Three years can seem like a long time to be on this weird Alice in Wonderland journey into the world of handstands. But really my acrobatic training age is barely out of it’s infancy. It stands in contrast to my triathlon training age. I just did my 21st consecutive year of the Heart Of the Lakes Triathlon (HOLT). While I love finding new ways to make mistakes (like the other week when I kept trying to put on my goggles for the run) I’ve racked up more lessons than I can count. In handstands, I can finally count the five most critical things I’ve learned.
1) Fucking log it. You’d think I’d know this from logging time, miles, meters… but this training is so different I wasn’t logging in a productive way for the first two years. Progress is microscopic, incremental and not linear. Without logging the training and having some measure of progress it was way too easy to get discouraged and then sidetracked.
2) It’s more skill than strength. It’s like learning an instrument, or a new language, or swimming. Some people get lucky (or have previous relatable experience) but mostly you can’t just throw yourself at it blindly over and over and hope to master it. I wasted a lot of time attacking it as a purely fitness goal. Also, like most skills, it’s hard to self-teach. Getting into the community of acro/circus/gymnastics and making friends to train with was critical.
3) It’s about my HANDS. Shocking right? Even when people are challenged by balancing on one foot, we take for granted how well trained we are to balance on our feet. You’ve been training your feet to automatically keep you upright since you were 9 months old. Even when it’s hard you generally don’t have to consciously command your foot muscles to respond in the correct pattern or to lean one way or another. Babies spend nearly all their time developing the strength and control to balance and walk on their feet. And it takes them nearly a year to master it. I spend 2-4 hours a week doing things to learn to balance on my hands. Of course it’s going to take more than a year to train my hands to hold my whole body upright.
4) Visualization and focus damn it! The first time I made any progress at all was when I spent time truly visualizing my goal. Then I added imagining the sensory experience of balancing on my hands. Then I added watching instagram videos and then imagining myself in those videos. It makes a difference. When I’m practicing and I find my mind wandering if I take time the to visualize it always improves the outcome.
5) Active flexibility is strength work. I scoffed in disbelief. I’m plenty strong. So when pursuing flexibility I was told or read repeatedly that lack of strength contributes to lack of flexibility I was like “Well, that’s not my problem.” And in the beginning my flexibility journey was best done with passive methods. But now I understand how strength is involved in ACTIVE flexibility training. Using my muscles to get into and control my body at the end of my range of motion is HARD and I get sore, and it’s AWESOME.