Monday, January 03, 2005

Handstands on Chairs

Performing a handstand on a chair is one of my favorite skills to do. Not surprisingly, it's also the skill I'm most requested to do. A handstand on the floor is impressive to many people, and handstand pushups even more so - but as soon as you throw a familiar object into the mix, people tend to pay a bit more attention. Everyone is familiar with a chair, and the thought that someone could press a handstand on one seems impossible.

Physical Prerequisites:
First, you should be able to hold a solid handstand before you even look at a chair. I'm not talking about a 3 second hold, I'm talking about a 30 second hold. Each and every handstand you do on the ground should be in control, and you should be able to come down on your feet in control from every handstand.

Having a press handstand is tremendously helpful, although not entirely essential. The ability to do handstand pushups is also a great help. The more arm and shoulder strength you have, the easier this should be.

I'm laying out these physical requirements because I want anyone who tries this skill to be ready and safe. You must remember that this is not a handstand on the ground. Whereas you might fall forward onto your head and shoulders when learning a regular handstand, this is not an option on the chair. Everytime you come down, you should be in control.

Training Precautions:
1. Start up against a wall, just like learning a regular handstand. Chances are that you aren't use to the arm position and things will feel a bit odd. The wall will help should you need it.

2. Use a sturdy chair. I'm using a folding chair in the pictures below, but I'd consider that slightly advanced. You want to start with a solid wood chair with a back that is not too high. If the chair back is too high, your bent arm will be crammed up against your body and the handstand will be much more difficult, if not impossible. You also don't want to use a chair that may fall to pieces while you're upside-down on top of it.

3. Clear things away from you. Yes, I realize that I'm in the middle of my room with weights, computer, bed, and/or windows to kick, but I have tremendous confidence in my technique. When you first try this skill, your technique might need some work. Clear a space around you for safety's sake.

4. Look out above! Some forget that they will be trying a handstand a couple feet off the ground. If you have low ceiling or light work above you, find another place. Some may not appreciate footprints on their ceilings either.

5. Come down safely. When you are lowering yourself back down to your feet, try to do so in a controlled fashion. This will prevent any stupid injuries caused by slamming back down into the chair and then tossing yourself backwards onto the floor. In the event that you lean too far forward/left/right and start to fall, pirouette while holding onto the chair so that you can land on your feet standing.

Alright, now that the disclaimer is over, onto the skill.

The first important detail is proper hand placement.

Your hands will be a bit off-center. If you picture the chair as a square, then your hands will be on opposite corners. This placement is essential for balance and control. If you place your hands in the middle like you are lining up a regular handstand, then balance will be difficult.

Make sure that the hand that is on the back of the chair is the closest one to you. That arm will be bent during the handstand, so it needs to be back close to you.

The hand that is on the seat of the chair will be further away from you. Grab around the front of the seat for greater control. This arm will be straight during the handstand, so make sure the palm is well on the chair for a solid base.

If it feels more comfortable, you can spin the chair around and switch hand positions. The right hand would then be closer to you and the left arm farther away. I'd actually suggest practicing both ways to keep your strength balanced, but it's very likely that you'll develop a favorite side.

We'll now start off with the basic way to get up into a handstand. While keeping the hand placement described above, squat up onto the chair.

The next step is where your feet leave the terra firma and things can get dangerous. If you already have a solid press handstand, this step should be self-explanatory. Press up with this different hand placement.

If you do not have a press handstand, or it is not that solid yet, you may want to try straightening your knees to get your hips up, then extending into a handstand and/or giving a slight hop to get your hips up. I have not personally used this technique, but a number of girls capable of doing this skill have described it to me.

Whichever method you use, make sure that your legs remain tucked close to your body. If you try and extend into a handstand before your hips are over your head, then you'll be "planching" the handstand and the weight of your legs will bring you down. Lift your hips completely, then extend your legs.

If all went according to plan, you are now in a handstand on top of the chair. I like to think of the straightened arm as a solid base where I am placing more of my weight. My other arm is bent to 90 degress and works on control. Of course it has some weight on it, but it should be less than the straightened arm, so that it doesn't tire out quickly. Understand the role of each arm? Base and Control. It'll make more sense when you're there.

When you are done, just reverse the steps. Tuck your legs in first. Then lower your hips, land in a squat on the chair, and step off. If you fail to tuck your legs and simply fall down out of the handstand, you run a good risk of smashing your shins into the chair. I've seen this happen plenty of times. This is why I ask you to be in control of both the handstand, and coming down out of the handstand. You're not entirely safe until you get down, step down off the chair, unplug your computer and stop trying crazy things you read on the internet ;)

Too easy you say?

Need more of a challenge?

Try pressing into a handstand while you're sitting on the chair. If you try this at your next social soiree, I guarantee you'll be the talk/weirdo of the night.

Instead of a squating onto the chair, you're simply going to twist your body and reach one arm between your legs to grab the chair, and another one behind you to grab the back. You're striving for the same exact hand placement as the first method, except now you've got the rest of your body in the way.

Next, start pressing so that your hips start to lift off the seat. You'll have to tuck that trapped leg (my left leg in this case) so that it'll clear over the chair seat.

It's just a basic press from there, same as the last one. Bam. You're upside-down.

Now if you want to finish things off with style, come back down the same way you got up. This will require a controlled descent until you can split your legs and straddle your posting arm. In the last few inches, while your butt is hovering over the seat, turn yourself into the proper sitting position. Touch down, then let go of the chair and cross your leg up on your knee. Smooth.

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial. The chair handstand is a lot of fun and not too hard once you get the hang of it. And I can predict with absolute certainty that someone will ask you to do this, once they find out you can. Stay safe!

Hope you guys had a great holiday season and a happy new year. Goodluck to everyone with their 2005 goals!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Jim. Could you do a similar post on developing a press to handstand or the L-sit press to handstand you mentioned? It's been a goal of mine and I've never known a good progression.

Thanks and good work,
-Paul Davis

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Jim,

I tried it 3 times today on a bench in the park. Things worked out well, and luckily there was no need to pirouette out. (I assume that is the general way to bail out of chairs) Normal chairs and the tricks you show with the chairs stacked seem miles out of reach. I'll stick to the benches in the park this summer and perhaps next year try a strong kitchen chair.

Greetings Tex

8:12 AM  
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10:49 PM  

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