There are definitely days I looked over and see a client doing a handstand hold in a seriously egregious position, to say the least.
First problem was he looked like he was physically suffering—with a serious upside down pain face. And to be honest, looking at his extended lumbar spine and his rounded T-spine, and his slightly bent elbows, was extremely painful for me to watch, too.
He breathed short and hard deep breaths and winced for about 20 seconds before toppling over into a giant heap of exhaustion, looking relieved to finally be free from the discomfort.
“Matt, I think you should do overhead barbell, or overhead single-arm DB, holds today instead. You’re not ready to invert yourself yet. You need to work on your overhead positioning for a while until you’re able to get your shoulders to open enough so you can straighten out your back. Then you’ll be able to stack your hips and shoulders overtop of each other and hang out comfortably in that position upside down,” I said.
“Oh thank God. I felt like I was going to die,” he replied.
I laughed and felt warm and fuzzy inside that Matt lacks an ego and was happy to “scale” the skill work for the sake of long term success (and of avoiding injury in the short term).
Because here’s the thing about skill work, be it a handstand hold or otherwise:
If you feel like you’re going to die, you’re probably not ready for that skill yet.
How do you know you’re ready?
In the case of a handstand, if holding a handstand feels easy, like almost like you’re resting, then you’re ready. It goes without saying you shouldn’t experience joint pain whatsoever. Not in your wrists, and certainly not in your shoulders.
“Pfffffff…as if a handstand will ever feel comfortable,” you’re thinking.
Go ahead: Find someone, or multiple people, at the gym who can do a perfectly straight handstand facing the wall with just their toes and nose touching the wall (no thighs or guts leaning into the wall). Ask him/her/them if a one-minute handstand causes their body, joints, lungs any grief whatsoever.
My guess is they’ll probably tell you they’re quite comfortable upside down for 60 seconds. Sure, once you get beyond a minute or two, the whole blood rushing to the head thing might start to get a bit uncomfy, but generally speaking, if you’re physically strong and flexible enough, holding a handstand should, and will be, a walk in the park.
The point: Be patient. Don’t skip steps. Master the single-arm DB overhead hold first. Then the overhead barbell hold. Then an inverted hold with your feet on a box, and then suddenly handstands will be in your wheelhouse and you can chill and read a book in that position.
Want to get your handstand? Talk to your coach about the best course of action for you.