Ask any gymnast or circus performer about doing handstands and they’re likely to tell you that a straight handstand is the only way to do it. It’s the perfect form, and anything else is wrong.
I disagree! Let me tell you why.
Recently on this site was an article all about the straight handstand and the benefits of doing them in that manner. I don’t disagree with those points, but wanted to give a different opinion on why the curved handstand is a viable option as well.
Are Curved Handstands Dangerous?
First off, let’s talk about the claim that doing a curved handstand is going to hurt your back. Just like anything else, it can happen, but if you’re smart about it, they’re completely safe.
I think this myth is simply a result of people doing straight handstands for other reasons, and then not knowing why that is the case. To think that bending your spine is going to hurt you is ridiculous.
Push too far with bridging exercises and you can tweak your back, but doing them right you’ll develop more flexibility and strength.
When doing a handstand if you let gravity just pull your legs over without maintaining any core tightness, it can take you into a position that you’re not ready for. Doing too much of can certainly cause you to strain your back.
Instead maintain tightness, and build up what you do over time. Just like any other exercise.
Are Straight Handstands Necessary for Higher Level Skills?
The straight handstand can help you do harder skills but it is not necessary.
I have heard people say that you need perfectly straight alignment to hold a one arm handstand. Tell that to Professor Paulinetti, the man who basically invented the one arm handstand.
You see, old school hand balancers, did all their handstands with curves in their backs. All of them! And they pulled of amazing skills.
They treated the straight handstand as an advanced variation of the handstand. This harder skill was something to practice later on after you could stand on your hands.
Over time, hand balancers transitioned away from the curve to the straight position you see commonly today. Part of this was for aesthetic reasons. It’s more pleasing to the eye, and for things like gymnastic competitions, you’re judged on this.
Another part is that a straight handstand does help you to achieve more difficult skills. By beginning with it you can build those habits from the beginning. This is a smart thing to do if you plan on taking your hand balancing skills far.
To prove this point, in the future, I’d like to build up to the one hand handstand in a curved position like the old timers did.
What About The Beginner or Recreational Athlete?
Don’t plan to be paid to do hand balancing professionally? Not a gymnast? Would you just like to be able to hold a freestanding handstand? If that’s the case I don’t think going for the straight handstand is necessarily for you.
If you ask anyone to hold a handstand that has never done it before, what will you see? When they kick up, before they fall down almost instantly, they’ll be in a curved position.
The curved handstand is a more natural position. It takes a lot of effort to get a perfect line in your handstand because it is unnatural. To tighten the muscles as needed to form a straight line is significantly more difficult, and not to mention, it takes additional shoulder flexibility, that many people don’t have.
If you choose, you can practice the curved handstand. You’re likely to gain the skill faster than someone going after a straight handstand. You’ll be freestanding in a shorter amount of time, which is of course dependent on how much you practice. Then from there you can practice other hand balancing skills and work on straightening out later if you choose.
Or you can practice a straight handstand from the beginning. It will take longer with more practice time. But once you have it you’ll be good to go onto other more advanced skills.
It is a choice you can make.
Sure, a straight handstand is better, in that it is more advanced. Just like a 315 lb. snatch is better than a 225 lb. one. But that doesn’t make the curved handstand wrong.
How to Learn the Straight or Curved Handstand
If you’re going to do handstands the starting place is against the wall. But depending on which of these two you want to go for you’re going to do them differently.
If you choose to go with the curved handstand then when doing wall handstands your back can face the wall. Kick-up into position then hold for time.
If you choose to go with a straight handstand you’ll want to face the other way. The reason for this is that this orientation forces you into a straighter position, especially as you inch your hands closer and closer to the wall.
In either style you build endurance by holding for time and maintaining your position. Then when it comes to freestanding handstands this skill set should be built in as you learn to balance out in the open.
So let’s take a poll. Do you do curved or straight handstands? Even if its just against the wall, what are you going for? Answer in the comments below.
About Logan Christopher: Logan Christopher has been called a physical culture renaissance man as he is accomplished in a wide range of strength skills from kettlebell juggling, performing strongman stunts, and bodyweight exercises. He is the author of numerous books including Secrets of the Handstand and The Master Keys to Strength & Fitness. In addition, he’s spent the last several years going deep into mental training to find out what it takes to really excel and tactics that can help people instantly improve their exercises. You can find out more about all this at http://www.legendarystrength.com/.