The press handstand can feel like a “make it or break it” skill in gymnastics. The strength, flexibility, balance and body control required to press up to a handstand in the straddle position and then lower yourself back down presents an often frustrating challenge. In the beginning, shoulders don't cooperate. Arms buckle, and legs come snapping down instead of slowly lowering. Mastering this skill means investing in some serious drill time. Although monotonous, those drills pay off with a press handstand that looks as stunning on the floor as it does on the beam.
Bent elbows and flat feet won't cut it in the press handstand. Because it's executed at a slower, controlled speed, every flaw shows. Stand in a straddle and lower your hands to the floor, shoulder-width apart. Lean forward and begin to lift your pointed toes off the floor. Push your shoulders forward into the planche position. Continue pressing your legs up to the handstand. Hit the handstand and slowly lower your legs back down to the floor in a straddle. The key to the proper form is hips over shoulders and shoulders over wrists.
When it comes to handstands, the wall is your friend. Just as you probably learned to hold your handstand position with drills on the wall, you'll do the same for the press handstand. Place your hands about 4 inches from the mat wall. Lean your shoulders against the wall and press up in a straddle until you're in an inverted L shape. Lower your legs back down to the floor and repeat the drill. Once you are comfortable pressing up to the inverted L, press all the way up to the handstand.
Chalk up your hands and hit the bars. Practice the Stalder leg lift on the high bar, which is basically a press handstand in reverse. Hang from the bar and roll up to the Stalder leg lift with legs straddled. When you roll back down to the hang position, you're holding the handstand in the reverse. In The Gymnastics Minute video series, Coach Tony Retrosi of Gym Smarts also recommends straddle press walks across the men's parallel bars.
You've probably heard that you can never forget how to ride a bike. Years can go by without a ride and you can hop back on one day and instinctively remember how to peddle and steer. That's muscle memory working, and you can make it work for your press handstands. Stretch out on a stack of mats placed arms length away from the wall. Press your hands against the wall as you would in a handstand. Roll your hips up, bringing your legs over your head and down to the floor. Then unroll, returning your legs to the mat stack. Repeat several times to imprint that muscle memory.
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