Now with video: week two of the challenge to do a perfect handstand

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 June, 2015, 6:11am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2015, 2:51pm

At the playroom my daughter goes to every day, there are a few young girls around four to five years of age who are always doing handstands and headstands against the wall.

Watching the girls roll and tumble around the padded room with boundless energy and not a trace of fear got me thinking: when did I start being afraid of falling?

Now in week two of a five-week handstand challenge with Pure Fitness gymnastic movement coach Amy Ridge, I really wished it was something I'd taken up in my teens rather than thirties. The fear isn't just of hurting myself while attempting a handstand, but also of humiliation.

Just as well one of the skills I learned this week was how to get out of a handstand safely. The best way is by executing a forward roll, Ridge says.

The forward roll is one of the fundamental skills of gymnastics and is a stepping stone to more advanced acrobatics such as dive rolls and somersaults.

Outside the gym, the skill is practical: it teaches you how to fall correctly - rolling, rather than sprawling - to greatly reduce impact and your chances of getting hurt.

To begin, squat, reach your arms forward and place your hands on the floor, shoulder width apart.

Pressing on the hands, tuck your chin into the chest. Push with your feet to send the hips over the head, at the same time bending the arms to roll onto the upper back.

Rolling forward, use the momentum to return to standing on two feet by bending the legs and reaching the arms forward.

Ridge emphasises the importance of tucking your chin in, which protects your neck and also facilitates a roll rather than a flop onto your back.

I pick up the forward roll quickly enough, and so we progress to rolling out of a piked handstand, where the legs are somewhat perpendicular to the torso with feet resting on a block.

It wasn't too difficult, but whether I can execute the forward roll while in the full handstand position remains to be seen.

WATCH Jeanette work on holding a handstand against a wall

The next skill Ridge teaches me is how to kick up into a handstand. "It's more about raising the legs rather than kicking, because if you kick too fast or too hard, it's difficult to control the handstand," Ridge says.

Begin in the handstand position on your feet: arms up, deltoids squeezing the ears, elbows straight, body tight with stomach pulled in and buttocks tightened, legs together.

Keeping the body tight, take a long step forward with one foot to get into a lunge position, reach hands forward and touch the ground. Raise the back leg as high as possible - the more flexible you are, the easier this will be.

Using momentum, gently kick the other leg up.

"Common mistakes are starting with the hands on the floor, which makes it quite difficult to get into the correct body position; not stepping long enough forward; and placing hands too close to the feet," says Ridge.

We practise kicking up into a handstand against the wall. It's difficult to gauge just how hard to kick; often I overdo it and my feet hit the wall with a thud. If this was an unsupported handstand I'd fall over right away.

So, two weeks into the challenge, I still feel light years away from achieving my goal of holding a handstand for five seconds after five weeks of training. It doesn't help that I haven't been diligent in practising at least five days a week on my own, which Ridge has instructed.

She sends me on my way with a 10-exercise circuit to practise my kick ups and roll outs, and also build core and shoulder strength, and shoulder stability and balance control.

Perhaps the girls in the playroom could channel some of their youth and energy to me.