosity in me and for showing me something completely different than I had known (which is definitely not just a handstand). Yuval, handstand master, for explaining me handstand like no one else, described it to me thoroughly and in such detail, and corrected me again and again. I don’t even know how many times he has written to me: “Toes, you need to point your toes. Your toes. Toeeeeesssss.”
I would like to thank to my students – one of the reasons I started to teach was that “when there is a student and a teacher, two of them are learning.” I am learning a lot from you and I believe that it works both ways.
But first of all I would like to thank to my wife. She is tolerating my obsession with movement with patience; whether I’m mounting a horizontal bar to the wall, buying equipment, secretly transporting a 24-kg kettlebell in the car to our vacation, or dirtying all the walls in our apartment by doing a handstand – she has had understanding and respect for me for all those years.
Handstand is a skill “opening doors not windows.” There are many, many things ahead of me right now that are practicable – press to handstand, L-Sit to handstand, straddle, press-up in a handstand (I mean in actual handstand, not against the wall). There are many skills that can be further developed now thanks to a handstand – e.g. press-up in a handstand but first you need to master the handstand.
But most importantly I want the 60 seconds to be my “normal”. Now, my normal is 35-40 seconds each day, sometimes more, sometimes less. In a few months, 60 will be my normal. Also I want to work on getting in the handstand, it’s not 100% at all, let’s say 80%, in 2 cases out of 10 I make a mistake and fall down. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I started to work on a human flag (side flag) some time ago and front lever – so maybe finish this and we’ll see. 60 seconds in a handstand – that is just the beginning.
60 seconds in a handstand – that is just the beginning.
Good luck with your handstands. And don’t forget – when it’s not working take a breath, smile and try it again. You can do it.