You don’t have to be proficient at an exercise to reap benefits from it. The process of building the strength and musculoskeletal stability to hold a handstand in itself yields muscular development. Eight years of bodybuilding never came close to giving me the upper body I’ve always wanted, but functional exercise (handstands included) finally got me there. Functional exercise involves training muscle groups to work synergistically to complete a movement. This means unlike many bodybuilding workouts that focus on developing specific muscle groups at a time, gymnastics training continuously calls upon an umbrella of muscle groups to work together. This results in all-around muscular development, a decreased likeliness of muscle imbalances, higher caloric burn than isolation exercises, and greater core development because many elemental gymnastics exercises engage the core by necessity, whether working the upper body or the lower body.
I always noticed the fitness competitors (many ex-gymnasts) at bodybuilding competitions have the most all-around impressive muscular development, and the most mature-looking muscles. After watching a video of Monica Brant getting into a handstand when demonstrating exercises she did to develop her shoulders, I followed a hunch, and looked into how handstands could improve my shoulder development. Putting all this together and leaning more toward functional exercise as I dedicate myself to lifelong fitness, I ultimately swapped bodybuilding for functional training.
Bodyweight exercises are a master component of functional training, and the masters of bodyweight training are gymnasts. Long story short, I’m now an adult gymnast (beginner)! Handstands, as all you readers likely know, are foundational to gymnasts, who need robust shoulders. (Yes, please give me some Simone Biles shoulders!)
How can you get started with handstands?
First, you’ll need professional guidance because it’s a multistage process. Aside from joining an adult gymnastics class (if you’re lucky to have one locally) or CrossFit (which can be too fast-paced, not individually focused, and expensive), there are many online and print options to help you learn handstands, along with the many other functional exercises that also build a beautiful body. Below are a few, all of which I’ve tried. I prefer the BodyBible by Olympic gymnastics medalist Nile Wilson and the Overcoming Gravity instructional book written by a former competitive gymnast Steven Low.
Overcoming Gravity is a start-to-finish gymnastics training instructional book, providing progressions from the beginner level to super advanced: from pull-ups to the iron cross. What makes this book so valuable are its skill reference charts, in which a reader can determine their current skill level per exercise and match it to other exercises at the same or higher level. Each skill level is followed by next-level progressions. These charts prevent readers from getting lost on their gymnastics journey and provide perspective on where they stand athletically and where they can be as they go through progressions.
Because it’s accessible for all fitness levels and “will leave you feeling powerful and sculpted like a pro gymnast,” writes MTV.co.uk, which ranked BodyBible as one of “the 3 online workout programmes everyone needs in their lives.” If the ability to train at home and not have to pay for a gym membership is important to you, then I recommend the BodyBible’s train-anywhere approach. The BodyBible is also a winner in its approach to delivering information about training: the why and the how of executing an exercise. Unlike Overcoming Gravity, the BodyBible is an online training program. But it is not simply a smartphone app or website with a stream of exercises with scant descriptions that subscribers must scroll through. Instead, Nile provides videos, in which he demonstrates and explains exercises, creating a one-on-one instructional experience, another element of this program I appreciate.
I purchased the Gymnastic Bodies phone app handstand course a few years ago. It was the first gymnastics training program I had any experience with. Since then, the program has appeared to team up with GymFit TV. I have not tried Gymnastic Bodies in its new form, but my experience with its initial form was mostly positive. The course is the brainchild of elite gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer, who has may gymnastics training courses available online, including books and DVDs. The design of the original GB course was scroll-driven on a mobile app. There were no one-on-one, at-length video explanation tutorials as with BodyBible for every progression. I basically was given an exercise to do with a demonstration video and a brief description of the exercise. I had difficulty with the order of the exercises and eventually sought out a different course, Overcoming Gravity and later BodyBible. Other products from Coach Sommer, however, are excellent instructional and information tools for all levels of gymnastics instruction. I mastered pistol and deck squats after purchasing his “Legs” training program that I found on Amazon, the Building the Gymnastic Body series. Given the value I found in Sommer’s other products, I would not be opposed to trying the latest version of Gymnastic Bodies, but I have not tried it yet.
If one of the three above courses interests you in jump-starting your handstand training, the primary perk is each program can be followed at home. Yes! no gym fees. Any one of these programs will strengthen your arsenal of tools for attaining not just handstand mastery and boulder shoulders, but an all-around flexible, functional, and fit body.
As an athlete for over 21 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created brokesinglemomfitness.com, now LLAFIT.com, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT – Lifelong Applied Fitness