Professional acrobat Natalie Reckert lives life upside down

Natalie Reckert specialises in the art of hand balancing. Having graduated from the National Centre for Circus Arts in London in 2007, she has since performed in German variety shows and toured internationally with the Generating Company, Stumble Dance and Sugar Beast Circus.

Alongside her career as a performer, Natalie has been teaching hand balancing in yoga studios and gyms for over ten years. Most recently, she has begun a series of online courses, offering a range of popular tutorials on how to learn or improve a handstand. Courses range from absolute beginners to professionals continuing and improving their handstand technique and training.

We caught up with Natalie recently to find out about the art of hand balancing.

What made you become a hand balancer? What fascinated you about handstands?
Hand balancing is hard, it takes a long time to learn and when it works out you feel like a superhero. ūüôā I like the challenge. I am an introvert so I also liked it because it is a solitary activity.

The moment of balance feels very powerful, it is kind of addictive, you want to repeat the success of balance. Handstands are also very impressive to others and there is an element of showing off which I enjoy. I think handstands are an introvert’s way to get attention.

Handstand training humbles you, too. There are no shortcuts to hand balancing, you have to put in the work. So when you have mastered a skill like a freestanding handstand or a one-arm handstand you can be sure that success is well deserved. I have always found that very affirming.

At what age did you start training?
I started doing sports acrobatics at the age of five and took part in competitions until I was 16. I continued to practise handstands on my own at home after that and started doing ballet at the age of 16 in a local evening class, together with my mother. We started together, she was in her forties and I was a teenager. It was fun!

I later auditioned for the National Centre of Circus Arts in London, where I specialized in hand balancing. I also spent a study year at Sozo Vim contemporary dance school, to learn more about different approaches to moving and training the body.

On a typical day how much time do you spend upside down?
I work as a freelancer so it is hard to keep a similar routine every week. In an ideal week I like to train handstands three times a week for approximately three hours and then do other types of training throughout the week. If am rehearsing for a performance I will do a 45 minute technical handstand training in the morning and then do a lot of handstands throughout the day.

It takes quite a lot of strength to do a handstand. How do you build up the strength when you have never done a handstand before?

Hand balancing is not just about learning a handstand. It is also about developing a relationship with your body, with your strengths and weaknesses. It is a way of really getting to know yourself. Some people need to build strength, others need to work on shoulder mobility and yet others need to develop and fine-tune their body awareness.

In terms of getting stronger I would say: Start small and don’t measure your progress every day. Don’t start with maximum strength exercises like push ups and long handstand holds straight away. Build up your training step by step and enjoy the journey. The challenge is not to get frustrated.

What has proven to be very beneficial for me over the years is to do conditioning that involves controlled small movements with many repetitions.

So my advice if you want to get strong is: Sets of small movements with many repetitions, especially core upper body and back. Start small and build it over time! Don’t be impatient.

What are the three most important warm ups for handstands?
Mobility exercises for your hips and shoulders and simple stretches that you are not holding for very long. It should just feel like moving through your range of movement to prepare the body for training. I would recommend you to do wrist preparation and a core activation exercises and a gentle cardio warm-up, too.

What are the most common mistakes in handstand training?
Not realizing how important the shoulder opening and the mobility in the hips are.

Many people think they can muscle through to the correct shape. They practise in a banana shape for a long time due to the lack of mobility and get used to a very inefficient handstand shape.

There is also the expectation that when you can do a handstand against the wall you will be able to do a freestanding handstand. However, learning how to actively balance takes time and specific training.

The kick-up is also often neglected. You really need to build everything step-by-step and be patient.

As a beginner it’s hard to get started. What would a short training sequence for strength building (for absolute beginners) look like?

I would suggest to start with strengthening exercises for the wrists, some mobility drills, core workouts and plank holds (we all love plank holds ;)) and handstand prep exercises. The Couch to Handstand programme as well as my 7 week course on Vimeo contain a lot of prep and entry level exercises.

Do you follow any specific diet or nutrition plan? Do you use protein powder or other supplements?
I don’t follow any specific type of nutrition. I try to eat clean, I remind myself to eat fruit and vegetables and chose high protein options (vegetarian) if they correspond with what I feel like eating in that moment. I find my body to be quite reliable to make good intuitive choices.

I don’t eat gluten and I don’t like to eat in the morning or late in the evening. I don’t tend to eat after training. I eat a lot of nuts! I also eat a lot of corn crackers and cheese. I take nutritional supplements for my joints, whichever ones are available at the local store. I am not sure if it makes a difference, but I like to think it does.

What made you create an online handstand course?
I wanted to help people who don’t have any handstand classes close by to have access to instructions and follow-along classes. Likewise if you travel frequently, if you have children or are caring for another person at home it is often impossible to go to a regular class. I travel a lot myself and the only way for me to do a regular class with the same teacher is online. I really appreciate the structure and continuity these online classes provide, so I wanted to create a similar experience for others.

¬Ľ Get a 50% discount on Natalie‚Äôs 7 week online course with this discount code: Keepitup2020¬†
¬Ľ Group classes at Fish Island Circus resume on 11 August and run every Tuesday, 7 – 8:45pm. Drop-ins welcome and classes are suitable for absolute beginners.


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Photos courtesy of Natalie Recent