Prenatal Fitness Series - #6 The Handstand
Pre- and post-natal fitness is not usually as black and white as people make it out to be. Most exercises have good and bad aspects and will be appropriate for different people.
In this series, we're going to look at specific exercises and the pros and cons of doing them during pregnancy, so that you can weigh it up and decide for yourself if it's worth it.
# 6 - The Handstand
PROS - Great for shoulder strength and stability - Great for core strength and stability - Great for teaching alignment - Requires no equipment (maybe a wall - but who doesn't have a wall?) - DR and pelvic floor friendly
CONS - The big one here is that you can easily fall off balance and hurt yourself, or even worse, the baby (having said that, those who do handstands regularly know that they don't just fall over, and when they come off balance, it is in a very predictable way; I have never seen someone fall on their belly doing this.) - Wrists can be fragile during pregnancy and this puts a lot of weight on them - Your blood pressure can be low during pregnancy and being upside-down can make you very dizzy, or even faint - If you have a very lordotic spine, or poor shoulder mobility, this will be difficult and will have little benefit
CONCLUSION This is a tough one. Most people who don't do handstands regularly and WELL will be like "WTF?! Are you the worst pre-natal trainer ever?? HANDSTANDS?!?", but anyone who trains them regularly and can hold for any length of time (more than 10 seconds freestanding, and more than 60 seconds against the wall) knows their body well and is confident upside down. They know how their body reacts, and they don't just fall over.
So let's break this one down.
If you are not confident on your hands (10 secs freestanding, 60 secs against a wall), or if you have never done handstands before, YOU SHOULD NOT START DOING THEM DURING PREGNANCY. PERIOD.
If you are extremely competent on your hands, and love love love doing handstands like I do, there is a bit of a grey area. You are taking a risk of falling, and need to take this seriously - but you are taking a risk on a bike, in a car - you need to decide if for YOU it is worth it, how well you know your body, and how hard it is for you to live without handstands.
This may also look very different throughout the course of the pregnancy. I know a lot of female gymnasts, CrossFitters and Capoeiristas that felt very confident on their hands in the first few months of their pregnancy (4 or 5 and sometimes more). They have built up a lot of strength in the wrists and the shoulders over the years and have great balance upside-down. They adjusted well to the small changes in weight distribution from week to week.
It's important to remember though that the joints are weakened due to pregnancy hormones (in particular, relaxin, whose name gives a pretty big clue as to what it does), so many women, even those who are confident on their hands, find it is too much pressure on their wrists, elbows or shoulders.
Most, however, even the most competent gymnasts, struggle to do anything like this in the last trimester. The body is off-balance and they are usually feeling quite heavy and not too agile. Getting out of a chair starts to get hard, so kicking up into a handstand ain't easy either.
When you can no longer maintain a hollow body and your back is arched (like in the picture above), there is little point in you continuing to do handstands.
If you feel dizzy at any point, you should stop doing the exercise , as it's really not worth the risk of fainting.
ALTERNATIVES - Some variation of an overhead press - Kettlebell static holds (while walking)
- Downward facing dog
WHAT ABOUT AFTER BIRTH?
Handstands are a great exercise in a sensible post-partum programme, especially if you were doing them before you got pregnant. They keep the wrists strong and flexible (which can be a HUGE issue for postpartum women), they teach excellent alignment and body awareness, require a great deal of core stability, they strengthen the shoulder girdle and are a lot of fun. If you've never done anything like this before, it is still be an attainable goal, although you may want to work on headstands and presses to build up the strength first.
Handstands and handstand walks are not exactly the quintessential postpartum exercise, but we have to take it case by case. Some women can do a lot more and some need to build a strong base first (some may never even DREAM of doing anything like this, and that's ok too).
People always ask me for guidelines and its hard to explain that there is no black and white. It ALWAYS depends... on your core, DR, pelvic floor, strength levels, mobility, injuries and current fitness level. What is right for you will not be right for everyone. What is enough for you will not be enough for other women. And it will be TOO MUCH for someone else.
This is an insanely good exercise to do postpartum, as all the pressure is off the pelvic floor (think: gravity), and it teaches core stability. It is great to regain control of the core. Just be careful with the wrists. Warm up well, and stop if you feel any pain. Scale it in the beginning if you have had some time off from doing handstands.