Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Humble Handstand

So, why am I doing handstands these days?

When was the last time you did a handstand?  Yea, until recently, me, too.  I read about handstand push-ups, and I thought, "Handstand, pphht.  I can do that."  Then I tried one.  A little bit scary for a second there, swinging all your weight over your head.  Especially if your weight is not the same as it was in childhood, when you last tried this.  My arms wobbled for a milli-second, not sure if they were going to hold my weight not.  But they did hold me.  And as I held that position, heels to the wall, every core muscle flexed and my spine curled and my ribs and chest pulled open and I thought, "holy crap--this is working EVERYTHING!"  Holding for the count of 20 seconds was challenging.  Holding it for 30 was damn near brutal.  And so I fell in love with the humble handstand.

Hmmm, sunburnt bellybutton.
I love functional bodyweight exercises.  I love the variability and creativity that comes with it.  Gone are the days of working out one muscle at a time--who has that kind of time>>  I want to work as much as I can, as fast as I can.  It's efficient.  I'm all for efficient.  Functional strength isn't about looking like a builder--its about having the muscles for quick bursts, sprints, to flee from danger when necessary and to have the strength for a sudden 2-hour tennis marathon or a 30km bike ride.  It gives you the strength for anything that comes up.

Bodyweight training is actually far safer and more sustainable for most people.  There is so much less potential for injury--first because you are only using the weight of your own body (and if you have bad form, your own body weight isn't such a big deal, but on a weight machine, bad form can cause a torn muscle, or worse), and secondly because you are working the whole range of muscles instead of working in 2 dimensions.  Remember, too, that fitness is not just strength; its balance, coordination, flexibility, speed, and endurance.  It's EVERYTHING.

Which brings me back to handstands.  They work everything.  They require balance, stability, upper-body strength (arms, shoulders, wrists, lats) and engage all the core muscles--front and back.  This particular exercise is also considered weight-bearing and therefore is good for the bones.

Yoga advocates are big on handstands and headstands.  Not just for all the muscles it engages, but because it increases blood flow to the brain which can reduce stress and anxiety, it can invigorate and energise. 

Handstands improve posture.  In order to do a free handstand, your whole body must be perfectly aligned, your spine must be perfectly stacked or you fall over.  It forces you to really focus on your posture.

Handstands are just plain fun.  They remind me of being a kid when I loved doing handstands.  As a kid, I also loved cartwheels--but beware the cartwheel--they engage groin muscles that haven't been used in forever, either.  They're just as fun as handstands, especially at work in an office building, but that's another story for another time....   Back to handstands!

Handstands are freakin' hard to hold for any length of time.  They are just plain challenging.  Who doesn't love a challenge? 

And they make the body look awesome.  Upside down awesome.  Because you never know who's going to see you upside down....

Ok, Steve took this one a bit early, so I cropped out the body part I don't want anyone staring at, but check out what it does to the abs!! 

But remember, folks, if you have high blood pressure, beware of this one!  If you haven't done a handstand in forever, take it slow.  Use a spotter.  Train fun, but train safely.

Maybe once I achieve my 100 push-up goal (and maybe then complete a 100-burpee challenge), I'll try working towards a handstand push-up.  Because you gotta have goals.  Ok, I need to have goals.  You just just watch, point, and laugh at me.  That's ok.  I'm happy to amuse you.

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