From a non-gymnast, adult handstand-learner to you. Main take away: practice, practice, practice!
So, you want to get upside down? It is pretty cool to be able to stand on your hands and have that much control over your body position. But how do you get to that point if you have never done a handstand in your life?
Fear not, for there are ways that you can start today to reach the goal of the handstand. This is a guide for those that want to taste the feeling of holding a handstand, probably for the first time.
First, we’ll go over some important ground rules and basics of the handstand.
Patience: I will go over the importance of gradually progression through your handstand journey. Try to be patient with yourself and accept at [most] times this will be difficult. In order to stay injury free and to keep proper alignment, this will take some time and focus. You will need to focus on gradually increasing repetition and the time you are loading weight onto your hands. Lastly, remember that with the failed attempts and the work you put in to practice, when you reach your goal it will all be worth it.
Body Position and Posture: Posture is defined as the alignment of body parts in relationship to one another at any given moment. Posture is important in all movements when you are on your feet, so it is extremely important to practice proper alignment while you are on your hands.
Note: Keep in mind your range of motion may limit you from keeping proper alignment, so it is important to work on increasing the mobility and stability of those areas so you do not put your body in a position it should not be in.
In the handstand, strength is required from the entire body to keep a tight hollow body position. The shoulders, upper back, and core are the primary muscle groups for the handstand. You will need to gain strength in these muscle groups to be able to keep the proper positioning in the handstand. I will lay out exercises below that will help you with this.
Warm-Ups: Just like standing on your feet puts pressure on your toes, feet, and ankles; handstands put pressure on your hands, fingers, and wrists. The most common complaint/limitation in the handstand is hand or wrist pain. To avoid wrist pain and to stay safe, the wrist joint will need to be properly warmed up with wrist extension and flexion exercises before supporting your full body weight. Shoulders should be properly warmed up as well. I like to do arm circles and stretch out my lats. I usually use a foam roller and roll out my thoracic spine. Another muscle group to stretch out is your hamstrings. To do this I usually will hold a static hamstring stretch (legs up the wall or seated hamstring stretch) and then hold down dog until I feel that the back of my legs have loosened up.
Exercises to Master the Handstand :
- Plank: The plank is the best way to get into the handstand practice. Your shoulders, core, wrists, and fingers are used in the plank and it is a great exercise to strengthen these areas before putting to much pressure on them. To perform the plank you want to make sure that your hands are stacked under your shoulders and that your body is in one full line (head, shoulders, hips, feet). Pull your navel up towards your spine. Squeeze your legs and glutes together and push yourself away from the ground. Even though the plank and the handstand are Isometric holds, you should still think about pushing yourself away from the ground actively. Believe it or not, you will need to keep your legs and glutes tight during your handstand hold, so practice doing that here with the plank. Start with a hold for 30 seconds and gradually increase your time from there.
- Down Dog: if you practice Yoga you are familiar with Downward- Facing Dog. it is probably my favorite pose and I do them almost every day. To Perform Down Dog start in a quadruped position (hands under shoulders, knees under hips). Tuck your toes under as you send your hips up toward the sky and push your shoulders back. Keep the knees soft if the back of your legs [hamstrings] are tight and breath into the pose. Keep your head in between your shoulders. Start with a hold for 30 seconds and gradually increase your time/repetitions from there.
- Donkey Kicks: Another one of my favorite exercises. It is a great way to build shoulder and core strength and briefly load the hands and wrists with your full body weight. For the Donkey Kick you will start in a quadruped position (hands under shoulders, knees under hips) with your knees hovering off the ground and toes tucked under. From there you will transfer your weight into your shoulders and hands as you push through the balls of your feet and hop your feet into the air. Try to control the descend and land as softly as you can back into the quadruped position. If you are not ready for this version, you can start with the single leg version. Basically you will start the same way, but instead of hopping with both feet at the same time you will reach one leg higher than the other and then alternate legs. This is actually a way to get into the practice of kicking up into your handstand.
- Wall Holds: To practice bearing your body weight on your hands without the fear of falling try holding a handstand against a wall. To do this start by facing the wall and place your hands down on the floor, shoulder width apart about 2-3 feet away from the wall. once you are stable in your hands, lift one leg up towards the sky and lean your weight forward over your fingertips. The grounded leg will have the job of the controlled kick up. With one leg extended, soften the grounded leg perform a gentle hop reaching the non kicking leg toward the wall. Do this until your foot and the wall meet, then bring the kicking leg up to the full handstand position. You will need to keep your legs and glutes tight during your handstand hold and squeeze them together. Keep your shoulders over your wrists and your breath naturally. Remember to actively push away from the ground to keep your shoulders in the active position. Practice kicking up until you are comfortable holding. Once you do this, practice holding for short durations, taking breaks in between to not overload the wrists. Over time with this practice you should gradually increase the time of the holds.
- Wall Walks: Wall walks are great for building the required strength for a full handstand. This is a scalable exercise, so all levels can do it. To perform the Wall Walk, face away from the wall and squat down to place your hands shoulder width apart 2-3 feet away from the wall. The closer your hands are the more vertical your body will be (aka harder). Keep your hands firmly on the ground as you raise your hips and legs up, slowing walking your feet up the wall. Make sure that you only walk up your feet up as high as you can control. Of course the ultimate goal of the wall walk is to work towards a fully extended position with proper alignment, but take your time. When you get to your highest position up the wall with your feet, try holding first for short amounts of time (3-5 seconds), and then gradually increase over time (5-10 seconds+). After the hold, slowly walk your feet back back to the starting position.
- Added tip: For all the exercises above make sure that you are keeping a tight core and use your fingertips for balance. Try a wide hand position and spread your fingertips so there is a wider base of support. Use them to grip into the floor for balance. What helps me is to think about using the finger tips as the toes on your feet.
Consistency and Practice: Remember this will take time and will require a lot of your patience to master. The good thing is that it IS possible, and there are other ways you can still be upside down before you reach your freestanding handstand. Keep planking, down-doging, wall-walking, and kicking-up until you get there. Stay consistent with your practice and have a set schedule so you can set aside time for your practice every week. Start with 5 minutes a day then increase gradually over time as your joints and muscles become accustom to the loads they are under.
There are many other exercises you can do, but these are some that have helped me in the past. Let me know how your handstand journey goes and if you try out any of my tips!