The press to handstand is one of the most difficult skills to achieve as well as
one of the most important in the higher levels of gymnastics. The ‘press’, as
it is affectionately known, has a number of different components which can
take years to perfect and ultimately result in it’s mastery. The process of
learning a press to handstand also develops and teaches valuable skills for
life surrounding perseverance, determination and how to trust the process.
So, without further ado, lets look at some tips to help you achieve your press
Like it’s name sake suggests the handstand is all about balancing...upside
down! It takes a lot of practice to balance using our hands as though they
are our feet. In order to best prepare our bodies to balance upside down we
must undertake a lot of wrist conditioning. In our classes at FCGC we utilize
the array of equipment on offer to help our gymnast’s develop strength in
their wrists. Most of the time these activities are lots of fun for the gymnasts,
but really there is purpose to our play. Compressing foam blocks from the
foam pit or scrunching scarves with our hands all help to develop our wrist
and hand strength. The second vital shape for the handstand which we
practice from Geckos and Grown Ups through to Level 10 is our rocket or tall
shape. This shape is the most important for a lot of skills, but none more so
than the handstand. The gymnast practices standing in a straight line;
extending upwards through their shoulders, pressing their ribs ‘inwards’ and
pulling their hips ‘under’ to create a perfectly aligned and straight body.
When inverted, this shape becomes a perfectly straight handstand which is
easy to control and balance in.
The next component for a perfect press is core strength. In order to perform
a press to handstand it is essential for a gymnast to develop their core
stability through a range of exercises. As well as the general gymnastics core
conditioning activities including the likes of ‘dish hold’ and leg lifts, there are
many exercises which develop core strength in parallel with the press to
Stalder leg lifts are one such strengthening activity; the
gymnast starts hanging on the bar and lifts their legs into an inverted
straddle position. When rotated upside down the gymnast looks as though
they are starting in a handstand and lowering down to a straddle support
position; one of the many ways to start a press to handstand!
Another similar drill is a lying press to handstand on a trapezoid shape.
This drill not only works the gymnast’s core strength, but also their muscle memory for the skill. In this drill the gymnast begins lying on their back in a stretched position, their hands touching the wall as though in a handstand. Lifting through their hips, the gymnast rolls backwards into a straddle position with their hands still touching the wall. The gymnast then slowly lowers back to
their lying stretched handstand position – talk about that for an abdominal
As a coach the part I most often see gymnasts struggling with is the all
important ‘planche action’ with their shoulders. In order to perform a
consistent and technically correct press to handstand a gymnast must lean
forwards over their hands through a planche position. The easiest way to
think about a planche is like a seesaw; we are trying to counterbalance our
bodies through our shoulders. This leaning action is common place
throughout gymnastics skills including a ‘cast’ on the Uneven and High Bars,
swing to handstand on Parallel Bars and front support on floor.
At FCGC we encourage this important progression as early as possible with our gymnasts in order to make these harder skills much easier long-term for our athletes.
One shape which can be practiced at home as well as in class is a front
support position. In a front support the gymnast should have an ‘angry cat’
rounded chest and lean forward over their hands with their shoulders – this
will translate to a comfort of leaning forwards, assist the gymnast with the
skills mentioned previously, and their press to handstand!
Other exercises which work both the planche action required for the press and core strengthening include;
Pike Drag Ups:
The gymnast begins in a support shape on a bar or edge of a box and,
lifting through their hips whilst leaning forwards, drag their toes up the
bar/box to a standing position
The gymnast begins in a frog position on the floor (squatting with
hands in between feet) and rests the inside of their leg on their straight
arms. The gymnast then leans forward with a rounded chest and
balances for as long as possible
Straddle Press Walks:
The gymnast begins sitting in a straddle position and lifts their hips up
whilst leaning forward over their hands. From the inverted position the
gymnast lowers back down through an L-sit and into a straddle and
places their hands in front of them ready to go again!
Now that we have looked at the different components of the press, its time to
put it all together! The gymnast should start in a straddle stand with their
back facing a wall, wedge or beat board (leaning against something of
course!) placing hands just in front of the vertical surface. From the straddle
stand the shoulders should lean forward through the planche phase whilst
lifting the toes into the air. Just before vertical the gymnast should
dynamically ‘open’ their shoulders to finish in a perfect handstand!
Remember that a press to handstand can take many years to achieve, so
don’t be pressed with time and start practicing today!
See you in the gym – Coach Toby