Teaching a group of adults to walk on their hands can sometimes result in a room full of flailing legs and back flops. As entertaining as it is to watch, simply kicking up and moving your hands as quickly as possible then toppling over is not the most efficient way to learn this technical skill. Balance, precision and body awareness play a large part in the success of gymnastics-focused movements in CrossFit. The development of strength and endurance are more obvious in their means of achievement. So what are the steps needed to achieve hand-walking greatness? As a former gymnast and collegiate diver, I’ll break this down as best I can. With practice, regardless of ability, hand-walking IS possible!
- Start slow. Trying to throw your legs above your head without any regard for body control or gravity will leave you in a heap. Most likely a breathless heap, after you knock the wind out of yourself. Like any movement, hand-walking depends heavily on progressions. Start small with a tripod headstand. Rest your knees on your elbows and focus purely on balance. Once you’re comfortable in that position, slowly elevate your legs into a full headstand position. Maybe initially this needs to happen against a wall, then gradually you should have enough core stability to achieve it freestanding. Keep your legs tight together and keep your movements slow.
- Forget your fears. Once a person feels confidence in an inverted position, it’s time to kick up against a wall. Often, there are fears of arms collapsing. To instill some self-assurance, place your feet up on a 24-inch box and walk your hands in until you’re nearly vertical. Keep your arms locked out…it’s that simple. Once you’re ready for the wall, it’s all a matter of kicking like you mean it. Place your hands about 6 inches from the wall, lock out your elbows and push off one leg, aggressively bringing your legs together at the top. This may take a few tries, so be patient and don’t be afraid of finding yourself in a handstand position. Continue to practice so your kick-up gently brings your heels to the wall…you don’t want to overdo it too much once that wall isn’t supporting you. To come down, lower one leg at a time — good practice for stepping out of a hand-walking position.
- Steady then ready. Once they master a handstand, many athletes take it straight to hand-walking. But your body may still lack the balance and awareness necessary to maintain control. My suggestion; shoulder touches. Learn to keep your legs tight, squeeze your buns and tummy, and shift your hips over the hand holding your weight. Touch your right hand to right shoulder, and left hand to left shoulder. Again, be patient. It may take a little time to get into a rhythm of quickly shifting from side to side, but it will require the strength and awareness needed to proceed. You’re almost ready.
- Don’t forget your foundation. Hand-walking isn’t achieved by hand and leg movements. The most important factor is core stability. Don’t forget that your core is the brain of the operation; it controls everything else. Without a tight core, your potentially arch-y back and sloppy legs will result in a tumble. So kick up (with a partner spotting you the first couple times if it’s more comfortable), keep your core tight and legs pretty close together, and use your hands to make quick and controlled movements across the floor. Like the shoulder-touches, you will need to shift your body weight ever so slightly to keep moving forward at a reasonable pace. Keep your view no further than just past your fingertips and spread those fingers out to gain some extra control. When you lose control, either step out of it, cartwheel out if you’re feeling crazy or simply tuck your chin and lower yourself into a somersault for a basic handstand forward roll.
Follow these simple steps, and you’ll become a hand-walking pro. And you’ll notice improvements in your handstand push-ups and general body awareness as well. Like virtually all CrossFit movements, gymnastics, too, requires core-to-extremity functions. So start slow, forget your fears and always remember your fundamentals! Now walk, my friends. On your hands.