March 26, 2021 10 min read
When it comes to moving (or holding) your body in a particular way, the handstand is one of the most impressive feats of control you can accomplish
Requiring dozens of muscle groups to work in unison to keep you balanced, the handstand is a true test of mettle. Not only does it come down to the strength to hold yourself upside down, but also the coordination and stability for getting yourself in that position—and then holding it.
It’s no surprise that it’s a difficult hold to accomplish, and an even more difficult hold to master. However, working towards the handstand can strengthen your body in ways that you previously never considered. It’s a great way to build and maintain functional fitness and to improve how different muscle groups work together.
And just like anything, practice makes perfect. Follow the right progressions consistently enough, and soon you’ll be seeing things from a new perspective.
Requiring so much body control, incorporating gymnastics into your routine has tons of benefits by itself.
It requires mobility, balance, and a lot of strength in the upper body, lower body, and core strength. Furthermore, circulation is also improved. Even if you’re solely into heavy lifting, learning how to handstand can benefit you.
This is because the stability in your joints is so important when it comes down to efficiently moving your body and transferring power. The handstand develops your control over your body, and that control can be used in anything from Olympic lifts to functional everyday movements.
And much like exercises such as pull-ups and push-ups, the handstand is a bodyweight movement (or hold). That means you don’t need any equipment, any gym, and basically any amount of space. That makes this exercise extremely accessible and you’ll never really have an excuse to slack.
Although it’s a bit more difficult to put a finger on this benefit, it’s also important to note the boost in confidence. Sure—being able to do a handstand (or any cool thing with your body) will provide a boost in confidence, but there is something a bit scary about flipping your body around and trusting it to stay upright.
It’ll feel good when you do it, but working your way up to the point where it doesn’t feel like anything at all will have cascading benefits for more than just your fitness levels. You gotta risk it for the biscuit after all.
Before you start progressing, you need to know what you’re progressing towards. Everyone can “imagine” a handstand, but it’s going to take more than that to do one—let alone do one with perfect form.
While “banana” shaped handstands are a legitimate way to perform them, we’ll be looking at handstands that form straight, vertical lines. This is the gymnast-style handstand, allowing for the best efficiency and requiring less muscle power overall due to your body being “stacked”, albeit in the wrong direction. This form will also allow progression to more advanced moves.
This position is largely successful based on how strong your core is—that’s not difficult to see. While you’ll want to incorporate some core training into your routine, one of the best ways to prepare for the handstand is to do hollow body holds.
This requires you to lie down almost in a reverse plank. You’ll be on your back with your legs straight, feet of the ground, and arms above you. Your head should also be raised off the ground.
While the core is key for a successful handstand, you’ll want to make sure that the rest of your body is working (or at least, holding) in unison as well.
For the head, that means the top of your head should be pointing straight down. Turning it will compromise your position.
Your hands should be placed shoulder-width apart—too wide or too narrow will get in the way of properly being able to balance. Your arms should be fully extended, which will make things easier in terms of holding yourself up. If you want to start progressing towards handstand push-ups, then it’s a good idea to start putting a bend in your elbows. The elbow creases should also be facing one another—this will help to keep your elbows in a straight line.
Your posterior chain also plays an important role in the handstand.
You’ll want to have your glutes and legs engaged the entire time. Keeping them braced will help you maintain balance and prepare your body for more advanced holds. Your toes should be pointed straight up, which will help to keep your mind on the intention of remaining upright.
While these aspects are important, special attention should be paid to the wrists and shoulders.
These are the most important joints in the handstand. It’s important to make sure that you have the flexibility to do a handstand before attempting one. Having good wrist and shoulder mobility is a prerequisite for the handstand hold.
Handstands place quite a lot of stress on the wrists, for obvious reasons. You are, after all, supporting your body weight on your hands, and your wrists are a necessary component of maintaining stability. Before attempting a handstand, or just working up to one, it’s important to ensure that your wrists are up to snuff.
Some good wrist exercises to do, include:
If you’ve never really attempted to do anything like this before, you need to incorporate these wrist stretches into your routine. It will warm up your joints before you train towards the hold, and it’ll improve mobility over time.
Your shoulders are also another area that’s extremely stressed under the handstand. Incorporating these exercises into your handstand training will help to ensure that you’re prepared as possible:
The worst thing for anyone’s progress is getting injured, so it’s important to be nimble and warm-up enough to avoid injury at all costs. Once you’ve got the correct prep work out of the way, it’s time to turn your world upside down.
When it comes to the handstand, progression can be broken down into several different parts. For example, the hollow body position is one piece of the puzzle when you’re looking for the handstand.
Training your core, in general, will be good for handstand progression, so make sure that you’re including some type of training outside of just the handstand routine. We’ll begin with simpler moves and work our way up to the full handstand.
These starting movements will keep your body pretty stable, so if you’re in relatively good physical shape then chances are you’ll be able to progress through this stage at a quicker pace. However, it’s still important to go through all of the steps in order to ensure that you have the mobility to make it happen.
You don’t want to be putting a lot of stress on your joints when they’re not even able to properly come into the correct positions.
To begin, we’ll be looking at the downward dog position.
Get on your hands and knees, similar to a push-up position. However, you’ll want to place your hands a bit further in front of you than you normally would. Get into the position by pushing your butt up into the hair while driving your heels back.
The key is to keep your back straight. This means that your knees can bend if they want to—as long as there’s a straight line from your palms to your tailbone. Your upper arms should be right by your ears and your arms should be straight as well.
Progressing from the downward dog is relatively intuitive. You’ll want to begin to start raising your feet higher and higher, rather than them simply being placed on the ground. The bench, or box, handstand will be more difficult the higher your feet are placed.
Find a suitable raised platform and place your feet up on it, while maintaining the same upper body position as in the downward dog. You’ll want to walk your hands back towards the bench in order to raise your butt higher while maintaining a straight back that’s in line with your palms. Ensure that your abdominals are braced throughout: this will help to keep you stable.
The Wall Holds
The wall holds can be broken down into the beginner version and the more advanced version.
The beginner wall hold will look similar to the bench handstand, but you’ll be using a wall to support your feet rather than a platform. The key here is to create a 90-degree angle with your hips as your legs press into the wall, fully extended.
Maintaining a straight back is very important, and you don’t want to progress further if you’re unable to do this. Engaging the glutes and the abdominals will also help to keep you stable. At this point, you’ll also want to begin “gripping” the ground—a factor that’ll become increasingly important as you progress.
And progress with the wall hold is pretty simple—just slowly walk your hands towards the wall so your feet come up higher and higher on the wall. Of course, you’ll still want to be keeping your back straight and everything in line. However, it’s going to get progressively harder the closer your body gets to the wall.
Once you’re perfectly straight and parallel to the wall, then you can try slowly lifting one foot off the way at a time. This is when some more dynamic movements come into the progression.
Hip Touches and Wall Walks
Making the wall hold more dynamic does two things for your progress.
One, it challenges you in new ways and especially challenges the lats and the core. If you’re looking for a full handstand, these two parts are going to need to be as strong as possible. With the movements, you’re ramping up the instability and forcing your muscles to work harder.
Furthermore, by forcing yourself to take one hand off the ground, you’re training your body to be able to adjust with the hands. This will be important especially when you’re starting out with freestanding handstands since it’ll be difficult at first to center your weight naturally.
The first of these dynamic movements is simply touching your hip. You do want to make sure that you’re very close to the wall, however. To stabilize yourself, you can widen the stance your feet have against the wall.
As the name suggests, you’ll be slowly taking one hand off the floor to touch your hip. It will be important to keep your abs engaged to prevent your hip from rotating to one side. Once you’ve touched your thigh, bring that hand back to the floor as you raise the other one.
Progressing from here will have you walking from side to side. Step each hand to one side and move your feet back together, and then keep this pattern going as you move laterally across the wall. Once again, ensure that your core and glutes are engaged—you shouldn’t feel any pressure in your lower back. If you do, that’s bad news.
The other type of wall walk is when you walk back from the wall and then towards it again. You’ll essentially be going from a plank position on the floor and against the wall, to your body being up parallel to the wall. You’ll do this by walking your hands back and forth. Not only will this develop strength in your upper body, but you’ll also be engaging your legs to a great degree.
Keep in mind that you don’t want your hips sagging at any point in the movement, especially near the bottom of the wall. The straighter a line you keep from head to heels, the faster you’ll progress and the less chance of an injury you’ll have.
These steps will make you strong, but it’s still not the real deal. For that, you’ll need to start practicing with less and less support.
Wall handstands are pretty similar to what we’ve been doing, but this time your back will be up against the wall.
This will force you to get comfortable with kicking up into a handstand, rather than climbing up against the wall or a platform. This will be very effective in weaning you off of the wall as a support.
To begin, place your hands about a foot away from the wall as you face it. You don’t want them to be more than shoulder-width apart. You’ll be getting into a sort of downward dog before kicking up with your feet and bringing your heels up to the wall. As you were doing before, engage your abs so you don’t lean back into the wall—your heels should be the main point of contact.
Once you’re comfortable in this position, slowly begin taking one leg off the wall, with just one heel being the point of contact. Now the finish line is in your sights.
At this point, it’s the progress of being able to take both feet off the wall at the same time. While that might sound like a big “small” step to make as you’re reading this right now, remember that by that point you’ll have plenty of training to back you up. Bringing both feet off the wall will also be made easier by the fact that you can simply lean one back if you feel yourself starting to lose balance.
In this sense, the wall will act as training wheels. At one point, you’ll get to where you should be able to kick up and maintain balance without having to rely on the wall to stop you at the top. You should still do it against the wall for support, but you’ll have achieved a perfect handstand if you can kick yourself up, maintain balance, and not use the wall.
As with all other training, making sure that you’re taking care of your body will ensure that you’re getting the best benefits and the most efficient results.
This is especially important when it comes to successfully performing something like the handstand. Not only does it take consistent practice and hard work in order to progress, but you’ll also need to be keeping your body fueled with the right nutrients. This means plenty of proteins, healthy carbs, and healthy fats. Without this base, your handstand base will suffer as well.
Finally, make sure that you’re getting enough rest. Training up your handstand is demanding, especially if you’re incorporating it into another training routine. Not taking care of these aspects will turn your world upside down—and not in the way you want.