There are five handstand presses that range from easy to very, very difficult. The diagram below presents those presses from least to most difficult.
The mechanics for pressing can be learned by lowering from the handstand. Each style of press is best learned and practiced by establishing the handstand position and descending with control. The key to this practice is to strive to lower from the handstand as slowly as possible. These “negatives,” or eccentric movements, most quickly teach the control, strength, and skill required by each style of press.
At first, you’ll thunder to the ground with your feet landing way behind your hands. Over time, the velocity of the descent will slow and the feet will land closer and closer to the hands.
Eventually, you’ll be able to lower very slowly so the feet just kiss the ground. At that point, and only then, you’ll be able to walk up to that position without any kick, without any momentum, and you’ll be able to press to a handstand.
This approach, again, works for all five presses to handstand better than any other approach.
Once you master a press progression, use that press as a warm-up and save the lowering for the next press progression.
The beauty of this is that going slowly is simultaneously a training stimulus for balance and strength, two seemingly disparate training adaptations garnered through velocity control.
Each progression straightens more and longer levers, increasing the demands on balance and strength. The stiff-stiff press is an oddity in that it requires strength and flexibility in an equation that allows you to be successful with either less strength and more flexibility or more strength and less flexibility.
A final note on “negatives”: The weight training and weightlifting communities have not yet universally agreed upon the value of negatives and isometric movement for strength development. However, in gymnastics, strength development has always come from practicing movements in the following progression: eccentric fast to eccentric slow, then short static to long static, and finally concentric slow to concentric fast. Think of learning an iron cross. In the first phase of learning, you lower through the cross very quickly; over time, you move more and more slowly. Eventually, you learn to stop — first briefly, and later, much longer. At that point, the possibility emerges of pulling out of an iron cross.
To begin your handstand practice, work up to a handstand hold against the wall for 90 seconds. Be able to maintain the hold without too much discomfort — blood rushing to head, eyes going bloodshot, etc. — before practicing the negative.
You will also learn to handstand and handstand walk with the same progressions and practice. This can all be done with the safety net of the wall, but keep your head off the wall, please.
This really works. Everyone should work toward a true press to handstand. Advanced athletes should endeavor to master the stiff-stiff and hollow-back presses, and Games-level athletes should strive for the planche-press. Same approach for all, similar challenges for each.
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