Global Bodyweight Training - Alan Valdes parallel bars
Ex-elite gymnast Alan Valdes demonstrates the L-Sit to Straddle Press-Up Handstand, a great parallel bars exercise!

Parallel bars are an awesome bodyweight training tool for practicing your hand balancing, and this week we’ve got two incredible exercises for you to try out: the L-Sit to High Hip Tuck; and the L-Sit to Straddle Press-Up Handstand. Whether you are a gymnast, bar athlete or general bodyweight enthusiast, Parallels are an excellent place to work on your strength, coordination, and stabilization while building some seriously cool skills!

This is a special post for me, since we are featuring my own gymnastics/parkour coach Alan Valdes. As I tell you guys all the time, I owe so much to the coaches that I’ve linked up with in my own journey through bodyweight disciplines. It’s always been a big belief of mine that the best way to learn something is to seek out the best person in that field to learn from. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really incredible coaches. Alan has played a major role in my progression and continues to push me on a daily basis. He also happens to be in our upcoming hand balancing DVD (which I’m completely psyched about – more on that later!)

The All-Important Hand Balancing Grip!

When learning to hand balance, the hand’s connection with the surface you are balancing on plays a major roll with the success of your balance.

Global Bodyweight Training - Alan Valdes Parallel Bars
The L-Sit Position
When balancing on a flat surface, you can use your fingers to help keep you from “over balancing” or toppling over forward. Eventually, through consistent practice and specific technique, you’ll find the “sweet spot” that allows you to hold a solid balance as long as your endurance allows.

Using parallel bars or parallettes with your hand balancing adds a whole new dimension (literally!). Not only does the use of parallel bars change the wrist position (which may make it more comfortable for some) but the PBs open up an entirely new potential for some advanced movements – such as the L-sit to High Hip Tuck and the L-sit to Straddle Handstand Press-Up featured in this video. Due to the fact that you can now grip the bars, it’s a little easier to new reach new levels. Now you can really move your body through space in ways that would be more difficult, or even impossible, if you were limited to a flat hand position on the ground.

The Biomechanics of Balancing on Parallel Bars

Global Bodyweight Training - Parallel Bars
PB L-Sit Transition 1

Global Bodyweight Training - Parallel Bars
PB L-Sit Transition 2

Global Bodyweight Training - Parallel Bars
PB L-Sit to Straddle

Global Bodyweight Training - Parallel Bars
PB – Handstand Press-Up
The biomechanics of the L-Sit to Hip Tuck and L-Sit to Straddle Handstand Press-Up are tricky. The poor leverage of the prime movers makes both of these movements very difficult. What exactly does that mean, though? Let’s break it down:

In traditional resistance training, we are accustomed to lifting objects through space while holding onto them. In bodyweight training, though, it is more how we grip an immovable object and move our own bodies around it. Think about it this way. In a dumbbell front delt raise, we would grip two dumbbells and lift them up to shoulder level. In this example we would continue past the shoulder level and stop when the DB’s are over head. So in order for that movement to happen, the front medial delt, with some pec major and bicep, have to activate. Now if we re-engineer this and the dumbbells become an immoveable object (i.e. like the parallel bars), we would now be moving our entire body as if we are doing a front delt raise, but with our own body instead of the dumbbells!

Let’s break it down even further and look at the muscle action in the movements featured in the video. You’ll see how the muscles are actually at a mechanical DISADVANTAGE. Starting with the wrist, the forearm flexors and stabilizers have to make a solid connection with the bar and even allow the bones of the forearm to move past a neutral position to a laterally flexed angle at the wrist. The tricep has to stay fully engaged to keep the elbows locked (a bent elbow is considered incorrect form). It’s the roll of the bicep, however, that does something amazing. We know that the bicep bends the elbow, but it also raises the arm from the shoulder. Since the arm is fixed, the bicep has to begin to raise the entire body from the shoulder (with the help of the deltoid). Now the shoulder girdle becomes the anchor for the erectors of the spine to continue to raise the hips.

If you are doing the High Hip Tuck version, you would tuck the knees up towards the chest and the heels up towards the glutes, with your hips continuing to rise until they are above the shoulders. In the Straddle Handstand Press, you would keep your legs straight, opening them into a straddle position until your hips are stacked above the shoulders and the body has found its balance. Then begin to pull your legs back together as they rise up into a full handstand.

Whether you are doing the High Tuck or the Handstand Press-Up, you want to hold the static as long as you can keeping perfect form, before slowly returning to the starting position. The center of gravity is constantly changing, so the body has to make countless micro adjustments to maintain its balance. Maintaining complete control throughout the exercise is key. This is a true feat of strength, balance, stability and coordination!

Practice, Practice and More Practice!

Keep in mind that both of these movements are advanced hand balance exercises.

Global Bodyweight Training - Alan Valdes Parallel Bars
High Hip Tuck: Hold this static as long as you can keep perfect form!
The L-Sit to High Hip Tuck is a precursor to Straddle Handstand Press-Up, and you’ll want to master the first before moving on to the next. In the video we also show you an example of a wall-assisted exercise that will help you build the strength and skills needed to control the ascent and descent of your legs with the Handstand Press-Up progression. I also suggest looking at some of the other hand balancing videos on the GBT site to help you build up to these progressions (some of them are listed below to get you started). Remember that hand balancing is a discipline all on its own and the only way you’re going to get good at hand balancing, is to PRACTICE HAND BALANCING! It’s that simple.

What’s Next?

We’ve been telling you about our upcoming full-length video on Hand Balancing, and we are excited to be getting closer to its release in early 2013. The video will have plenty of conditioning and skill building exercises in it, and will take you all the way from beginning techniques to the very advanced moves.

To get everyone in a Hand Balancing state of mind as we get ready to release the DVD, we’ll be doing some fun photo contests over on our Facebook page. Be sure to check it out – it’s easy to enter (and win a free DVD!) or just enjoy checking out all the hand balancing pics we’ll be asking everyone to upload.

Hand balancing has a direct carry over into all elements of athleticism. Not to mention that it’s really fun. And, oh yeah, it looks pretty damn cool! Keep up the practice and stay tuned for more to come.

Handbalancing is an art that requires lots of practice. Check out some of these other hand balancing tutorials as you work on progressing your practice:

Published by Mike Fitch

Mike is the founder of Global Bodyweight Training. He has more than 12 years as a fitness professional encompassing a wide range of disciplines which he draws upon to create the GBT system.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hey Mike, great tutorial. Still working on my adv. frogs variations, one day I’d love to perform a straddle HS press-up. Very impressive. As you say, HS balancing requires practice, practice, practice. And of course confidencel. You and Ido Portal have been great inspirations! Keep up the great work bro!

  2. Really love those moves, but do you have any advice on how one can train or practice these in the absence of a set of parallel bars?

    1. Hey Maddy, we have instructions here on the site for making your own parallettes. Or you can also use Kettlebells, but be sure that they are heavy and have a wide base so they don’t fall over and cause injury.

  3. I am a strength coach. Personal trainer and martial arts instructor. This is so dang impressive. I can’t do any of this. Where does a new guy start? Simply awesome.

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