A handstand is the act of supporting the body in a stable, inverted vertical position by balancing on the hands. In a basic handstand the body is held straight with arms and legs fully extended, with hands spaced approximately shoulder-width apart. There are many variations of handstands, but in all cases a handstand performer must possess adequate balance and upper body strength.
Handstands are performed in many athletic activities, including acro dance, cheerleading, circus, yoga, and gymnastics. Some variation of handstand is performed on every gymnastic apparatus, and many tumbling skills pass through a handstand position during their execution. Breakdancers incorporate handstands in freezes and kicks. Armstand dives—a category found in competitive platform diving—are dives that begin with a handstand. In games or contests, swimmers perform underwater handstands with their legs and feet extended above the water.
There are two basic handstand styles in modern gymnastics: curved-back and straight-back. Straight-back style is employed when the aesthetics of straight body lines are desired and feasible. In many cases (e.g., when a handstand is being performed in conjunction with a gymastic apparatus), however, the curved-back style is preferred as it offers superior control over balance. In all cases, balance is maintained by shifting body weight towards the fingers or the heel of the hand.
All basic gymnastic handstands have these characteristics:
- Straight arms with hands placed on the ground approximately shoulder-width apart.
- Straight legs, held together.
- Pointed toes so as to continue the lines of the legs.
In addition, straight-back handstands have these characteristics:
- Tucked head (face pointed forward) as if standing upright.
- Straight spine, with hips pushed forward. If performed while lying flat, this would cause the small of the back to contact ground.
Handstands are also commonly used in breakdance, often used for complex 'freezes'. In the nature of breakdance there is no correct style of handstand, with an 'anything goes' mentality. Legs will be bent, shoulders closed, head facing any direction - the goal is to create as interesting and complex shapes as possible.
Common handstand variations include:
- Straight legs held in a side or front split.
- Stag split, in which legs are front split with bent knees.
- Back extremely arched, with bent knees and toes touching the back of the head.
- Hollowback, with hyperextension of the back so that legs go further forward than the head.
- One-handed, in which only one hand contacts the ground.
- Handstand pushups, in which one raises and lowers the body while standing inverted on the hands.
Blood pressure in the head increases to abnormally high levels when the body is inverted. When one is inverted for extended periods, the prolonged high blood pressure may exacerbate preexisting medical conditions and increase the risk of stroke, pulmonary oedema, and other ailments.
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