So you've just started practising handstands, or maybe you've been practising handstands for a while now. You've tried a few different drills and exercises, you know the general idea, but you still can't seem to find that elusive balance, even for a second. Isn't it frustrating!? You'll be pleased to know that you are not alone. Here are seven* things that you absolutely must do if you want to master the handstand.
1. Fix Your Hands
Are you starting from a standing position with your arms above your head, and then flinging yourself at the ground like you're about to do a cartwheel? Yeah... don't. Start with your hands on the ground, like this:
2. Adjust Your Gaze
Where are you looking? Looking too far forward (in front of your fingertips) is probably putting your neck and back in a position that makes it difficult for you to find balance. Looking at the horizon or wall, with your neck in a neutral position, is an advanced position that you're probably not ready for if you're reading this post. Instead, find a spot on the floor directly in between your thumbs, and fix your gaze there.
3. Push Your Shoulders
Every part of your body should be active and safe while you handstand, especially your shoulders. Slack shoulders will make it hard to balance, and sinking into your shoulder joint is a risky and inefficient position. When you're upside down, PUSH HARD through your shoulders so they drive closer to your ears. With your hands overhead, try to shrug your shoulders so they touch your ears - if you can't get your shoulders to touch your ears, there's a strong possibility that your lats need a good stretch, which leads me to...
4. Stretch Your Lats
Tight lats can contribute to a rubbish overhead position, which will make it very difficult to get in an efficient position for handstanding. Try this: find a table, bench, or bar at about navel-height. Standing about arms-length away from the table, hinge forward from the hip and place both elbows on it, shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees, make your hands into fists and press your knuckles together (or even better, the outside edge of your hands so your pinky fingers are touching and your palms are facing towards you). Now draw your hips back, and your pull chest down towards the floor so that your head tucks between your arms. You should be in a kind of L-shape, with vertical legs and a (roughly) horizontal back. Bend your knees if you have to; this is not a hamstring stretch. Suck your belly in and keep your lower back flat: no twerking.
5. Hollow Your Belly
Raw asparagus is great. Overcooked asparagus is not. Why? Well, you should be able to balance a fresh, raw asparagus spear on a table-top so it stands up straight and points at the ceiling. If you overcook that asparagus and it goes all floppy, you won't be able to make it stand up straight. Furthermore, a straight piece of asparagus is easier to balance than a curvy one, right? Your handstand is the same. You need firm, straight lines. One of the most common handstand faults is floppy abs and/or curvy spines. Create a better shape by "hollowing" your belly: tilt your pelvis to eliminate any curve in your lower back, and suck your navel in towards your spine. Draw your lower ribs in so they don't flare out. Practise this lying on the floor face-up and face-down, and also standing.
6. Squeeze Your Butt
This is the same principle as the hollow belly. Squeeze your butt and tilt your pelvis to eliminate any curve in your lower back. Keep your butt squeezed; you need tension to create balance. #nofloppyasparagus
7. Point Your Toes
Point your toes, point your toes, point your toes! Just do it. Create tension to create balance. POINT YOUR DAMN TOES.
Incorporate these things in your practice and your will improve your handstands. Here's the kicker though: none of these things work unless you do. It requires daily practice, for as long as it takes. Be consistent, and be patient. Handstands are cool because they are a high-level skill. You're not going to unlock handstand mastery in a matter of weeks or even months. Don't worry about how long it takes; just do it and enjoy the process. There is no end point; even the best handstand masters still practice regularly and consistently. If you're not prepared to be patient and persistent, then handstands are probably not for you.
*Why seven things? Because these are actually important; this is not a "one magic trick for a flat belly" article... you still have to put in the work.
The following information is specific to the IPLNZ Novice Women's-Only Powerlifting Meet at Ruthless Barbell Club in Tauranga on June 1, 2019.
Competition Day Schedule
Weigh in: Go to the table (the score table) and ask for your lifter’s sheet. Take the sheet to a referee and ask them to weigh you in. You stand on the scale and they write down the number on your lifter’s sheet.
Gear check: Find a referee and show them all the clothing, shoes, and socks that you will be using when you’re lifting. A list of the required gear is below.
Rack heights: Go to the competition platform, which will be set up for squats. Adjust the rack to your preferred height so you are comfortable unracking and re-racking the bar for squats. Once you’ve decided, ask someone to tell you what the height of the rack is. Write down that rack height on your lifter’s sheet.
Opening attempts: Decide what weight (in kilos) you want to lift for your first squat, bench, and deadlift and write these numbers on your lifter’s sheet. You can change your mind and alter these numbers up to 5 minutes before the competition starts. You can also change the bench and deadlift opening attempts up to 5 minutes before those lifts start.
Give your lifter’s sheet to the table and make sure you’ve done everything you need to.
Free time. Chill out, have something to eat/drink, go to the bathroom 43 times because you’re nervous, whatever you need to do.
Start your foam rolling, massage ball-ing, tai chi, stretching, or other warm-up exercises.
Go to a squat rack (not the one on the platform), find a bar, and start warming up for squats. You will have to share a bar with a few other people. Be nice, communicate, and just do what you need to do without worrying what other people are doing.
Lifters briefing. Sit/stand and listen to one of the referees explain the rules, the commands, proper execution of the lifts, and possible reasons for red lights. You can ask questions.
It will probably finish between 4:00-5:00pm depending on how many people are lifting and how fast the spotters/loaders (the people who put the weights on the bar for each of the lifters) are.
You must wear the following and have it approved by a referee before 10am:
For squats, you will hear the following:
“Bar is loaded.” (You walk onto the platform, take your time, and unrack the bar ready to squat. WAIT. The next command is only given once the ref sees that your knees are locked/straight.)
“Squat.” (You squat down and come back up to the top in your own time. Then WAIT.)
“Rack.” (You can then walk forward and re-rack the bar, and leave the platform.)
For bench, you will hear the following:
“Bar is loaded.” (You walk onto the platform, take your time to get set on the bench, and unrack the bar ready to do the bench press. WAIT. The next command is only given once the ref sees that your elbows are locked/straight and the bar is still.)
“Start.” (You bring the bar down to your chest. WAIT. The next command is only given when the bar is still.)
“Press.” (You push the bar back up to the top and straighten your elbows completely. Then WAIT.)
“Rack.” (You can then re-rack the bar and leave the platform.)
For deadlift, you will hear the following:
“Bar is loaded.” (You walk onto the platform, take your time, and deadlift whenever you’re ready. You don’t need to wait for a start command. Once you’ve locked the bar out at the top of the lift, WAIT.)
“Down.” (You can put the bar back down on the ground. You must lower it with control; i.e. your hands remain on the bar at all times until the bar is still on the platform. Do not drop it, do not push it down, but take it down with control. You can then leave the platform.)
Note: Once the command “bar is loaded” is given, the table starts a clock. Once that command is called, you have 60 seconds to get on the platform and start your lift.
DO NOT RUSH. DO NOT RUSH. DO NOT RUSH.
Time moves slower on the platform; 60 seconds is a really long time. All you need to do is make sure you’re next to the platform ready and waiting for the “bar is loaded” command, not faffing about outside drinking coffee or going to the toilet. If you’re at the side of the platform ready and waiting, you’ll have heaps of time. Once you hear “bar is loaded,” step onto the platform and go to the bar. Set up. Pause. Think. Remember what you need to focus on for the lift (Depth? Tightness? Shoulders? Pulling the slack out of the bar? Whatever). Remember what the calls are. Unrack the bar when you ready. WAIT FOR THE CALLS. Breathe again. Then do what you know how to do.
Common reasons for red lights
What the red lights mean
There are three referees. They will each give you either a red light or a white light.
Three white lights: good lift
Two whites, one red: good lift
One white, two reds: no lift
Three red lights: no lift
A good lift will count towards your total score. A “no lift” does not count towards your score. You must get AT LEAST one good squat, one good bench, and one good deadlift in order to build a total score and therefore achieve a place in the competition. Whether that place is first or last does not matter, just make sure you build a total. If this is your first competition, make your first attempt at each lift fairly easy: choose a weight you are confident that you could do for at least 3 reps.
Bring food and water
The competition will last for 3-5 hours. You need to fuel like you’re running a marathon. If you don’t eat, deadlifts will be really hard.
Bring simple carbohydrates, some fats, and a little protein. Think donuts, sandwiches, popcorn, rice crackers, trail mix, maybe a protein shake if you already regularly have protein shakes.
Bring water and/or electrolyte drinks.
Do not bring last night’s leftover vindaloo curry.
Do not send a friend out to bring you back dodgy sushi.
Do not bring tuna or egg sandwiches to a comp or on an airplane… no one with a nervous tummy wants to smell your boiled eggs or tinned fish.
Interval training has become hugely popular in the fitness industry with big brands such as Crossfit, Metafit, and Les Mills getting on board the HIIT train. So what is interval training, and how can it benefit you? Get the low-down here with this infographic from Greatist.com
Chances are someone has recommended a diet to you recently, because it works well for them and they say it will work well for you, too. But how do you know if it really will?
Here's the secret: most diets work in almost exactly the same way.
Let's rewind a little. People go on diets all the time, and the most popular reason for doing so is to lose weight. That's what this post is about: weight-loss diets. This post will not address diets for disease management (such as diabetes or cancer) nor will it discuss diets for muscle-building or any other reason. This is a post about weight loss.
If you want to lose weight, you must spend more energy than you consume. This sounds so simple, and yet in reality it is quite difficult for many reasons. One of these reasons is that we don't have an accurate and handy way of measuring exactly how much energy is in our food, how much energy we can actually digest and absorb from that food, or how much energy we really spend every day. So unless you live in a lab, your weight loss calculations will be finely-tuned educated guesses.
Let's get down to diets. Kenny at the gym swears that everyone should be on keto (a ketogenic diet; an extreme version of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet), Jessica at work is on a raw vegan diet, Miranda is on the Mediterranean diet, and John does intermittent fasting (IF). So which diet should you chose?
All of these diets are exactly the same but completely different. They involve very different food choices or eating schedules, but they work because they enable the person on the diet to be in a "calorie deficit" - they are burning more calories than they consume. In other words, the person is eating slightly less that what is needed for their body to function, so the body turns to stored fat as a fuel source.
The ketogenic diet is highly restrictive, in that carbohydrate-rich foods (such as fruit, grains, beans, legumes, starchy vegetables, cakes, chocolate, lollies, joy...) are limited to as little as possible. Foods rich in protein and fat are favoured instead. Restricting the type of foods a person can consume usually leads to that person eating fewer calories over the course of the day, as there is simply less food to choose from, and because protein and fat keep you feeling fuller for longer (compared with carbohydrates).
As well as that, sugary foods tend to be quite addictive and are very easy to over-eat. We are much less likely to over-eat salmon, avocado, and spinach than we are to over-eat biscuits, chocolate, or other sweet foods. Weight-loss on a ketogenic diet occurs because the person ends up eating fewer calories than they use. There may be other benefits to a ketogenic diet, but the laws of thermodynamics remain the same: weight loss occurs only in a calorie deficit.
Intermittent fasting (IF) works in a similar manner.
There are two common forms of IF. One is based on non-restricted food choices but restricts the daily "eating window." This usually means that a person will only eat between 11am and 6pm, for example. Times will vary from person to person. As most people can only fit a certain amount of food into their stomach at each meal, limiting the eating window means that the calories consumed during the day are lower overall.
The second form of IF is one or more days per week of either complete fasting (not eating) or drastically reduced calories. Normal, non-restricted eating occurs on non-fasting days. This leads to a lower quantity of calories consumed over the course of the week, and the weekly calorie deficit leads to gradual weight loss.
Most diets restrict calorie intake in some way; either by restricting food choices, restricting food quantity, prioritising high-nutrient/low-calorie foods, or restricting the time allocated to eating.
The trick is to find the diet that simply feels like the least effort for you. For someone who loves "bulletproof" coffee, butter, and bacon, but doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, a low carb / high fat or ketogenic diet won't test their willpower too much.
For those who love all types of food but are busy people and often forget to eat breakfast or lunch, or have a couple of low-activity days during the week, intermittent fasting should be fairly easy as long as you don't mind the feeling of hunger, and as long as the restriction doesn't lead to binge-eating.
If you have a big appetite and get hungry often, prioritise foods that are high in satiating nutrients such as fibre and protein, but low in calories. Good choices include unprocessed whole foods such as vegetables, beans, legumes, and seeds. This will lead to feeling full but consuming fewer calories.
If you love animals, don't eat them. Apart from the ethical and moral issues, animal-based foods tend to be high in calories and saturated fats, and are often very processed. Choosing plantbased foods is a good start. Just beware of the new wave of delicious vegan junk foods that are also highly processed and high in calories!
Just remember, you'll need a little balance and a little healthy restriction. We can't live on coconut icecream and beer, nor is it healthy to go fat-free. Good fats (think Omega-3) are essential for our brains and hearts.
Given that the basic rule is to achieve a calorie deficit, any or all of these diets could work for you. Similarly, what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Choose a way of eating that includes plenty of protein, a little fat, an appropriate amount of carbs, and helps you to achieve a calorie deficit without too much effort. A good dietary pattern should be one that you can maintain long-term.
So you signed up for your first powerlifting meet; congratulations! It takes commitment, consistency, and confidence to get to the point where you are ready to enter your first meet, so you can be proud of all the progress you have made just to get here. No matter how the meet goes, you have already achieved some pretty awesome feats of strength.
Here is some general information so you have an idea of what to expect on the day. This information is based on the USPA/IPL rulebook and how we run a novice meet in New Zealand. If you lift with an alternative federation or in another country, please be aware that some things may differ. Check with someone local to you.
If you want further information, the USPA/IPL rulebook is available at www.powerlifting-ipl.com
What to wear: shorts (must be above the knee), t-shirt with sleeves (no singlets, t-shirt sleeves must be above the elbow), shoes, socks. Socks that cover the shin and finish below the knee must be worn for the deadlift. These can be picked up cheaply at most Dollar Value stores or 1-2-3-Marts. Also bring warm clothing for before and after, and in between your lifts.
You can also wear wrist wraps, knee sleeves, knee wraps, lifting belts, as per the IPL rule book at www.powerlifting-ipl.com - it’s a great read if you want to fall asleep quickly.
What to bring: plenty of food and drink. Water, coconut water, or sports drinks are a good idea. Food should be mostly carbohydrate-based to give you energy for lifting.
ON THE DAY
Weigh-In, Gear Check, and Rack Heights.
When you arrive, check in at the table and collect a score card.
At weigh in, you will step on the scale and an official will record your weight on the score card.
After weigh in, get your gear checked by an official. They will want to see everything you plan on wearing/using on the platform. Shoes, socks, belt, wraps/sleeves, shorts, tshirt, headbands, etc.
Also after weigh-in, get your rack heights checked. An official will check the height of the squat rack and the bench press so that they are suitable for you. These rack heights must be recorded on your score card.
If you’re unsure of any of these things, just ask an official!
On your score card, an official will write down your opening lifts (first attempts) for squat, bench, and deadlift. You need to initial them. You can change any of these opening attempts up to 5 minutes before your flight begins lifting.
Once you have done weigh-in, gear check, and rack heights, you are free to go grab a coffee or warm up or whatever you like.
11:30am (approximately, you can begin whenever you are ready)
Flight A should begin warming up for squats. You will be told whether you are in Flight A or Flight B. If unsure, ask an official. Flight B will begin warming up once Flight A has commenced lifting on the platform.
As soon as you finish each lift, you have 60 seconds to let the table officials know what your next attempt will be. Don’t forget!
During The Lifts
For each lift, the head referee will give you verbal signals (calls) for each lift. Failure to follow the calls will result in red lights (i.e. an unsuccessful lift). We will talk you through these calls on the day, before lifting starts.
For the squat, you will hear, “Bar is loaded” and this means you have 60 seconds to get on the platform and start your lift. Once you unrack the bar and step out, WAIT for the head referee to say, “Start” and only then commence your squat. Once you finish your squat, WAIT for the head referee to say, “Rack” and only then re-rack your bar and exit the platform.
For the bench press, you will hear, “Bar is loaded,” and this means you have 60 seconds to get on the bench and start your lift. Once you unrack the bar (or have the bar handed to you by a spotter/loader or friend) WAIT for the head referee to say, “Start.” Bring the bar down to your chest and WAIT until the head referee says, “Press.” Only then can you press the bar up off your chest. Once you press up and lock out, WAIT again for the head referee to say, “Rack.” Then you can re-rack the bar and exit the platform.
For the deadlift, you will simply hear, “Bar is loaded,” and this means you have 60 seconds to get on the platform and start your lift. You do not have to wait for any further commands to start your deadlift, just pick it up. Once you have lifted that bar and achieved lockout, WAIT for the head referee to say, “Down.” Only then can you put the bar down and exit the platform. When you put the bar down your hands must stay on the bar all the way to the floor and you must ensure that the bar is still before letting go. Dropping the bar from lockout height will result in red lights (i.e. an unsuccessful lift).
There will be three referees in total: one in front of you (the head referee) and one on either side of you. You only need a white light from two out of the three referees in order for the lift to be deemed successful.
If you have any other questions, please come and ask an official. They are there for you, not the other way around!
If you want to read more, you can find the rulebook at www.powerlifting-ipl.com
Hit me up with your comments, and if I've missed anything I'm happy to include it in this post!