The Handstand Walk FAQ

Disclaimer: I am not a gymnast nor do I have any gymnastic back ground. What I am writing here might upset the “true” gymnasts a lot. But let’s consider the fact that we are CrossFitter so we do not want to move as pretty as possible, and, to be honest, sometimes we also cannot go for the (in the long run) healthiest option (which doesn’t mean that we do anything harmful!). Sometimes, we just have to be fast.

So the Handstand Walk you see CrossFitter do might remember you of weird insects from an Avenger movie (do these even have insects in any scenes?), but - they seem to work! Here is a short FAQ I want to answer based on my recent experience with learning how to walk on my hands (again: These are information from an amateur CrossFitter, but sometimes, praxis beats theory (-: ).

Do I have to be able to do a free handstand before I learn how to walk?

Well … the gymnast, physiotherapist and rational human being would answer that question with a Yes. Walking before having the control to stand does actually not make much sense.

All I can say is: Standing is actually more difficult then walking and you definitely CAN LEARN to walk BEFORE standing. The emphasis here lies on can, don’t confuse it with should.

How much strength do I need before I can start practicing?

It should be obvious that the Handstand Walk requires mostly strength in the shoulders and core. You definitely need a basic strength in both body parts before practicing to stand and walk on your hands.

You should be very comfortable in going upside down against a wall. You should be able to hold a wall supported handstand for an extended period of time (there is no golden rule but I feel like something clearly above 30 seconds). Also, full range of motion wall climbs (chest touching the wall) may not be an issue.

In terms of core strength, I believe Toes2Bar are a good indicator. If you can do several strict Toes2Bar (again: no fixed numbers, but I recommend something between 7 and 10), your core strength and control should be sufficient.

Is there drills I can practice with the security of a wall?

There are plenty. For example, you can start with your hands just a meter distance or so from the wall and walk towards it. By doing so, you can still practice to balance but the wall will still catch you in emergency case. Or you can do shoulder taps to practice shifting the load from one hand to the other:

You can also use a box and practice “Around the Worlds”:

Or grap a partner:

But truth be told: From my experience, the handstand is a lot about overcoming fears. Standing upside down without a safety net is scaring in the beginning - no one can take that burden off your shoulders (caution: wordplay!). All these drills with a wall will train your sense of balance and strengthening shoulder and core. But they can not mimic the free standing feeling.

Be aware that you actually have to go out there and just do it. The wall will make you kinda lazy and your mind will not see the need to balance out. The free walk will force you. Which leads to me to the next question.

How do I overcome my fear to fall over?

The truth is: That will happen sooner or later anyway. Just like everyone fell a few times when learning how to ride a bicycle. You will notice that it hurts a little but life goes on.

If you have a basic sense for movements and some body control (which you should have before even starting out with the Handstand Walk, see question above), you will instinctively find a way to cushion the fall. If it makes you feel better, practice some forward rolls beforehand.

How long does it take me to learn the Handstand Walk?

As for any more complex movements, this question is impossible to answer generally. Depending on previous experience, strength, sense for balance, body type etc., it might take a day or several weeks. In case you are one of the not so gifted persons: Do not give up! Stick to it, show some patience, your work will pay off.

Can I arch my back and bend the legs to the front?

Again: From an orthopedic or aesthetic point of few, that is not a good thing to do. We are actually supposed to actively press the shoulders out, activate our scapular and keep the spine neutral with the legs straight. If you want to learn how to stand still for a minute plus (yes, that is actually doable), this linear body posture is the way to go.

If you want to learn how to walk fast and efficient for short to medium long distances, the arched back and the bent over legs are easier to learn. Especially if you have no gymnastic background (in the Games, you can clearly spot who was a former gymnast - some athletes actually walk with the straight body. But there are the minority). By curving your body that way, the center of mass is lower and balancing gets much easier.

Any other tips to learn the Handstand Walk?

  • Replace learn with practice! It’s not a skill you have from one second to the other. Nothing clicks there. It is, just like e.g. Doubleunders, a movement pattern that only settles down by putting in the hours. Do not get frustrated at any point.

  • Do not practice for more than 10 minutes. The Handstand Walk requires a lot of concentration and this you cannot maintain for long timespans.

  • Warm up you shoulder beforehand and activate you core. I recommend V-ups.

  • Video yourself. Especially in the beginning, you will have no sense for your actual body posture and might think you are already vertical when you are actually far from it.

  • Think about bringing your hip over your head.

  • Choose a “leading leg” that kicks up first before the other follows.

  • You might need to kick much less hard than the you think.

  • Have the thumb pointing forward and spread the fingers to the side.

  • Keep the arms straight! Bending the elbows will make you loose strength and control.