If you’re reading this article, you probably fall under one of three categories:
1. You are enrolled in my Udemy handstand course and want some extra help with your handstands.
2. You’ve always wanted to learn to do a handstand, and this article piqued your curiosity.
3. You’re wondering why in the world Udemy would post an article about handstands.
Believe it or not, no matter which category you fall under, you can definitely benefit from learning more about handstands. Handstands may typically be associated with yoga or gymnastics practice, but just about anyone can learn to do a handstand with enough dedicated practice, and handstands are a fantastic way to build up incredible strength.
Of course, if you are looking to beef up your yoga or gymnastics practice, the handstand is your best friend.
Handstands may seem complicated, but they’re actually quite simple. Here are my six best tips for perfecting your handstand. Follow these and you’ll be well on your way to handstand success.
1. Don’t Neglect Core Strength
Take a look at this picture of me doing a handstand.
At first glance, it probably looks like my arms are doing the brunt of the work. After all, they’re supporting the weight of my entire body, right?
Yes and no. But mostly, no.
Even if you have the strongest arms in the world, they won’t do you much good for the handstand if your core isn’t up to speed.
What is the core exactly?
Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with an anatomy lesson, but this is important information so pay attention for a minute.
The core is generally defined as the mid-section of the body (the abdominal and back muscles), but I also like to include all the muscles connecting the torso to the upper and lower extremities (for instance, the glutes and the lats). Your hips and butt are actually a big part of the core, so when I mention “squeezing your butt,” it’s not just to get a giggle.
One of the primary functions of the core is to transmit force from the ground through the entire body to the limbs. Most of the time, that means from the feet through the entire body to the upper extremities. With the handstand, though, that means transmitting force from the hands all the way up to the feet.
When performing a handstand, it is imperative that force transmission is operating optimally. Without a strong core transmitting that force properly, you won’t be able to achieve proper balance.
Balance is a big issue with the handstand in general, in large part because the hands provide a much smaller base of support for your body than your feet do. As such, your body will have a tendency to sway forward or backward. The core, including all the muscles of the torso, need to work hard to stabilize your body and keep you from falling over.
There’s a saying that I like, “tighter is lighter.” This means that the stronger you can contract your core and keep yourself tight, the easier it is to maintain your position in all balance activities.
So what’s the best way to strengthen the core?
One of my favorite ways to work on strengthening the core is by practicing the hollow body – in hold or plank positions. The hollow body works the core muscles in a coordinated and strong way that directly improves your handstands. This is a move I go into a lot of detail about in my Udemy course but here’s a quick tutorial on the hollow body plank:
2. Face The Wall
It may not sound very sexy, but facing the wall is the best starting point for the handstand, and it’s also a great tool to keep in your back pocket even when you get to more advanced stages of hand balancing.
Working against the wall is a great way to get your body used to being upside down without the fear of falling over. When you’re just getting started, it can be pretty scary to be upside down, but the wall provides just enough support that it can assuage your fears.
It’s also ideal for perfecting your lines. I’ll talk about just what that means a little further down in this article, but there are many key points you’ll need to focus on and perfect over time. The wall is a great tool for focusing on exactly what you need to, even after you’re able to perform a freestanding handstand.
It’s important to keep going back to the basics no matter where you are in your practice. It’s what will allow you to keep getting better and better.
3. Prepare Your Wrists
Earlier, I told you that the arms are not doing all the work in a handstand, despite what it may look like.
However, the wrists are the joints that need the most TLC when preparing for a handstand because otherwise, handstands can put those suckas through a helluva beating. Since the wrists are closest to the ground, the weight of your body rests on them, and that’s a lot of force for such tiny joints!
The wrists are actually used to a lot of force – just a different kind.
The force you put on your wrists on a typical day is called a distraction force – a force that pulls the joint apart ever so slightly. For instance, whenever you hold a heavy grocery bag, you put your wrist through a distraction force.
But in a handstand, the wrist is engaged in a different kind of force, called a compression force, where the joint is pushed together more tightly. This is a perfectly healthy force to put on your wrists, but it’s one you’ll have to get your wrists used to, since it’s likely not one you engage in on a regular basis, unless you regularly practice yoga or other similar types of exercise.
Don’t neglect preparing your wrists for handstand work, because that can come back and bite you later. Take some extra time to warm-up and you’ll avoid undue pain and soreness.
If you want to make progress with your handstand, having strong, flexible wrists is going to be key.
4. Practice Often
Handstands are a learnable skill, not just an exercise you perform in reps and sets.
How does one practice any skill? Once or twice a week?
No, you practice often. Daily, if necessary.
As Pavel Tsatsouline says, you should “do as much as possible while being as fresh as possible.” Practicing in this manner will allow you to grease the groove, and teach your body the skills you want to be able to perform.
Recently, I spent a dedicated 14 weeks training exclusively for the one arm handstand (OAHS). While working toward this goal, I would perform up to 50 sets of handstand attempts to grease the groove sufficiently.
Now, I’m certainly not recommending you perform anywhere near that volume of work. I’m telling you about my OAHS practice just to give you an idea of what dedicated training looks like.
Patterns are built by practicing often. With the handstand in particular, you need to practice often to build the neural groove. Do as much as you can, but keep it fun and that will make sure you’ll put the time into your practice and develop your handstand as quickly as possible.
5. Work On Getting A Straight Handstand
When working on the handstand, getting up and staying up is not enough. Instead, you need to work on straightening out your body.
There’s a general concept in physics that, in order for something to maintain equilibrium, the center of gravity must be directly over the base of support. In most people, the body’s center of gravity is at the sacral joint. Therefore, the best way to maintain equilibrium is to get everything stacked in a straight line.
One of the most common questions we get from people is, “I can hold a handstand for a couple of seconds, but then I just fall over. How can I work on holding the handstand for longer?”
Well, the best way to work on holding a handstand longer is to straighten out that line.
Now depending on exactly what’s going on in your body, straightening out the line can mean several things: improving your flexibility, strengthening certain areas, and improving your technique.
Flexibility wise, most people have tight shoulders, upper back, and hip flexor muscles, and getting those areas stretched out can immediately help your handstand form.
Strength, through your core, your shoulder girdle and your hips, as we discussed earlier, is very important to keep that nice straight line.
Finally, small nuances in technique can change your handstand performance as soon as you learn them. Luckily I point out the most common issues right away in my Udemy course.
6. Open Up Your Shoulders
As I mentioned in the previous tip, flexibility issues can be an obstacle, and the most common issue is tight shoulders. Most people in the Western world spend the majority of their time hunched over at a desk, causing the shoulders to compress.
In the classic “computer posture,” your shoulders are rounded and your neck is craned forward. Also your chair may not be the best fit for you, so you can throw a rounded lower back into the equation, and you can see that you are almost in the complete opposite form from the straight handstand!
Daily long hours in this position makes it difficult for most people to raise their arms straight overhead.
Many people think they can straighten their arms, but what they’re really doing is overcompensating by hyper-extending the lumbar spine (arching the back), or by jutting the chin forward. These compensations cause considerable stress on the lower back and neck over time, which will mess up your handstand lines even more.
If you want to work on getting a straighter handstand line, you’ll need to work on opening up the shoulders.
Depending on your current level of shoulder limitation (and, let’s face it, almost everyone has limitations in this area), you’ll have to do specific stretching to address the shoulders. I’ve included a detailed shoulder-specific warm-up and stretching routine in my Udemy course.
Get Strong and Get Going
The handstand may seem intimidating if you’ve never attempted one, but don’t let fear hold you back. If you approach the handstand with the right progressions, paying attention to the most important elements listed above, you’ll see it’s not so scary after all.
Take the time necessary to master the handstand, and you’ll be amazed by the amount of incredible strength you build in a fairly short period of time.
Of course, handstands are just one way (a pretty great way, if you ask me) to build strength. If you’re interested in other ways to build strength, or taking your strength building to the next level, join the Posse at Gold Medal Bodies (GMB). I am the program director at GMB, so I’m a little biased, but our programs and tutorials are all geared toward building strength for your daily life. If you want to get strong, GMB can help you get there.