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What Is a Handstand?

Break dancers often learn to balance on one hand.
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  • Written By: D. Messmer
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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A handstand is a balancing move in which an athlete invert his entire body and, instead of balancing on his feet, balances on only his or her hands. Handstands are a crucial part of both yoga and gymnastics and can be important to some styles of dancing, including acro dance and break dancing. They are difficult to perform, because they require a substantial amount of upper body strength, decent flexibility and exceptional balance.

To perform a handstand, an athlete must first place his or hands on the ground with the palms down and the fingers spread. The hands should be just a little bit wider than shoulder width apart, and the arms should be locked at the elbow. The athlete then walks his or her feet toward the hands, which causes the body to invert while also getting closer to being perpendicular with the ground. Eventually, the athlete lifts his or her legs into the air and raises them toward the ceiling until they are in a straight line, perpendicular to the floor. The toes should always point toward the ceiling.

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There are two main types of handstands. The first is the straight-back handstand, in which the body is completely straight and forms a line perpendicular to the floor. This type requires that the athlete keep his or her head and neck in alignment with the straight back. This version requires the athlete to use the heels and fingers of the hands to maintain balance, because the rest of the body should remain as motionless as possible. The straight-back handstand is common in yoga and gymnastics because the firm posture of the body allows for more variations in the overall form.

The other main type is the curved-back handstand. This type of handstand allows the athlete to curve the back and bend the neck slightly back. This technique is slightly easier, because the athlete can adjust the curve of the back and the head position to make small adjustments to the balance. This version is common among dancers and cheerleaders who often perform hand-walking motions. It is much easier to move the hands while performing a curved-back handstand, because the hands are not the only means of maintaining balance.

There are several variations of handstands that athletes and dancers can perform. It is possible to do both side splits and front splits with the legs while performing a handstand. Bending the knees to varying degrees is also possible. Athletes with exceptional strength and balance can even perform one-handed handstands.

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