So you ask yourself how you can do a handstand, rookie? Or you just got a little curious about this cool-looking skill? Anyways, it’s nice to have you on board! Let me say, it will be a hell of a ride and blow your expectations!:
- The handstand will frustrate you to the deepest and give you the greatest joy – all packed within a few seconds.
- I don’t know what it is, but this simple move changed my life for the good and despite its difficulties is very rewarding.
- I hope you will experience the same!
The way until one can hold a handstand, even for a few seconds, can be a bumpy ride – even if you do everything ‘right’ or are accompanied by an experienced guide. And mostly no one starts this way – everyone starts by simply throwing oneself up for some minutes a day without much plan.
That’s the issue this post shall address – to guide you on that journey and give everyone the opportunity to get started, backed up by a plan. As always, it will be a long post – feel free to jump to the sections that interest you and check out the linked sources, if you wanna dive even deeper into this vast upside-down world!
Plus, as today is the 23.12.2020 I wish anyone a great festive season – take this #longasspost as a small present upfront to get in the mood. 🙂
Why should I learn the Handstand in the First Place?
Assuming that no one forced you onto my site1, you searched for something handstand-related and stumbled upon this post. I guess you wanna know how to do a handstand for some reason.
This could be to practice the skill itself or learn it for a given sport.
Handstands are widely used in many disciplines:
- In Calisthenics, handstands are an entry place to advanced strength moves, such as Planches, Presses or HSPUs
- Many acrobatic skills, breakdancing moves, and gymnastics sequences use a handstand as an important transition, think of handsprings or freezes
- Yogis also utilize many inversions like headstands, elbowstands, and all these crazy armblance poses
- Or you simply wanna learn one itself, because they look badass!
All of these reasons are legit and your path will look more or less the same until a certain point. Fortunately, handstands are neither difficult nor require huge amounts of strength. What is crucial is true dedication and the will to build up your individual practice.
That said – anyone can learn how to do a handstand!
Besides the utility as a foundation for other moves, handstands also offer a wide range of other benefits:
- Standing on your hands forces your perception to work on a whole ‘nother level
- By training handstands, you will build jacked forearms, resilient hands, strong traps, a solid core, and much active flexibility
- Because handstand training is literally doing the same drills over-and-over, for an increasingly long timeframe on diminishing returns – it is very meditative
- As a highly symmetric activity handstands might influence how your brain works2 – likewise juggling3
- They’re highly addictive – if you’re on the lookout to swap your till-now trusted compulsive complex for something new maybe handstands might be THE thing for you, too.
Alright, now that the why is clear – let’s have a look down the abyss most struggle when learning how to do a handstands
The Crucial Parts of the Handstand
What keeps you Upside Down: The Push
This is by far the most important part when it comes to holding a handstand:
The Push refers to the elevation of your scapula and its ability to stay in this position.
While this sounds very simple – finding the feeling of what the right amount of push is supposed to feel like is a tough one. It took me around 9 months to get a feeling for the Goldilocks Push:
- One issue is too stiff shoulders – this is the most common one. These people don’t have sufficient active flexibility to get their shoulders overhead in an optimal position. Don’t get me wrong – you can still handstand this way if you push hard, but it will end in a banana shape. Another cause can be a lack of control.
- The other side of the medal is too open shoulders – I struggled with this one. By opening them too much you chill out in your end range and your passive structures. This makes feeling the push harder, takes stress off your muscles, and won’t get you far.
- Further down the road, you could push too much until your neck feels like cramping – this is neither what you want.
- If you push too little the whole structure tends to get unstable.
Push is a complicated topic – as handstands are as a whole. But shortly – it’s about finding the right amount of push and getting this sensation habitual. Neither too open nor too closed, neither too much nor too little, but the Goldilocks Push.
Don’t be a Wobbly Mess: Create Tension
Most think a strong, tight core is necessary to handstand. While whole-body tension will make the job easier, it isn’t necessary.
- Think of it like standing on your feet – do you need to tense your core tightly to not kiss the floor? I hope not.
Nonetheless, light tension throughout the entire body will make the whole construction more stable and takes a few variables out of the total handstand equation.
To do this I would establish a checklist each time you go upside down. GO from top-to-bottom4 and check these:
- Lockout your elbows
- Squeeze your glutes lightly to tilt your pelvis posteriorly
- Squeeze both of your legs together
- Lock your knees
- Point your toes
Sounds much to remember, while trying not to fall over, isn’t it? Welcome to handstands! No worries, this will take time but eventually get unconscious and you can stuff the new mental space with new variables creating chaos.
Alignment Matters – to a Degree
Your alignment refers to the stacking of each joint upon one another. As previously said your Push determines your alignment to a big degree. Alignment isn’t super important, nonetheless, it makes the job of staying upside down easier.
- Don’t get me wrong – it is totally possible to hold a banana handstand, but biomechanically the straight line is the easiest to hold.
- In that shape, your joints are stacked the best way possible on top of each other.
- On the other hand – the one thing necessary to hold a handstand is that your center of mass stays on top of your shoulders and hands.
Therefore, try to learn what the optimal alignment should feel like, right from the beginning – but there is no need to overdo it with bodyline drills.
Hands = Feet
In a handstand, you wanna use your hands exactly like your feet. What you do is trying to replicate the process of learning to stand on your feet.
Try it out when standing upright:
- Lean slightly forward with your whole body – what your body will unconsciously and inevitably do, to avoid falling onto your nose, is to push the toes into the floor. While in this position observe where you feel your weight in your feet – at your toes, isn’t it?
- Now push your toes into the floor – what happens is that you come back to normal.
- Next, lean slightly back – you should feel how the weight transfers from your toes to your heels. What now happens is a bit more obscure. As you lean backward you tense your core, squeeze your glutes and push your legs harder into the floor, to not fall onto your butt. You might even use your arms or flex your hips.
And guess what – exactly the same happens in a handstand!
You simply need to learn how to stand anew – solely upside down. It’s nearly the same process, although one might argue that learning as a child and as an adult happens differently.
Overbalance and Underblance
In a handstand, weight placement is very important. It should be roughly in the middle of your hands.5
- If your weight goes forward, all you need to do is to push your finger into the floor. This feeling is called overbalance.
- If on the other hand, your weight goes to the heel of your hand things get more difficult. This is called underbalance and as you witnessed there are tons of possibilities to fight underbalance.
- For more things handstands and very in-depth discussions, from two exceptionally great teachers, I can recommend the Handstand Factory Podcast – creatively named Handstandcast. Emmet Louis LINK and Mikael Kristiansen talk about technique a lot and give the proper Handstandnerd lots of insights.
- Another great source tangling the handstand apart into its pieces is the YouTube series Pillars of Handstand by How to Handstand. They split up the handstand into 7 essential pillars and describe each of them in detail.
- For more on body tension check out my hollow body post – this position is what will teach you the proper stacking of joints onto each other.
- If too closed or too open shoulders are an issue of yours check out my long-*** mobility post or my mobility program.
How should I start to train Handstands?
Build basic Strength and Resilience
Handstands don’t need that much strength. But a solid strength foundation will make learning this move much easier.
Most important you will accustomize your wrists to bear load and tolerate it. This process can take some time and most people will inevitably suffer wrist pain at some point of their training – expect you are a blacksmith or plumber and got wrists made of steel.
Strength is the most important factor that keeps injuries at bay – not only related to wrists – the saying by Adam Meakins ‘nothing wrong with getting strong’ is very true!
Beyond that, a little experience with strength training will help you to feel your body and get into it better. That’s why I would advise anyone without experience with strength training to do a basic strength program alongside first handstand experiments.
Learn how to bail and fall
One big hurdle at the beginning of learning a handstand is the fear of falling. Interestingly – later on, it will vanish completely and each fall will happen reflexively. Bail.exe gets loaded safely each time you lose balance.
To manage this fear successfully, one has to learn how to fall. If falling isn’t provoking any fear anymore, your head is clear for the other tons of stuff.
That’s why before thinking of free handstands and belly-to-wall exercises I would advise anyone to learn how to fall safely at first.
- To do so you must first learn a basic cartwheel
- If you can do this acceptably, kickup6 and cartwheel out immediately. Do this preferably on grass.
- Alternatively, you can perform a wall walk into a belly-to-wall handstand and cartwheel out. Practice this preferably on both sides to get a feeling which feels more natural to you.
If you can do that I wouldn’t practice falling as such any further for now – making falling a practice can lead to you falling too early out of your handstands and bailing too early unconsciously.
Although this process is the scariest, the hardest point is the convincing and commiting to the bailing attempt.At first it will take commitment and courage. Spoier: You will fall onto your *** – but by doing so you will feel that it’s not that bad7 Nonetheless, later on it will get second thought.
- More a recommended watch – Yuri Marmerstein did a great tutorial on all the kinds of different bails – I highly advise anyone to watch it.
The best Exercises to learn the Handstand
- To learn how to bail safely is the first big achievement on the way to a handstand – congrats to that!
- The second one in line is to learn how to balance.
- The third and final one will be the free kickup. With these three at hand, you will be able to practice everything you need to stay on your hands at the beginning.
The following exercises are ordered roughly for their best uses. Below that you will find three sample routines to help you achieve each step successfully!
- Hollow Body Hold
This basic position is great as a warmup and to get a feeling of what the alignment in the handstand should roughly feel like.
- Belly-to-Wall Handstand
Get used to being close to the wall. Really, dude. The wall is an awesome tool for many reasons! It teaches one the right alignment, one can safely experiment how the push is supposed to feel like, and they’re great for conditioning.
The cartwheel will be the basic exit of every failed handstand. They’re also a fun move on their own and offer plenty of variation and challenge.8
- Belly-to-Wall Bails
Practice them until you can land 5/5 that way. After that, Bails get pretty useless as practice on their own.
- Belly-to-Wall Scissors
Up until now, the wall should be your best friend. I presume at this point you spent more time with the wall, as with your spouse. BTW-Scissors are a great exercise to spent quality time in balance and learn how to do it. I would aim for reliable 5-10s holds on each rep.
- Heel Pulls
These will strengthen your fingers to fight overbalance. Remember, from falling forward. They’re a great conditioning tool.
- The Kickup Grind
You will presumably do 10.000’s of them. I’m still stuck at this mastering phase. I found it useful to practice them with your back to wall for feedback, as very well explained by Tom Merrick in this video. Later on you can of course go for free ones.
- BTW – Tom Merrick did with the Handbalancer Ulrik Ask Fossum a great tutorial on the Chest-to-Wall Handstand.
- Cartwheel – Besides the great tutorial by GMB, Yuri Marmerstein did a great video on how to use cartwheels as cool entries into the wall handstand.
- To get another great view on the difficult topic of bailing you can have a look at GMBs and Tom Merricks Video
- Kickups – Sid Paulson did a great video showing 2 awesome exercises to develop your pickup. At Instagram Mikeal Kristiansen did 3 great tutorials on them.
The Handstand Routines
Step I – Learning How to Bail
- Cartwheel (~10min)
Set a timeframe (e.g. ~10min) and practice quality repetitions.
- Wall Bails (10-20r total)
Once familiar with the Cartwheel try these for a total amount of 10-20 reps. Walk with your belly facing the wall into a handstand – best spotted and aided by a partner. From here cartwheel out of the wall handstand on both sides. You will quickly notice which side is yours.
- BTW Holds (5-10×15-30s)
Hold the wall handstand for time. It is an awesome position to feel how the push is supposed to feel like, to condition your wrists, to feel the alignment, and simply acustomizing oneself to being upside down. When your bail is not secure leave some energy in the tank to walk down each time – later on, you can really push yourself and cartwheel out when everything is shaking.
Step II – Learning how to Balance
- BTW Scissors (30r total)
A great drill that enables you to spend quality time in balance and teaches you how to balance the handstand form your hands
- Heel Pulls (30r total)
Hell Pulls will strengthen your fingers and build your capacity to fight overbalance. It is important that the only active part in this exercise are your fingers – you solely pull backward by pushing your fingers into the floor.
- Wall Walks (2x5r)
Wall Walks will condition your core and wrists further. try to hold each rep at the top for ~5s in a beautiful BTW-HS
- BTW Holds (2×20-60s)
Your pause should be the same time as the set. This now gets a conditioning and endurance finisher.
Step III – Building a solid Kickup
- Kickup (50r total)
Practice the kickup first against a wall and use the wall as a feedback mechanism. Your heel should slightly touch it. Move further and further away, until you can ditch the wall to practice the kickup freely.
- BTW Scissors (20r total)
Same as before – spend as much time as possible in balance and further develop your capacities.
- BTW Holds (3×30-60s)
Really push yourself and try to hold them as long as possible with a 1:1 rest to stress ratio.
- The Program which guided me through the learning process and covers handstand much more in detail than this ‘little’ post is the Push Program by Handstand Factory. I absolutely love it and would advise anyone interested in handstands to check it out – at least.
- Coach Bachmann does a great job and seems to be quite a workaholic judging his frequency and quality of his awesome Instagram content. Check him out for great workouts and tips on handstands, as well as flexibility.
- I would advise anyone to watch Emmet Louis’ video on the anatomy of a handstand. Great explanation!
- The Little Handbalancing Book* by Niccolo Kehrwald covers everything from learning the Free Handstand, over the Press, to the One-Arm, and gives great advice on every position, as well as sample routines for each stage.
- So many great sources – where to look at first?
Troubleshooting your Handstand
Does your handstand look this way?! You must be the worst scum, named a human being walking earth. Even Stalin could be named a saint in your presence. I hope you got my exaggerated sarcasm.
A banana is nothing bad. One can balance quite well in that shape especially as a generally strong calisthenics dude – look at the old strongman. Nowadays the straight line is simply the most aesthetic form to stay on one’s hands.9
Most people think the banana happens for a lack of core activation. But quite opposite happens – the fixpoint of the banana lies within your scapular’s upward push. To fix a banana one simply needs to open the shoulders more. This will straighten the line automatically.
That’s why the banana happens most of the time when one lacks overhead flexion and his maximum range is less than 180° of shoulder flexion. Addressing your passive as well as active shoulder flexibility will fix our banana quickly!
- If you want to learn more about mobility and its relation to flexibility read my post about it. To go even further down that rabbit hole read Thomas Kurz’ Stretching Scientifically*.
- To get more flexible have a look at my program Basic Mobility. It will teach you the very foundations to move efficiently.
Wrist Pain suck and I will be honest with you – you will get it. Not one time, but many times. That’s why a saying is that handbalance is pain.
Nonetheless, we have to differentiate into different kinds of pain. While some pains are unavoidable, others should be addressed and not ignored. Some could even relate to injuries – commonly these are your passive structures getting too much of a beating. To avoid wrist pain I would advise anyone to start handstands with a solid strength foundation. This will ensure that your wrists will know at least some load – by doing pushups and co.
Besides that, a thorough warmup EVERY time you go upside down – even just for showing-off-purposes or Instagram photos– will keep injuries at bay.
- To read more about wrist pain check out my post and this one by GMB. They do a great job, too! I talk a lot about the different kinds and how to assess your own pain. GMB goes more into the exercise part of this issue.
Falling over endlessly
Hitting a handstand on rep one would be too easy, isn’t it?
I think there are few practices more frustrating than handbalance. One feels most of the time like Sysiphos, with the little difference that one levels up his stone – from fear-mastering, to successful balances, to free stans. Moreover, if you know one activity that is worse on the frustration scale – tell me down below which one – I am very interested to hear that!
The hardest part is to learn how to balance a two-arm – after that training will become a bit more progressively. But before that progress comes asymmetrically and just when your workout fits the handstand god’s mood on that given day:
- One day when you feel completely trashed and have absolutely no motivation to workout, but out of the blue, your session is the best in two months.
- Another day, when you are full of joy to train, the sun’s out, you got plenty of time, you train outside, have a cup of coffee beforehand whitened with the purest cocaine, after sleeping 14+ hours, nothing falls in place. You can’t even stick one balance and what you normally call your basics fails horribly.
That’s why I like to see handbalancing as meditation in movement. You show up every day, no matter what, without expectations, and do your drills. That’s it. Fucking Zen at its finest.
Beyond that, when you find yourself falling over the whole session – take it to the wall. It’s your friend! Have some successes even on bad days and work on easier stuff:
- If free balances are out that day – what is with strength, endurance or wall balances?
- If you feel weak as heck maybe doing mobility or simply practicing a few kickups might work.
Where to go next?
The Shapes Path
After one can hold a solid free handstand the next logical step would be to further clean up that technique and learn different shapes – if one wants to stay on this path.
There are many shapes – like the tuck, pike and straddle – plus the transitions between each of them. You can further add or remove tempo from these transitions or even develop your own subtle style.
This is where freedom on hands, creativity, and fun go hand in hand.
The Press Path
Until now we ground the kickup really hard – a move that utilizes momentum to get us upside down. One path could be to remove this momentum to get upside down with full control.
This is where all the press variations – like tuck, straddle, pike, puppy, bent-arm – and so on come to play. You could even develop them further and press from an l-sit or straddle-sit up into a handstand.
The Strength Path
Handstands don’t need that much brute strength beyond a certain point. But there are many positions that use the basic handstand and demand superhuman strength.
Think all the calisthenics moves such as the HSPU, the Stalder Press, a 90°-Pushup, or the Planche. A handstand sets the base for each of them, and they all can be a goal of yours after a reliable free handstand is in your bag.
- Great Sources on Handstands are Yuri Marmerstein, Emmet Louis, Mikeal Kristiansen, Tom Merrick, and Ulrik Ask Fossum. Check these guys out, if you wanna delve further down the rabbit hole. #redpill
- There are lots of more great teachers – but naming them all right here Google would definitely think I want to spam links down here.
- Handbalancing is a beautiful practice taking strength, control, flexibility, and a strong mind all in one great practice.
- If that’s the case – Props to the guy who did that!
- As a note – that is wholly based on my observations and a few studies I read
- or bottom-to-top if you are feeling rebellious
- In the beginning, placing it more forward towards the fingers might be easier, although this technique is draining and hard on the muscles. Later on, one might find that placing the weight more backwards towards the heel of the hand might take stress off the fingers
- Assuming you somehow know how to get your feet in a kickup-like manner up in the air
- If done on gr*** and not plain hard-*** concrete.
- Looking at you Side Aerial!
- And yes, it is biomechanically better to hold to a degree.