Handstands: for some, they feel more natural than standing on feet, and for others, they may seem foreign or even downright impossible.
As a bodyweight athlete and avid handbalancer, one of my most frequently asked questions is, “how do I get better at handstands?” (Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question, I’d be set for life!)
So without further delay, here are my top five tips for improving your handstands:
1. Strengthen your shoulders, wrists, and core
As with any static movement, there’s no shortcut for building strength. When it comes to handstands, it is essential to have strong shoulders, strong wrists, and a strong core, as your shoulders and wrists support your bodyweight while you’re upside-down, and your core keeps everything straight and in proper alignment. If your goal is to improve your strength in handstands, it’s best to focus on static exercises that require stability (think planks and hollow-body holds) as opposed to dynamic exercises such as shoulder presses or sit-ups. Here are a few of my favorite strength and stability-builders for handstands:
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I get lots of messages from people asking how to strengthen the shoulders and wrists for handstands, so if you're one of those people, here are some exercises for you: (video sped up 3x) 🔹Take a light object (a book, a water bottle, a small dumbbell) and hold it out in front of you, with elbows locked and shoulders protracted (spread your shoulder blades apart). Start at a downward angle, hold for 10 seconds, bring it up to 90 degrees, hold for 10 sec, up to 45 degrees, hold for 10 sec, then all the way up above your head (as far as your shoulders will go), hold for 10 sec, then do the same thing going back down. Keep repeating until your shoulders are on 🔥🔥🔥 I promise after a while that light object won't feel so light anymore! 🔹Bring yourself into plank, with wrists directly under your shoulders. Protract the shoulders (push through the shoulders and spread your shoulder blades apart) and then retract the shoulders (pull your shoulder blades together). Keep your elbows locked and core engaged – don't let your back arch on the retractions! Repeat x10-12 🔹Walk the plank: staying in plank and keeping elbows locked and core tight, start to walk your hands. Walk in place for a few steps, then start to walk forward. When you reach as far as you can go while still keeping your arms straight and core engaged, stop and hold for a few breaths, then walk yourself back to plank. The key is to not bend your elbows at any point! 🔹Side planks: these are great not only for your core, but also for strengthening your wrists. Make sure your wrist is directly under your shoulder and that you're keeping your body in a straight line. Hold for 5 breaths on each side. If you're struggling with weak shoulders and/or wrists, do this whole routine a few times each day and I promise you'll see improvement! 🎶 banner (acoustic) by @lights Tights are @strongliftwear ✨
2. Work on improving your shoulder mobility
Many people are surprised to find that mobility can actually be a huge limiting factor when it comes to achieving a strong and balanced handstand. No matter how much strength you have, in order to achieve proper body alignment (i.e., hips directly over shoulders, shoulders directly over wrists) in a handstand, a fair amount of overhead mobility is required. Without adequate overhead mobility, the thoracic spine is forced to arch in order to achieve hip-shoulder alignment, creating what I like to call a “bananastand.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I have extremely tight shoulders and tend to arch a bit in my handstands, but it’s something that I work on improving daily. Here are some of my go-to shoulder-openers:
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SHOULDER MOBILITY GUIDE✨ I got tons of requests to post the shoulder mobility exercises I had up on my story the other day. So without further ado, here they are! All you need for these exercises is a resistance band (I use @rubberbanditz) though you can also use a towel, shirt, yoga strap, etc. Video 1: Pass throughs – I always start with these to warm up my shoulders. Keep your hands as close as possible while keeping your arms straight. Repeat x5. Video 2: Behind-the-neck pulldown – the key here is to pull your band down and back so you feel a deep stretch in your pecs. Repeat x5 and then hold for 5 breaths at the bottom of the 5th rep. Video 3: Throw the band over your shoulder and pull down and back with your opposite hand, opening up the lat. Hold for 5 breaths. Repeat on both sides. Video 4: Overhead squat – hold the band above your head, hands slightly wider than your shoulders, then squat down keeping your body as upright as possible. Pull on the band as if you're trying to spread it apart. Hold for 5 breaths. Video 5: Hold the band behind you and stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders. Fold forward and pull the band as close to the ground as you can. You should feel a deep stretch in the pecs. Hold for 5 breaths. Repeat this entire series 3-4x and your shoulders should be feeling nice and open! Hope this helps 🤗
3. Keep your fingers bent (and press into your fingertips)
When it comes to holding a handstand, a lot of people expect to kick up and find that “sweet spot” where they can just chill and balance without even trying _ unfortunately, this is NOT the case! There is no “chilling” in a handstand; handstands are always active!
While you’re upside-down, your hands, fingers, and forearms are constantly at work to keep your body balanced. If you take a close look at a person holding a handstand, you’ll see that their fingers are slightly bent and moving as if trying to grip or squeeze the ground. This movement in the hands and fingers is the person adjusting the pressure in the fingertips in order to compensate for any shifts in the distribution of weight.
The key to balancing in a handstand is body awareness; you want to constantly be assessing which way your weight is starting to shift, then adjust the pressure in your fingertips to compensate for the shift and keep your center of mass directly over your hands. Once you develop that level of body awareness (which comes only with practice and experience), you will have unlocked the “secret” to holding a steady handstand.
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HANDSTAND GUIDE 🤸🏽♀️✨ I get SO many requests for handstand tips, so here you go! Video 1: When in a handstand, your fingers are slightly bent and your hands are always ACTIVE. So many people kick up into handstands with flat hands and expect to just balance there, then get frustrated when they can't. Look at the hands of anyone holding a handstand – you'll see that their hands are never just chillin flat on the ground, and they're constantly shifting weight. The key to balancing a handstand is body awareness; you have to be aware of which way your center of balance is starting to shift and then adjust the weight distribution in your hands to bring your center of balance back over your shoulders. The only way to develop this kind of body awareness is through experience, aka PRACTICE. Video 2: A good way to practice freestanding handstands and help develop body awareness is by practicing handstands against a wall – but with your chest facing the wall! Lots of people practice handstands with their backs to the wall, and all this does is teach very poor form. When you have your back to the wall, people tend to arch their back and lean their weight into the wall – this is not a good position for freestanding handstands. You want to start with your back to the wall, then walk up the wall until you're upside down with your chest facing the wall, position your shoulders over your wrists and hips over your shoulders, then take one foot away at a time. If you're worried about falling backward, try it in a narrow hallway. Video 3: Poor form vs. better (though not perfect) form. The first is what I like to call a "bananastand" – back arched, core not engaged, looks like a 🍌 The second is much better – core engaging, hips tucking under, pushing through the shoulders, body in a vertical line. Because my shoulders are very tight, my back does arch slightly to allow me to align my hips over my shoulders. However, arching of the back should be minimized as much as possible. Hope this helps!!! Happy handstanding 🙃
4. Try different variations
If balancing in a straight up-and-down handstand is a challenge for you, try experimenting with different handstand variations. Many people find that leg positions such as stag (one leg bent in front and one leg bent behind) or straddle (both legs straight and out to the sides) are much easier to hold than a straight, vertical handstand position. Think about it like this: when you’re struggling to keep your balance on one foot, you put your arms out to the sides to spread your mass over a greater area. The same idea applies to handstands; when your mass is spread out as opposed to concentrated directly above your hands, it becomes much easier to maintain balance. And once you master some different positions, try linking them together into a flow—this will REALLY challenge and improve your balance!
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I think I win the award for world's least flexible handbalancer 🙋🏽🏆🤸🏽♀️ Anywho I attempted this flow literally 20 times and got so frustrated but refused to leave the gym until I got it. And alas, it happened 🙌🏼 Don't give up fam. Pants: @pimovementninja . . . . . #calisthenics #calisthenic #calisthenicsmovement #calisthenicsevolution #calisthenicsgirls #calisthenicsvideos #streetworkout #fitchicks #fitgirls #stronggirls #strongwomen #girlswholift #fitness #bodyweight #bodyweighttraining #gymnast #gymnastics #fitnessvideos #workout #training #ninja #handstand #handbalance #handbalancing #handstand365 #handstandeveryday
5. Use ankle weights
If you’ve already got a decent handstand and want to take it to the next level, strap on a pair of ankle weights. Whether you want to enhance your strength, balance, flexibility, or any combination of the three, using ankle weights for training handstands is extremely effective.
The added weight will do wonders for strengthening your wrists, shoulders, and core, as well as improving your sense of body awareness and flexibility in split and backbend positions. Start with very light ankle weights (even if only a pound or two on each ankle), and increase the load as you develop greater strength and stability. The best part about training weighted handstands is that when you take the ankle weights off and do a handstand, you’ll feel practically weightless!
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Weighted handstands 🤸🏽♀️ Lately I've been practicing handstands with ankle weights to a) strengthen my wrists, forearms, shoulders, and core, b) improve my balance and body awareness, and c) improve my flexibility. I'd definitely recommend it if you're looking to strengthen your handstands 👍🏽 Plus, when you take the weights off, you feel light as a feather 🤗 *The weights I'm using are 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) each* Bra @lornajaneactive Pants @balinisports 🎶 @iamhalsey . . . . . #calisthenics #calisthenic #calisthenicsmovement #calisthenicsevolution #calisthenicsgirls #calisthenicsvideos #streetworkout #fitchicks #fitgirls #stronggirls #strongwomen #girlswholift #fitness #bodyweight #bodyweighttraining #gymnast #gymnastics #fitnessvideos #workout #training #ninja #handstand #handbalance #handbalancing #handstand365 #handstandeveryday
Now that you’ve got my top 5 tips for improving your handstands, go get inverted!