The myth of core training in handbalancing
“Core” exercises are super popular for handstand training, but they may not be as effective for building handstand specific core control as you may think. Both Sport Scientist and professional handbalancers agree that there is a bit of a myth surrounding “core training”, and it’s effectiveness for handstands. As professional handbalancer Mikael Kristiansen so eloquently puts it:
Handstand alignment, probably the number one most misunderstood concept of handstands. In this video i am demonstrating how alignment is mainly related to the shoulders. Throughout this entire video I am relaxing my abs.
The line we are looking for is the mechanical line of force, not the aestethical “line” that it is easily misunderstood as. I have slight hyperextension of my elbows which mean that when i kick into my comfortable and straight handstand i do NOT need to flex my shoulders as far as I can because that would mean opening my toraic spine. My weight is in the centre of the palm.
First i demonstrate sinking the shoulders and move my center of mass over the hands by arching. The shoulder position is the cause of the need to arch, not vice versa. Next up I sink the shoulders and planche the shoulders. I do not arch so I need to use more force in the deltoids to keep myself from falling. In both cases I am creating extra angle in my wrists when i do this, which is not recommended.
Then I flex my shoulders further. This is what many think is optimal for a handstand(in gymnastics it can be due to swing elements and tumbling). My back is straight to the hips but the feet are hanging too far over and my thoracic spine opens. For developing 1 arms and advanced balances this is very counterproductive as you have much less control over where in the palm you are, and it will be more prone to twisting.
Then in the end I do looking at toes because it is the truth.
Trunk control is activity specific
An instant classic from the scientific perspective, was an article by Ledermann in 2010 with the title “the myth of core training”. One of his main points was that, trunk control is activity specific (running vs jumping vs throwing), and thus, training to contract the abdominal musculature while on one’s back is dissimilar to normal movement and therefore, conflicts with the basic principles of transfer and adaptation [Lederman, 2010]. Also traditional core stability exercises do not provide enough of a stimulus to result in actual strength gains. Therefore specific core exercises may be no different from general exercise or manual therapy [Lederman, 2010].
Implications for handstand training
Certain exercises can be helpful for your handstand practice, but the conclusion is that core exercises, especially those performed lying on your back, don’t deserve the popularity they seem to have in handstand training. The advice is to not spend too much time in your handstand training focused on “core” exercises, however you will greatly benefit from focusing your efforts on building shoulder strength and stability.
- LEDERMAN , E. 2010.
“The myth of core stability.”
J bodyw mov ther, 14(1), 84–98.
Msc. Sport Science, Martin Kvist