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February 10, 2022 10 min read

One of the most impressive and difficult to do actions out there is the handstand. The idea is simple—just support yourself upside down only using your hands. But if you’ve ever even slightly tried to pull off a handstand, you already know how difficult it is.

Thankfully, there are a lot of people who’ve learned how to do handstands and it took all of them plenty of work and a solid game plan. We also have the benefit of knowing what works and what doesn’t, when training your handstand skills. There’s a lot that goes into it and no one should expect results overnight, but with consistency and hard work, your inverted dreams will come true.

However, more than just being a physical challenge, handstands also take quite a bit of mental fortitude and confidence in one’s abilities. And because of this, learning how to handstand is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself.

fit muscular man doing one arm handstand

The Benefits of Learning Handstands

For an exercise that requires zero equipment, handstands offer a lot. Not only can you do them wherever you have enough space, but you’ll also be working dozens of different muscle groups, developing your mobility, and becoming more balancedThe mental game is also important to recognize when it comes to handstands. 

A Full Body Workout

Handstands require a ton of  upper body strength in your shoulders, arms, and upper back. You’re not only going to be supporting your entire body weight, but you’ll also be recruiting many stabilizers to keep you balanced. 

The core is going to be extremely important because your abs, hamstrings, hip flexors, inner thigh muscles, obliques, and lower back are all going to need to be engaged to pull off a handstand.

The tighter you keep your muscles, the more effectively you’ll be able to fine-tune a balancing position. It’s these smaller stabilizing muscles that are going to be the sticking point for most people. After all, it’s much easier to support your weight while doing a pull-up than it is during a handstand.

While performing a handstand, you’re going to need to make micro-adjustments in your posture that you barely register. This is something that’s only going to come with a lot of practice.

Greater Mobility

Along with bracing important muscle groups, you’re also going to become more limber. 

Handstands take a lot of mobility in your wrists, shoulders, and hips.

The more mobile you are, the easier it will be to get into the right position for a successful handstand. This is going to have a lot of carry-over benefits not only for gymnastics but also for lifts that require a certain range of motion.

An Energizing Maneuver

Going upside down will also mean that there’s more blood flow to your upper body and head.

This is why handstands are great to do in the mornings since they almost act like coffee. Getting enough blood into your head early in the morning can put you on the right track for the rest of the day. 

Furthermore, the increased blood flow to your head will have a calming effect that’s beneficial for boosting your mood.

Handstands also reduce the amount of cortisol in your body—a stress hormone. This means that they can help to lessen feelings of anxiety. 

These are all the biological effects that handstands can have on our bodies, but their mental effects go further than that. Handstands take awareness of your body, focus, and some level of fear.

You’re not going to be able to do a handstand unless you’re focusing on the movement, which will put you in the moment. The confidence from being able to do a handstand is also going to improve your mental well-being.

Warmups for Handstand Practice

Since mobility is a key factor in a successful handstand, there are a few warm-up stretches that you should be doing before your training. 

You should be focusing on your wrists and shoulders with stretches such as:

  • Palms down and palms up wrist stretch
  • Finger and palm pulses
  • Palm rotations
  • Elbow rotations
  • Mountain climbers
  • Downward dog

Even if you’re only doing one of the handstand progression exercises, it’s still important to get a good stretch in.

Full Handstand Progression

If you’ve already got a solid foundation, then you’ll find progression to handstands much easier. However, everyone is going to have to start from somewhere before mastering the handstand. There are different recommendations for how to break down handstand progression, but they all follow a generally similar approach—first come the easy movements, then come the more difficult movements.

But you should also understand that progression doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be, in some cases), completely linear. It’s a good idea to continue practicing the things you’ve already mastered, while also building on them with more advanced techniques. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at how to progress to handstands.

Hollow Body

If you want to balance on your hands, you’re going to need a lot of core strength.

The hollow body hold is one of the best exercises for targeting these core muscles, especially the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques. You’ll also feel the burn in your hip flexors, quads, inner thighs, lower back, and erector spinae muscles. 

This makes the hollow body hold one of the most useful and beginner-friendly ways to begin your handstand training. And not only will your handstand progression benefit but so will your overall fitness.

Here's How to do the Hollow Body Hold: 

  1. Begin by lying on the floor flat on your back. Your legs should be extended out and your arms should be by your sides.
  2. Brace your abdominal muscles and your inner thighs. Slowly raise your legs a couple of inches off of the ground. Then, stretch your arms out behind you and raise them a couple of inches along with your head. Your lower back should be pressed into the floor.
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds, or however long you’re able to.

Pike Hold

The pike hold is going to be your first taste of going (partially) upside down. Its primary benefit is in how it strengthens your shoulders, which are obviously going to be important when you’re supporting your entire bodyweight your arms. 

Like the hollow body hold, the pike hold will also challenge your core muscles. And since your weight is going to be shifting upward, it also gets you slowly used to the feeling of being unbalanced in this way.

Although we’ll be looking at the hold, you can also perform a push-up variation where you maintain the pike position but bend your elbows to perform a push-up.

Here's How to do the Pike Hold: 

  1. Begin in a plank position on the floor. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders with your toes pressed into the floor and a straight back.
  2. Make sure that your core, glutes, and hamstrings are engaged—this will help you keep your body in position.
  3. Continue by hinging at the hips and lifting them up. Continue until your body forms an upside-down “V,” and your arms and legs are locked out. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, or as long as you can.

L- Handstand with Wall

This is going to be your first big taste of life upside down.

Using a wall, you’re going to bring the pike hold to the next level with added supports. The L-handstand is particularly useful for getting you used to the way your wrists, hands, elbows, and shoulders should be aligned (and feel).

Here's How to do the L-Handstand with Wall:

  1. Stand with your back facing a wall. You should be standing a leg-length away from the wall for optimal performance.
  2. Bending forward, plant your hands on the floor directly in front of you. They should be about shoulder-width apart. Ensure that you have a good, stable base by spreading out your fingers.
  3. Continue by walking your feet up the wall—go until your legs are parallel to the ground. You should “stack” your bodyweight through your shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands, with all of these joints being in line with one another.
  4. Hold the position for up to a minute, or until your form begins getting spotty.

Kick-Ups

Wall kick-ups will get you used to getting into the right handstand position. By giving you a wall as support, you don’t have to worry about crashing over backward. Wall kick-ups are more difficult than L-handstands because you’ll be facing the wall and kicking your legs up so your body is supported by the wall.

In some ways, this is as close as you’re going to get to a real handstand without it actually being a real handstand.

However, you’ll still need to develop your core strength and the proper positioning of arms, shoulders, and hands.

Here's How to do Kick-Ups: 

  1. Stand facing a wall and bend over so that your hands are planted shoulder-width apart. Your hands should be around 6-inches away from the wall, or slightly more.
  2. With your arms in a straight line, raise one of your legs up into the air. Then, kick the other leg up with enough force to “somersault” your legs overhead.
  3. Your legs should come into contact with the wall. Pause in this position for a moment before reversing the movement and doing a few more reps.

Crow Pose

This is a more advanced core exercise and is going to take quite a bit of strength and balance.

You’re going to be trying to support more and more weight on your hands until your feet are off the ground. But instead of going upside down, you’ll be in more of a quadruped position.

Here's how to do Crow Pose: 

  1. Start by planting your feet a few inches apart and squatting down all the way to the ground. Plant your hands directly in front of you, spreading your fingers for added support. Your arms should be just inside of your thighs.
  2. Lean forward and simultaneously place more weight on the tips of your toes. More and more of your weight should be supported by your arms, and you should continue until your feet are off the ground entirely.
  3. Hold this position for at least 20 seconds or as long as you can.

Wall Walk

This exercise looks very similar to L-handstands and kick-ups, but you’re going to be needing a lot more strength in your arms. 

Rather than simply holding or kicking your way up to the wall, you’ll be walking with your hands towards the wall until your body is parallel to it. This will test your arm strength and your ability to balance while moving around. 

You may find yourself feeling fatigued just after a few wall walks, but HyperAde can quickly replenish the muscle glycogen and electrolytes that are depleted after intense bursts of energy.  

Here's how to do the Wall Walk: 

  1. Get into a plank position with your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Your feet should be just about touching a wall behind you. Brace your core muscles.
  2. Beginning with the feet, take a small step up the wall, followed by your hands walking towards the wall. By taking smaller steps, you’ll learn to better control the movement and maximize your  time under tension, eliciting greater improvements. Ensure that your core stays tight.
  3. You want to try to get as close to the wall as possible while not losing your balance. The closer you are, the less you’ll be supported by the wall, and the more you’ll have to rely on your own balancing.
  4. After pausing at the top, slowly walk yourself back down before repeating the movement.
fit man doing a handstand against a wall in a gym

    Handstand with a Wall

    If you’ve been practicing enough, at this point you’ll be just one step away from a real handstand. But even though it’s one step away, it’s still going to take quite a bit of training. 

    This is essentially going to be a kick-up, but your goal is to not touch the wall or at least touch it as little as possible. At this point, you’ll be using the wall as a very limited crutch and a true handstand should naturally develop with enough practice.

    Here's how to do the Handstand with a Wall:

    1. Start in the same position as you would a wall kick-up. That means standing with your back facing the wall and bending over to plant your hands on the floor. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart and between 1 to 2 feet away from the wall.
    2. Like with the kick-up, raise one leg up before kicking up with the other one. This time, try your best to immediately find the center of balance instead of relying on the wall.
    3. Hold the position for as long as you’re able to. If at any point you find yourself losing your balance point, just bend one leg and prop yourself up against the wall.  

    The Freestanding Handstand

    And finally, we come to the handstand. Since we’ve been slowly adding to the difficulty, there isn’t much more to say about the handstand itself. You’ll be going through similar movements as with a wall handstand, but this time there won’t be a wall to help you out. 

    The key is to find a position where your hips are right over your shoulders.

    In this sense, your hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands should form a straight line and be stacked on each other.

    Here's how to do the Freestanding Handstand: 

    1. In your starting position, bend forward and plant your hands shoulder-width apart, spreading out your fingers for a more secure base. Engage your core.
    2. Raise one leg up and then kick up with the other one. If you need to, you can make increasingly larger kicks until you get enough power for lift-off. If you kick off too hard, try to use your fingertips as a way to stop yourself from falling over on the other side.
    3. Your legs will be split at first, but you should slowly find a balancing point where your legs can come together in a straight line. It’s important to move slowly so you have more control over where you’re going.

    Tips and Common Mistakes

    There are a few ideas to keep in mind when training your handstand. These will not only make the process easier but also keep you from getting injured. 

    It’s important to have your hands shoulder-width apart. This is so that your shoulders stay directly above your hands, and you can successfully stack your body weight in a straight line.

    You should also avoid doing headstands since they can be bad for your back. 

    It’s also a good idea to practice on a soft surface. While this might sound like an obvious idea, there is a real inhibition that gets in the way of working towards handstands. The lack of control in this position can lead to fear, and making your environment fall-friendly is a good way to mitigate this.

    You should also learn how to safely bail out of a handstand, either with a cartwheel or simply falling backward safely. Different methods will work better for different people, but the point is to be aware that you’ll be completely fine when you do lose control.

    Your First Handstand

    Learning how to do a handstand and continuing your practice of handstands is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself. Not only will your whole body’s strength develop, but so will your balance and mobility. 

    There’s also a significant amount of fear most people will overcome because it’s extremely difficult to have control over your body when you’re upside down. It’s this loss of control that leads to hesitation, a lack of confidence, and fear.

    Learning to handstand can seriously improve your confidence and mental fortitude.

    The important part is to stick to the plan, see the big picture, and take each day as it comes—as topsy turvy as it may be.