It’s important to know what you want from your handstand journey. The majority of us aren’t gymnasts or professional hand-balancers so we don’t have to have a perfect handstand (whatever that is). I say this because with social media we can often feel disheartened because we are exposed to the very best, whose job it is to have a certain handstand. But for the regular person, there is no competition and no judges, you are only training for you.
This article is for people who want to improve their kick up consistency (being able to kick up into a handstand and hold it most of the time) because I know from personal experience it’s frustrating to waste energy constantly falling and not actually holding a handstand. Be comfortable on your hands so you can do cool moves such as press to handstand, handstand push ups, walking and more.
Handstand Motivation Video click here
I call this a journey because it is! You can have the best training one day then the next day nothing goes right. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, there will still be bad days, you just get better at reading your body and adjusting.
Weak Wrists, No Handstand
I’ve experienced during my personal training career that the majority of people have weak wrists. Don't be discouraged by this but you must accept where you are. We live in a beautiful society but it has its disadvantages, one of them is we never use our wrists. We don’t hang, crawl or apply any real pressure on them (typing on the laptop doesn't count). Remember the body is efficient “use it or lose it”, this goes for physical, technical and mental skills.
When I used to teach big classes I quickly realised if I had 2, 3 exercises that involved a little pressure on the wrist, the groans I heard weren’t from physical exertion but wrist pain. When you start training your wrist it only takes a few weeks to see improvements. So how do you strengthen the wrists? Build habits in your daily life, because just doing 1 or 2 days is not enough, even if it's for an hour.
It takes 5-15 minutes out of your day (daily) to get the best results or spread it throughout the day by building cues (reminders). For example, every time before you eat, after a shower do 1 set, or set a timer, just make it convenient for yourself by incorporating it into your life. The majority of the day is spent doing habits we’ve built. If it's not a habit then it takes too much energy and willpower (both run out) to do.
Follow along wrist Routine Video
What if you don’t get wrist pain? Wrist work is still needed. You have to realise that the handstand is not a natural position. Your ankles are designed to support your full weight and gravity but our little wrists aren’t. That’s why strengthening the wrists, fingers and forearms is important, and also the elbows and shoulders. Progress in handstands and calisthenics is determined by how strong your joints and tendons become because these small areas have to be able to withstand the load and force passing through them. So before you go upside down spend a week or 2 just getting the joints ready. When you do get into handstands against the wall there is bound to be some discomfort in the wrists (they will get stronger and adjust) but it shouldn't be painful.
Babies Do It Every Day
There’s no perfect handstand program but you’ll hear athletes/ coaches saying their way is the best, and neither am I saying my way is the only way. I’m sharing how I’ve taught myself and clients how to balance on their hands. Everyone is different and we all learn differently, that’s what makes the world go round. There are 2 components that will make the difference regardless of what program or training style you apply.
The first one is consistency, we hear this word all the time because without it there is no success. It doesn't matter how great your training session might have been, training something once a week will do nothing! You will not build the neural adaptation and spatial awareness to master the handstand. When babies are learning how to walk/ stand, they do it every day. They have the desire and curiosity to step into the unknown, learn and adapt. That’s the kind of mindset you need to have.
You don’t have to spend hours every day but make it a habit of being upside down. Those pockets of time when you’re bored or doing menial tasks, practise your handstand instead, 5 minutes is all you need, heck 1 set on a daily basis will do the job. This is In addition to 2-3 training sessions (about 1 hour) a week where you practise various drills and weak areas.
The second component is the actual time you spend balancing on your hands. Failing to kick up and hold the handstand (this can be a part of your training but please not the whole hour) teaches you very little, you need to get the most out of your training. You actually want to feel what it's like to have the weight on your hands, shifting your centre of mass and how your hands are constantly making small adjustments. Do exercises on the wall or close to the wall and that way if you fall, you have support.
Some people can only hold a handstand in one particular position because their area of influence is small. If the legs go too much one way they fall, if the shoulders are stiff they fall, if the core breaks they fall. This could be that they’ve never actually spent time increasing their area of influence. How can you adjust if you don't know what position your body is in? Spend some time in a banana handstand (arched back), in a pike (glutes too tight), hands uneven? When you know what not to do then you can correct it. When I was learning the handstand I was obsessed with being in a straight line, otherwise, it didn’t count. I would abort the handstand if I knew I wasn't straight. This resulted in me, not actually being able to navigate or adjust while being on my hands, my kick ups were poor and I didn't understand what was going on. Then I started focusing on my hands, shoulders and hips. I would kick up and whatever position my body was in I would try and hold it. Babies will try all different things, spending 10 seconds(s) here then falling, another 10s there and falling. That's similar to a handstand journey, spend 10s freestanding, another 30s doing a drill on the wall. Gather those valuable seconds on your hands by doing them frequently and you will progress.
Don’t overcomplicate it, be consistent and actually spend time on your hands. Here's a training template you can work off and adapt. Choose exercises to focus on the areas I've outlined. Most of the exercises you will do as a superset. A superset is when you perform one set of an exercise (B1) and then immediately switch to another exercise (B2). You can rest when you have completed the set.
Practice different variations, lead with left or right foot, start from the ground or standing, with the wall or without, tuck kick up, etc. Do 4 sets of 6-10 reps
Balance Choose an exercise you can do with the wall or close to the wall or variations such as crow, frogstand and headstand. Don’t worry too much about time/ reps just spend 30-90s balancing as much as you can! Do 3 sets.
Dynamic or Static Stretch
Target the thoracic spine, shoulders, wrists or hamstrings.
Dynamic or Static Stretch
Endurance Choose an exercise to do against the wall to build up your shoulder endurance, 3 sets of 30-60s or 8-20 reps.
Choose an exercise to focus on a posterior pelvic tilt (flat lower back), aim for 30-60s or 8-20 reps.
Handstand Attempts Practice without the wall or close to it for support. Don’t overthink it, let your body guide you.
Dynamic or Static Stretch
handstand session template
Training sessions can be structured like this (change the exercises you do every 4-8 weeks) or they can be irregular (focused play). Doing stretches during your session is good to loosen the muscles and calm your breathing. The more relaxed you are the better your handstands will be. You can find a beginner handstand program here “Handstand 0-60”.
Flexibility and handstands go hand in hand because being able to stack your feet, hips and shoulders on top of your hands help to make handstands less draining (you can hold them for longer). Without shoulder flexibility (+180° overhead straight arm raise or backbend) your wrists and forearms will take most of the load. These areas fatigue quickly under your weight so it is much better to let the shoulder take most of the load, just like your hips do for your lower body. Without hamstring flexibility (eg forward fold or pancake stretch) you will be unable to slowly control your kick up and you will find it hard to have your legs straight in a handstand. You can train your flexibility together or separately from your handstands.
There’s no perfect handstand just have the desire and curiosity to step into the unknown, learn and adapt. Spend 5 minutes a day on your hands and train 2-3 times a week working on drills to improve your balance, endurance and kick up consistency. You can always improve your alignment along the way. Take care of your joints because they will determine how far you can advance.
For a beginner, interactive handstand program click here