How I learned Free Standing Handstand Pushups

I always thought it would be great to be able to do handstand pushups without needing a wall for support, but since it wasn’t a skill I could get credit for in a routine I never took the time to learn it. However, since I’ve returned to gymnastics with a much different perspective about time (I’m not restricted to a school competition schedule, and I don’t expect to be ever done with gymnastics anymore) I decided to focus on it.

The first step was to be able to hold a handstand for as long as I wanted, which for me required a great deal of wrist flexibility and of course practice. Then when I was ready to start working on handstand pushups I decided to change my head position so they would be straighter handstands. This caused a delay because it was a whole new body position for me to get used to.

Once I had a straight handstand hold for at least 10-20 seconds, I began trying handstand pushups. I soon figured out that I had to learn how to move between two balance points – one is the handstand and one is a bent arm handstand (almost a headstand but with my head off the ground) – while keeping my balance. This is similar to walking, where you lean your center of gravity from one foot onto the other, and each side is a balance point.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I was able to do 10 in a row without falling down one way or another, and the video above includes a demonstration in my backyard. Now I try to make sure I do at least 10 in my daily exercise routine. As the saying goes, “use it or lose it”.

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The Power of Belief

One of the most common topics I field questions about at is how to overcome mental blocks, asked by the gymnasts or the parents who are exasperated as they watch their child dealing with irrational fears (either conscious or unconscious fears).

There are many ways to address the issue, but it really all boils down to changing beliefs. These beliefs are really just thoughts that have been pondered often, usually with some strong emotions to reinforce them. For example, a child who is afraid of doing a back-handspring after their round-off may have had a scary experience while doing it that then associates the feeling of being frightened with that skill.

Once a thought becomes a belief it is like a filter through which we see the world. People are said to see the world through rose colored glasses if they always see the best in everything. It’s really because they believe the world is a great place that they act this way, and no amount of rain can change their belief or ruin their day.

I was amazed a few weeks ago after doing circles on the pommel horse at the Prescott YMCA when a young coach walked over and said “You don’t understand how jealous I am that I can’t do those anymore.” He was probably 15 years younger than me, so I said he could do them again. He told me didn’t have the pain tolerance in his shins to do them again.

This young man had developed a belief that in order to do circles you have to go through the pain of hitting the horse with your legs over and over until you can make it around all the way. But a week later I spoke to him again and I mentioned that he could work circles on the mushroom, then put the mushroom on the floor, and by the time he is able to do circles on the floor it would be easy to do on the pommel horse. A light went off in his head as he realized that would get around the whole kicking the pommel horse phase, and he said he would try it later (he was coaching at the time).

Yes beliefs are powerful (consider all the wars that are fought over religious beliefs), but they can change as you are willing to think differently. Free your mind, and the rest will follow. 🙂

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How to Hold a Straight Handstand

After my first YouTube video about holding a handstand I got feedback about having an arch in my back, and after watching the video I was able to see it, especially near the end. Since then I decided to try changing my point of focus from looking at my hands to looking at what is behind me. It is much different and took a few months to get used to, but now my back is much straighter.

After watching this video I see that my feet are still not quite over my head but at least my back is straight, which feels better too. 🙂

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10 At Home Exercises on a Pullup Bar

I have a “Perfect Pullup” pull-up bar in my bathroom doorway at home, I prefer it since it is securely attached with several screws on each side, as opposed to the kind which simply uses pressure against the doorframe to stay up. The Perfect Pullup design is much safer and causes less damage to the doorframe. Having it installed in my bathroom doorway is also one of the easiest ways I’ve found to keep up with an exercising routine, since I walk underneath it several times a day. 🙂

Note: The version I have is no longer available on Amazon, the product I’ve linked to on this page is the closest pull up bar I’ve found to what I have. It is less expensive than what I purchased “As seen on TV” and it sounds like a better design.

I’ve come up with 10 different exercises that can be done on a pull-up bar, and I created a video demonstrating each one (see below, embedded from youtube). I also have in mind 2 more that require much more strength, but I’ll have to make a follow up post about that when I can do them. Here is the list of exercises, how they can be adapted for different strength levels, and which muscles they work (according to which muscles get sore when I do them):

  1. Pull-ups (knuckles towards your face). If you aren’t able to do a pull-up by yourself you can put a chair under the bar in the doorway and push on it with your feet to help. These work your forearms and biceps.
  2. Chin-ups (palms towards your face). The same progression with a chair applies to chin-ups also, and they work biceps and a different part of your forearms.
  3. Tucked Leg Lifts – this is an easier version of next few exercises, it works your abs and thighs
  4. Hanging L Hold – you can hold it for longer time as you get stronger, it works your lower abs and thighs
  5. Leg raises – you can start by raising them to an L and progress to the bar as you get stronger, this works your thighs and stomach muscles
  6. Front Lever Pulls – this can be a progression to holding a front lever, it works your biceps, triceps, chest, and abs
  7. Front Lever – hold it for longer time as you get stronger, this works your chest, triceps, abs, and thighs
  8. Back Leg Raises – this works your back muscles and can be a progression to back lever holds
  9. Back Lever – hold it for longer time as you get stronger, works your back, the back of your legs, and your arms
  10. Skin the Cat – this is really a stretch and not an exercise, but after doing some of the above you’ll need to take time to stretch in order to stay limber and healthy

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Turning Point – Rocky Mountain Open 2012

See above for my routine at the 2012 RMO competition at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. There was a little confusion at the beginning because I arrived late during warmups and I don’t think Kip had a chance to create a number for me in the scoring system. The Judges were looking at the list of names they were given and I wasn’t there. You can see Kip in the blue shirt (he’s the head coach for the Air Force team) come over and talk to me – he asked if I had someone to lift me up.

I was rotating with the team from the US Olympic Training Center so I turned and looked at their coaches to see if they would do it. Andre was nice enough to come over and help with that – Andre and Vitalle are the two coaches from the USOTC, they had 6 national team members with them at the meet. Then when my swing got out of control near the end of the routine Scott Barclay came over and gave me a still so I could finish. Scott is the head coach of the team from Arizona State but I graduated over 10 years ago so he was on another event with his current team.

Last year I traveled with Scott and the ASU team and had a great time, almost like I was back in school again. But this year my wife came with me and I felt more like an “independent” competitor (as those of us are called who are not on a team). I really enjoyed rotating with the national team members, Andre and Vitalle are very nice and the guys on the team were friendly as well. I learned more about the current rules from them, for example now there are F and G skills – the E and Super E weren’t even made up until I was in college so that was a surprise to me. 🙂

I was also encouraged when I learned from one of the national team members that not all of them do every event, but most do at least 3. I’m not eager to do floor, vault, or high bar again (at least competitively) so that was a relief to me. But my anticlimactic performance at the competition really caused me to want to get back to the basics in my training.

The next day, my wife and I went to the Olympic Training Center (which is also in Colorado Springs, just a few miles from the Air Force Academy) and took a look around. I had never been there so it was very exciting for me to see. There were no tours on Sunday but we were able to peek in at a Taekwondo tournament, walk through the hall of fame, and take many pictures (like the one to the right). During 2011 I had fun learning a few new tricks, and in 2012 I will have fun conditioning to become very solid in my basic swing and strength moves. They stopped including the OTC guys in the awards this year because they swept the meet last year, so my goal for next year is to win on Rings and place on P-Bars and Pommel Horse.

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