The handstand is a test of balance, coordination and upper body strength – used regularly, the handstand is a fundamental skill needed, and it needs a lot of practice too!
Lots of people new to training programmes can find it hard to get used to, the idea of throwing your body upside down didn’t appeal to me very much in the beginning either! However, once you nail your handstands, you feel a whole new level of control over your body, and in a way a deeper understanding of it, and of how we use our muscles to control ourselves in movement.
Mastering the Handstand
Getting your handstand will then mean you can move on to learning handstand push-ups and handstand walks, two exercises often used in training. To be able to do good handstands and movements from this, you need to have:
✓ Good shoulder mobility
✓ Make sure you always warm up your shoulders well: circulate them and stretch them along with your chest and back to keep you open and mobile for the best possible handstand movements.
Practising your handstands against the wall is the best way to start. But if you have a real fear of it, or you don’t have the strength to hold your weight, we have some exercises for you that will improve your upper body strength, getting you ready for the handstands and later handstand push ups, but also to get your head more used to the idea and feeling of being upside down!
Let’s begin with a bit of box work…
Box Progression work
So firstly we will talk about the box progression work. For this you will need a wooden box, or something of a similar height that is sturdy to work on. Below there are three different ways to work on your progression to the handstand and handstand push up.
Progression movement #1
This first progression move should be pretty easy for anyone to try!
✓ Have your quads on the box, legs bent, straight back, hands on the floor in line with your shoulders.
✓ Then your simply going to do push ups in this position.
✓ This will help to build up your upper body strength, but will also get you a bit more used to having your feet above your head.
Progression movement #2
Number two is simply a slightly harder version than number one.
✓ So for this one you want to bring your hands much closer to the box.
✓ This means you are in more of a vertical position, so it is even closer to the handstand push up movement.
✓ You want to work on this until you feel comfortable to be in this position, with no anxious feeling from being upside down.
Progression movement #3
The third box push up or just balance to do is the final before trying the real thing!
✓ Turn your box to the highest level it can be, this time have your knees on the box as you can see in the image.
✓ Concentrate on getting your head through and creating a vertical straight line with your back. This one will test your balance and upper body strength the most, and is the closest to the handstand.
✓ Once you are happy with this, you are ready to try your handstand against the wall.
Handstand Tips For Beginners
It is important to practice your handstands regularly when you have just learnt how to do them as to not loose the feeling. Some people do them very naturally, for others it takes a lot of determination and practice.
Top tips for progression:
1) Make sure your hands are quite widely spread (This will make it easier to hold as well as helping with push ups in the future) So aim to have them slightly further than shoulder width apart.
2) Don’t have your hands too far away from the wall. Obviously you don’t want them too close or you wont be able to kick up into your handstand properly but too far will also mean you have to go far past your balance point, which is what you want to be working on, so find a place that feel comfortable to you that allows you to easily hold your body in a straight line.
3) Before you move into your handstand, remember to engage your whole body, especially your core, so you are ready to catch yourself in a strong, controlled position.
Extra Tips for Nervous Beginners
✓ I always found at the beginning, kicking one leg further than the other made it easier to get my barings and feel more confident, so one leg would touch the wall first.
✓ Remember control, you need to kick up with energy, but this can be controlled and slow, it doesn’t have to be a fast movement.
✓ Hold and squeeze your whole body so that everything is engaged. This will make it easy to have total control of your body and to feel strong in the handstand once you are up.
✓ If you are nervous on your own, make sure you have someone to the side of you to catch your legs and help you on that last daunting bit.
✓ Spend a lot of time upside down! If you find handstands all a bit alien and odd feeling, do them everywhere you can, time yourself, for example, do a 30 second handstand hold every time you come into the gym, until kicking up onto that wall feels like the most natural thing ever.
If you are wanting to move from handstands against the wall, to free standing handstands. Work on pushing yourself slightly away from the wall and holding when you practise your handstands. You can also practice going up into your handstand slightly further from the wall, and aiming not to use it unless you loose balance and come over slightly too far.
Once you get to a point where you can find your balance point quite easily and hold your handstand for quite a while, start practising freestanding handstands, and then you can even move on to walking too!
Once you feel strong in your handstands (make sure your looking through and keeping a straight back, don’t let it dip), and you’re happy that your upper body strength is good enough, you can start working on the handstand push-up!
✓ A great way to start practising these is to use weight plates underneath your head to start practising scaled push-ups. These are great for people that don’t have enough upper body strength to do a full strict handstand push up, but can do half or ¾.
✓ So for your scaled push ups, work out where you will be practising, and put some weight plates down with something soft on top to rest your head on. You can put on and take off plates as needed, once you try one you’ll be able to work out if it was too easy or maybe too difficult. The key is to always be very controlled in these movements, and never be in a rush.
a) So to begin, once in your handstand, slowly lower your body down until your head sits comfortably on the mat, and then keeping your core tight, push up again back into the handstand.
b) Once you get strong enough to only need a very thin weight plate, you can move onto full strict handstand push-ups. Once you have these, you can choose to move on to learning to kip.
Kipping handstand push-ups
The kipping version of the handstand push up enables you to use more of your body power to push you up, rather than just your upper body, but this is a more dangerous movement as it is quicker and explosive, so it is important to practice this with the support of someone else and also only once you have built up good upper body strength and are able to do a good amount of strict handstand push ups.
To kip your push up, once you have come down and your in a headstand position, you want to slowly bring your legs down together, bending them forward until your back is flat against the wall, and legs are away as seen in the images.
✓ Once in this position, prepare your body and explosively push your legs up with all the strength you can whilst pushing up to bring your body up and back into the handstand position.
Take home message
This is a highly skilled movement; it needs a lot of careful practice!
Please take extra care when working on movements like the kipping handstand push up. Always bring your head down gently, and if you are getting tired, come away and rest before practising again!
Movements modelled by Emma Godden