Learning To Handstand
Learning how to handstand is usually on the top of most beginners list of skills that they want to learn.
The skill(s) you choose to learn first is entirely optional and everyone will want to learn different skills, learning how to handstand first has many benefits to calisthenics training.
Learning how to handstand is important for bodyweight training because several advanced skills rely on being able to hold a solid handstand.
The handstand also helps develop vital strength in the shoulders and wrists that can be used to start training for the more advanced bodyweight/callisthenics skills like the planche.
When learning any new skill like the handstand people will ask, how long will it take to be able to handstand?, this is a hard question to answer as everybody is different, your beginning level of strength/fitness and dedication to practising the handstand will all have an impact on how fast you will be able to handstand.
Typically after a few months, you will be able to hold a handstand for a few seconds unassisted and then further practising will be required to work on form and hold time.
You will have days where you will struggle to hold a handstand with good form and the achieve the same hold time as the previous day, don’t worry this doesn’t mean you can’t handstand, it could be down to a number of reasons, for example, focus, fatigue or even rushing the movement.
This even happens to the advanced calisthenics athletes as well!
If this happens to you try and not get frustrated with yourself, practising against the wall for the day could highlight what the issue is.
For example, if you’re struggling to hold a solid handstand against the wall and this wouldn’t usually be an issue, this could mean you’ve over trained your shoulders.
Warming up is really important to get the most out of your training and help avoid injuries, an example warm up is outlined below:
Please note the following times for the triceps, arm circles and wrist stretch:
- Arm circles should take 30 seconds each direction
- Tricep stretch should take between 20-30 seconds on each arm
- The wrist stretch should be performed for 20 seconds each side and the wrist rolls should take 20 seconds each direction followed by a 10-second stretch on each side of the hand
Chest Stretch- 30 seconds
Jump Squats – 15-20 reps
How To Start Your Handstand Training
There are many different ways to go about learning how to handstand and you will find hundreds on YouTube, neither way is wrong its what works for you, I will be outlining what has worked for me and the people that I train with.
It’s important to highlight before we go into the exercises that you should always think about safety when training handstands, make sure you have enough room around you if you need to bail out of the handstand. Most adults that haven’t trained handstands before will probably notice upon trying the handstand for the first time that they have a fear of falling over, if you do experience this you can always put a pillow on the floor where your head would be if you happened to fall over.
Tips Before Starting Your Handstand Journey
- Always warm up before training
- Always warm down after training
- Push your hands into the ground
- Keep your arms straight, bending the arms makes the handstand a lot harder
- Try and keep the kick up as controlled as possible (aim to slow this down over time)
- Focus a point around 4-5 inches in front of your hands and focus on this point ( play around with what works best for you)
- When trying to handstand away from the wall if you start walking forward stop and come down (hard habit to get out of once it’s there)
Building Shoulder Strength And Endurance
Shoulder strength and endurance are vital when learning how to handstand, this will allow you to master the handstand and achieve a 30+ seconds handstand hold.
To build endurance the aim would be 3 sets of 30 seconds handstand holds against the wall.
When you start performing handstands against the wall don’t worry too much about perfect alignment as that comes with practice, once you become more comfortable with the movement this is when you should start focusing on perfect alignment.
This is how most people will look when they first start their handstand training, this form is fine at the beginning as it’s important to start feeling comfortable being upside down.
The back is arched because the hands are quite far away from the wall and there is a lack of shoulder flexibility, the closer to the wall your hands are the harder is it to balance, once this position feels comfortable slowly start moving your hands closer to the wall.
When you feel ready to start looking at body positioning you can add a few simple things into the same drill, for example, look through your arms and point your toes.
Pointing the toes probably doesn’t sound that important but it makes the chain of tension complete which will help you once you’re ready to come away from the wall, pointing the toes also makes the handstand look more aesthetically pleasing.
Once you feel comfortable performing the handstand hold with your hands further away from the wall try bringing your hands a closer towards the wall to make this drill more effective, you will see by this video that the line is a lot straighter and there is a lot less arch in the back.
For better form we want to look through our arms and try and get the lower back to touch the wall, if you can’t achieve this then you may need to work on shoulder flexibility.
Pike Press Up
Pike press ups are awesome for building strong shoulders and triceps, you can do the pike press ups off anything including a sofa, bench or a box.
The strength gained from the pike push ups will help with the handstand and further progressions like frog stand to handstand.
You need to make sure that you are pressing straight down and return up at the same angle. You can adjust the intensity by performing the pike push ups off a lower or higher platform.
A good benchmark for this is 3 sets of between 8-10 reps.
The frog stand is really important to master as it builds strength and coordination for the handstand and allows you to experience the feeling of adjusting your balance point without being upside down.
A lot of people have a fear of falling forward and landing on their head as you are required to lean forward, if you do feel like you can place a pillow on the floor in front of you.
Once in the frog position it’s important to know that there is a “high” and “low” frog position, you should try both and see what’s more comfortable for you (see below).
You want to make sure that you are leaning forwards enough to bring your feet off the floor, try not to raise the feet yourself rather use the forward lean to raise the feet off the ground.
Using your hands to correct the balance point is vital and will be exactly the same while performing the handstand.
Your hands shouldn’t be flat to the ground, you should be gripping the ground instead, gripping the ground enables you to correct the balance point, this is sometimes referred to as pulsing the hands.
Correcting Balance – With your hands gripping the floor if you find yourself falling forward you want to shift the weight to the base of the hand.
If you find yourself falling back you want to do the opposite and grip your fingers into the ground to bring yourself back into the handstand position.
Low Frog – Knees on the side of elbows
High Frog – Knees higher up the arm, hips higher
Remove one leg or both to make the frog stand harder – by removing one leg and straightening it this increases the difficulty of the exercise which will improve strength and more importantly your balance.
By removing a leg(or both) this you will help you learn how to shift your weight correctly, this exercise will also teach you how to adjust the balance point correctly as you will need to use correct grip to maintain your balance.
One Leg Frog
Frog Both legs Off
Handstand Wall Hold With Chest Facing The Wall
This is my favourite handstand drill which will help you learn to handstand a lot quicker, when performing this drill it’s really important to think about what’s around you as may have to bail out of the handstand if you lose balance.
Start with your hands quite far away from the wall and work your hands closer to the wall as you feel comfortable, you will find the closer you get to the wall the faster you will get to the balance point.
Once you are at the balance point you will want to take this opportunity to play around with pulsing of the hands (spoken about above) and really get used to playing around with the balance point.
Take one leg off the wall at a time, spend some time in this position to get used to this feeling, once you can do each leg for around 15-20 seconds you should be ready to bring both feet away from the wall.
When bringing both feet away from the wall you want to do this slowly and controlled, take this exercise really slowly and build up over time as it will help massively when you start performing handstands away from the wall.
Slow and controlled movements will hopefully help you avoid any unnecessary injuries.
Am I Ready To Start Performing Handstands Away From The Wall?
Good question, if you have followed the exercises above and have achieved the holds and reps stated then you should be fine to start performing handstands away from the wall, to quickly recap the exercises and reps:
- Handstand wall holds (back against the wall) 3 X 30 seconds holds
- Handstand wall holds, hands closer to the wall (back against the wall) 3 X 30 seconds holds
- Pike Push-ups – 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Handstand wall holds (chest against the wall) 3 X 15-20 seconds holds on each leg
- Handstand wall holds (chest against the wall) 3 X 15-20 seconds holds with both legs away from the wall
If you happen to be close to these times but not spot on then it will be fine to add the next steps into your normal handstand training.
There are many ways to kick up into a handstand so you will need to try as many different kick-ups and see what works best for you.
Some are harder than others, for example, the tuck handstand and straddle.
One Leg Followed By The Other (This is the kickup i use)
Kneeling On The Ground
Racing Start Position
Tuck – Advanced Kickup
Whichever kick up you find the most comfortable focus on using that from now on even when working on the wall.
Once you have the strength and balance mastered you can alter how you kick up into the handstand.
Find some space and practise slowly easing into the handstand, don’t actively aim to get into the handstand position, if it happens it happens but this drill helps you get used to controlling the kick up and you will find within the reps you do some will be too hard and some too soft.
Now you have a good understanding of whats to hard and too soft you should be getting into the top position of the handstand (not holding at this stage) 4-5/10 attempts, this seems really low but this is the reality of learning how to handstand, the aim is to improve on this over time and get to 10/10 attempts.
Holding The Handstand
When it comes to holding the handstand this will take time but at this stage a few seconds should be possible, remember to make sure that you are keeping your arms straight at all times and that you are driving your hands into the ground and pointing your toes, this will ensure a strong line of tension through the body.
If you have a training partner then you can kick up and have them catch your legs and slowly release their grip of your legs allowing you to experience the balance point of the handstand
Make sure that you still keep kicking up at the same tempo you would normally as you don’t want to kick up to hard/soft and rely on your partner to catch you as this will cause bad habits.
Bad habits will become very hard to get rid of once you can handstand as it will have become muscle memory at this point:
- Make sure that you check your form by either videoing yourself or have someone else check
- If you start walking forward when you get up into the handstand stop and come back down and try again
How Often Should I Train Handstands In A Week
This would depend on what else you are training for at this stage as you don’t want to injure yourself by overtraining.
If you are focusing on just handstands then 4 times a week would be plenty, if you are doing lots of different types of training or skills training then I would suggest 2 times a week with 10 minutes of handstands on the other days.
Consistency is key with the handstand, if you do 10 minutes every training session you will master the handstand much faster, you will experience frustration along the way but this is trumped by the feeling you get when you nail your first handstand hold!
What Can Be Achieved By Following The Exercises Above
The results below speak for them self, like anything, there’s always room for improvement but I’m able to hold a solid handstand 9/10 times and transition from many positions to the handstand.
There are many ways to learn how to handstand so give this a go for 4 weeks and see how you get on.