It was around this time back in 2012 that I started really getting into handstands. I found myself without a gym so I had to adapt. Up until then handstands were just a fun way to pass time, I had no clue how I would approach them for fitness. I had a little experience and plenty of YouTube videos and that was enough to dive in.
I got to a pretty decent level on my own, but my approach was pretty raw. It was when I started teaching handstands that I got to look back on my own process and polish things up. I learned there is a wide variety in abilities and perceptions surrounding handstands. Going upside down is disorienting and can be scary; overcoming the fear is a huge part of the process. It was cool to see people conquer their fears and gain more body awareness. Ultimately, it’s this body awareness that is the true value of handstand training.
Some perspective. Practically speaking, a handstand is pretty much a useless skill. There are tons of benefits, they’re endlessly fun, and will challenge you for a lifetime, but you don’t need a handstand to survive in the world. Seems a bit obvious, but I know how this chase goes…see shiny object, pursue shiny object, get frustrated when shiny object stays out of reach. 1st world problems.
It’s easy to get frustrated; believe me, I’ve thrown a few handstand tantrums over the years. Let that shit go. Truth is you've got a lifetime to practice. Along the way there will be times of great progress and times total stagnation. You can’t force the process, you just have to accept what each day brings. Easier said than done, I know, but that’s the lesson (and the hidden life lesson) to learn.
If I had to offer just one piece of advice for handstand beginners:
It’s not about party tricks or impressing people. It’s about how the practice grows you as a person. There’s no finish line, no endpoint. Let your practice be yours, free of any agenda or comparisons. Have fun (even when it’s frustrating) and let the process unfold how it will.
Ok, that's my two cents in how to get your mind right, now let’s talk about the drills.
Take Time to Warm Up
Before you go upside down, prep your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Your upper body doesn’t support much bodyweight on a daily basis so you’ll need to gradually increase the demands on these areas. Even just a few minutes of some simple stretches and mobilizations will go a long way to better performance and injury-prevention.
Crawl before you HS
High hip crawling - forward and lateral. These drills are great for building strength in the wrists and shoulders and build flexibility in the hamstrings. If going upside down seems sketchy to you, this will get you acclimated to having your hips over your head. It's a good place to start and revisit frequently
Feeling good on the floor? Next step is to elevate your feet on a box. Start in a plank position and then walk the hands toward the box and allow the body to fold into a pike position. From the pike position, push forward from the toes to bring your hips over your shoulders. To progress further, raise the elevation or play with lifting a leg overhead. It’s very important here to keep your elbows locked out and palms glued to the ground pushing actively through the ground.
From here you can start playing with how to exit the handstand. A cartwheel-like motion off the box will teach your body how to bail confidently, no face planting. As you get a feel for this you can make the cartwheel bigger.
Jump In with Dynamic Entries
After the previous drills, you’ll have a sense of the strength and stability of your shoulders. If you feel confident you may start to play around with some dynamic entries.
From a crawl position, shift your weight forward and push through your feet to jump your hips over your shoulders. Start with small jumps to stay in under balance (over balance is when you flop over). Start with a tuck or frog position, you can then progress to straight legs. These handstand hops will get you to find that point of alignment and balance. Along the way your shoulders will get some good strength reps.
The point isn’t to handstand just yet. Treat each rep as a way to get stronger and more comfortable with inverting.
In hindsight, I wish I would've spent more time with the wall. It’s not cheating, just don't use the wall as a crutch. It’s a tool. It isn't about launching yourself into the wall, but learning to find the delicate balance in weight shifting and where to place the effort. How you contact the wall gives you instant feedback on each attempt.
The wall gives you safety and support which allows you to play around with different positions and spend more time upside down. Back-to-wall and chest-to-wall drills offer different forms of feedback and challenges. Entries, exits, and changing shapes are all very accessible from wall practice. Even when your confidence is high and you progress to freestanding attempts, keep coming back to these wall drills for strength and conditioning.
Sample handstand workout
Handstand strength and conditioning work can be blended with other bodyweight movements or weightlifting. You can use a circuit approach or straight sets. However, when you become a handstand junkie you’ll want to set aside some time strictly for skill practice. In any case, here’s a sample handstand training template to guide your practice.
- Prep Your Body: 5-10 minutes working on wrists, elbows, shoulders, and thoracic spine.
- Pick Your Drills: Pick 2-3 drills and determine the number of sets and reps or time intervals. Examples:
- Lateral high hip crawl: 3 sets, 30 reps, rest 60 seconds between sets
- Feet elevated pike (high box): 4 sets, 20 second hold, rest 60 seconds
- Back-to-wall kick up: 10 attempts, hold wall handstand for 10-15 seconds, controlled exit, rest as needed.
- Cool down: Wrist / shoulder mobility drills and resistance band pulls / rows (tip: balance out all that pushing with at least a little pulling)
There are some truly incredible handbalancers out there, people who dedicate their lives to this craft. However, you don't have to be this extreme to gain the benefits of handstand work. Now you’ve got some great strategies and tools to bring handstands into your fitness training.