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:
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:
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.
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!
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!
Now that you’ve got my top 5 tips for improving your handstands, go get inverted!