Alignment and How Not to be a Banana

Aug 06, 2019

A banana handstand is not necessarily bad or wrong (you are balancing on your hands - it's amazing). But if you can position all your joints in a vertical line then your handstand will be more efficient. Plus you will be better equipped to progress to more advanced movements such as a press to handstand and a one arm handstand.

So how do you get into that straight line and how can you feel that when you are upside down?

In this post I will share with you:

  • The basic theory of alignment
  • The number one thing that prevents people from getting into good alignment (and how to fix it)
  • My favourite cues and drills to improve your body position while upside down

Principles of Handbalancing

This post is part 2 of a series of 6 blog posts explaining my key principles of handbalancing. The 6 principles that I will cover are:

So back to the dreaded banana...


The Theory of Alignment: Stacking Your Joints

The concept of stacking your joints was introduced to me by Andralyn of Deflying Fitness. Think about your hands, shoulders, ribs, hips, knees and feet all being in one line. It’s a balanced position and an efficient position. The more you have weight away from the centre point, the more strength you will need to use to stay up.

Why Am I Still a Banana?

The biggest reason that people struggle to get into a straight line upside down is a lack of mobility. Try the following test. Sit crossed legged with your butt against the wall. Hold a stick in a reverse grip (pinkies towards each other) with your hands shoulder width apart. While keeping your entire back and head flat on the wall, are you able to reach your arms overhead so that your knuckles touch the wall?

If you are unable to do this then you will struggle to achieve a straight line in a handstand. So what can you do?

Try this simple super set working to increase your passive and active range of motion.

2-3 Rounds

  1. Bent arm overhead stretch with PNF contraction: 3 x 10s + 30s hold
  2. Lying arm raises in shoulder external rotation: 10 reps

Key to a Better Line

Once you have the required range of motion your handstand might not automatically be a straight line. In fact it is quite unlikely that it will be straight without specific line training. So what can you do?

I focus on two main components for body position (see the image below):

  • Ribs down
  • Butt tucked

Ribs down

The position of "ribs down" can be challenging to understand. We rarely think about what we are doing with our ribs when we move. Place your fingers on the front of your ribs (below your breasts). Place your thumbs on the back of your rib cage. Rotate your rib cage down until the front of your ribs is in line with the rest of your torso. You will feel your abs contract in this position. This is the position that I want you to feel and that you need to strengthen in order to achieve a straight handstand line. One fantastic drill is a lying overhead reach (or anti-rib flare drill). This is a drill that we use in my soon to be released Handstand Building Blocks program. I have seen this drill in multiple places but first learned it from Dr Kathy Dooley at an Immaculate Dissection workshop.

Key points

  • Focus on keeping your ribs down and back flat on the floor throughout
  • Try to push a weight or stick as high as possible
  • Lower your arms overhead, reaching your arms as far from your body as possible
  • Perform a full breath cycle with arms overhead
  • Return to the starting position

The shoulder elevation (reaching your arms when overhead) is key in order to give you space to pull your ribs into position. This is one reason why pushing in a handstand is so important.

Butt tucked

Once your ribs are down you will find tucking your butt will feel much easier. Trying to tuck your butt when your back is arched (which tends to happen when your ribs are lifted) feels awkward and difficult. So first ribs down. Then we can focus on the butt tucking (also known as posterior pelvic tilt or PPT).

There are many line drills that you can use to train this but one of my favourites is the front line drill that I use in my Master the Handstand program. Remember to push (elevate your shoulders) in order to give you space to get into the proper position. To straighten out your torso, first pull your ribs down. Then tuck your butt. The sequence is important.

Key points

  • Push away from the box/wall, elevating your shoulders as much as possible
  • Pull your ribs down (lifting the base of your ribs slightly off the floor)
  • Tuck your butt slightly and flatten your lower back

Getting Upside Down

So far we have covered the following:

  • If you lack the mobility to get into a straight line, then you should work to increase your active range of motion
  • Practice and strengthen your body position on the floor (ribs down, butt tucked)

The next step is to do exactly the same thing upside down. Simple but certainly not easy. You have spent a lot less time upside down compared to right side up. Do not be surprised if things that made sense upright or lying down feel very different in a handstand. It will take time and practice. The following steps should help increase your chance of success:

  • Step 1: Front line drill (as above)
  • Step 2: Incline chest to wall handstand
  • Step 3: Chest to wall while slowly move your hands closer to the wall- feeling the body position at each step
  • Step 4: Move away from the wall and work your line freestanding

If you are unable to feel the correct position in one drill then take a step back. Do a simpler progression and bring awareness to the aspect that you are struggling with. Then return to the more advanced drill and try to bring awareness to what you are doing differently. Do not try and change what you are doing simply observe what you are doing. Once you can feel it, then you can start changing it.


Where can you Learn More?

What I have discussed in this article are the most important aspects of body position. In my workshops and online program I go into these principles and other aspects of alignment in much more detail. Check out my calendar for upcoming events or email me (kirsty@garagegymgirl.com) to schedule something in your area.

If you want ongoing coaching, programming, accountability and support my Master the Handstand coaching group covers everything that you need to get upside down and away from the wall. My groups start September, January and April. Check out the details here and sign up to save your spot for my next coaching group.