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How to Do a Handstand: A Complete Guide to Getting You Upside Down

We are often asked, “How do I learn how to do a handstand?” Well, we don’t know as none of us can do one! But the team at GMB Fitness do, and this superb guide will help you achieve exactly that!

You’ve always wanted to do a handstand. Or, you’ve been working on improving your handstand, and you’ve gotten stuck. Whatever your reason for stumbling on this tutorial, we’re going to help you reach your handstand goals.

How to Do a Handstand: A Complete Guide to Getting You Upside Down 1

Hand balancing skills are in vogue in the fitness community, and you see some incredible hand balancing artists out there now.

The ability to do a straight-line handstand–or to move within the handstand–is one of the most beautiful demonstrations of strength, control, and grace. So it makes sense that handstands have become such a popular skill to chase after.

But handstands can be incredibly frustrating to train for if you don’t have a good plan, or if you don’t know what to expect.

This tutorial is designed to help everyone from total beginners to more seasoned handstand practitioners looking to improve their skills. Wherever you are in your handstand journey, let’s get you toward your goals.

Comprehensive Handstand Training: Physical Preparation, Technique, and Troubleshooting

There is a LOT of information in this tutorial, but we’ve structured it so that it’s very easy to navigate. If you start at the top and work your way down, you are going to make great progress toward your handstand in no time.

Here’s what you can expect to find in this tutorial:

  • Essential Handstand Concepts
  • Step 1: Getting your body ready for handstands
  • Step 2: Exercises and progressions for practice
  • Step 3: Using your skills (and taking them further)
  • Creating your handstand training plan
  • A handy graphic you can download or print to remind you of the key points

With this approach, you’ll be following the fundamental structure laid out in the GMB training methodology. Our method might be a bit different from what you’ve seen before, but we’ve used it to help tens of thousands of clients achieve their goals, and it will help you with yours too.

The Best Way to Learn a Perfect Handstand

I’ve seen countless ways of teaching the handstand, and the way we teach this skill is pretty different from other approaches out there.

That’s not to say our way is necessarily better than other ways–that’s entirely dependent on why you want to do handstands, and what you want to get out of your handstand practice.

For instance, our friend Yuval Ayalon is a master hand balancer, who specialises in handstands. In his own practice, he’s aiming for perfection–because he needs to. He teaches other high-level hand balancers how to get as close to perfection in the handstand as humanly possible.

So, of course, his approach to teaching the handstand is going to be quite a bit different from what we teach.

Our goal is to help you feel comfortable on your hands so that you can do whatever you want to with your hand balancing skills.
We emphasize motor control with our approach to the handstand, and by training for the handstand in this way, you’ll be building overall body control, which can be applied to just about any other skill.

The approach outlined in this article helps create the building blocks needed to get you comfortable in your handstand: strength, control, and balance throughout the body, along with mobility through the wrists, shoulders, and hips.

Essential Handstand Concepts

There are about 1,000 things I could talk about when it comes to handstands. I’ve been doing handstands for almost my whole life, and I’ve taught them to thousands of people at this point, so you could say I’m pretty passionate about the topic.

In this video, I’m going to go over the most important concepts I think everyone should understand as they begin or continue along on their handstand journeys.

I’ve seen plenty of people struggle with the handstand for years, and once they’ve got a good understanding of these concepts, it changes everything for them. Things begin to click, and it just makes the journey a lot smoother.

Here are the key points covered in the video:

Hand Placement

  • Keep your index fingers facing forward, with your arms placed about shoulder-width apart. This helps with balance.
  • But if you are struggling with wrist flexibility, then turn your fingers facing slightly outward.

Elbow Placement

  • Lockout your arms and rotate your elbow pits forward.
  • If you have hypermobility in your elbows, just bend them ever so slightly to prevent overextension.

Head Positioning

  • Keep the head in a comfortable position so that you are not straining the neck.
  • Eventually, you’ll want to work up to a neutral head position (looking through your eyebrows).

Stack the Blocks

  • Think of stacking the joints like blocks, aiming for a nice, straight line. This is the most solid position you can be in.

Maintain Tension

  • Squeeze everything to create better stability. The more tension you have through your body while you’re in the handstand, the less effort you’ll need to put into hold your body upside down.
  • Just make sure to keep the neck loose and comfortable.

Balance through the Fingers and Palms

  • Shift your body slightly to maintain balance by pressing through the fingers and the heels of your hands. This will help you find your balance point.

Say Your ABCs

  • Reciting the ABCs will help you remember to keep breathing while in the handstand.

Cartwheel to Bail

  • Practice your cartwheel, so that you can safely bail out of the handstand when you need to.

I know that looks like a lot, but you don’t have to try and absorb it all at once. These are just general points to keep in mind as you practice, and we’ll return to most of them as we go on.

Step 1: Assessing Your Ability to Do a Handstand

If you’re not used to practicing handstands (and really, even if you are), the positioning of the wrists, shoulders, torso, and even legs in the handstand can be quite different from what you’ve done in the past. It’s important to assess where your body is at right now to see how ready you are for the work ahead.

In this video, Rose will demonstrate some movements to assess how well your body can get into the positions needed for the handstand. Since every day will be different with the handstand, it’s a good idea to repeat this assessment regularly.

Here are the assessments are shown in this video:

Wrist Assessment

  • This assessment will help you determine how well you are able to extend your wrists.
  • If you are unable to extend them fully, it doesn’t mean that handstands are out of reach by any means. It just means you will likely have to spend a bit more time on your wrist prep that day.

Shoulder Assessment

  • Similar to the wrist assessment, this helps you assess your shoulder extension before your session.
  • If your shoulders are feeling tight on a particular training day, you may want to do some extra work on your shoulder prep, and you may need to drop your practice to a lower level.

Wall Walk Assessment

  • Rather than doing a full wall walk at this point, this assessment gives you a chance to test out how you feel upside down and on your hands.
    It’s important to take this one slow, especially if it’s your first time doing this assessment.
  • Remember: it’s okay if you can’t do all of these perfectly yet–these assessments just help you get a clearer idea of what you might need the most work on as you practice

Step 2: Addressing Weaknesses and Learning Proper Technique

The assessment drives this next part of the process, where you address the weak points you’ve found.

Rather than just trying and failing, over and over, until you’re frustrated beyond belief, the “address” portion of your training session will be focused and specific. In this video, I’ll give an overview of what you can expect from this part of your handstand journey:

When we plan a training session at GMB, we break things down into five sections: Prepare, Practice, Play, Push, and Ponder.

Let’s look at each of these in detail, with exercise recommendations, and see how each is essential to your handstand journey.

Prepare: Get Your Body Ready for Handstand Training

We’ll start with some exercises and stretches to Prepare the body for the handstand work you’ll be doing.

Handstands place a LOT of strain on the wrists, which most people are not prepared for without specifically working on this area. You’ll also need a good amount of shoulder mobility to get yourself into good alignment, and leg strength is key.

Put all those pieces together, and it’s clear that jumping right into your handstand practice for the day probably isn’t the best idea.

This preparation routine will get your body ready.

Here are the Preparatory exercises are shown in this video:

Wrist Preparation

The exercises in this sequence target the areas of the wrists, hands, and elbows that are most prone to strain with handstand work. These include:

  • Finger pulses
  • Heel of palm lifts
  • Heel of palm lifts with side-to-side rotation
  • Elbow rotations
  • Side-to-side leans
  • Fingers backwards
  • Back of hand leans
  • Back of hand rotations
  • Forward leans

Shoulder Preparation

This sequence of exercises focuses on opening up your shoulders so that they are prepared for the positioning needed for the handstand. These include:

  • Wall shoulder opener
  • Straight arm thoracic extension
  • Bent arm thoracic extension
  • Wall thoracic extension
  • A-Frame shrugs

Seated Leg Squeeze

  • This is important for getting a feel for squeezing the lower body while you’re upside down.

Handstand Bails

  • Learning to bail comfortably will help you overcome the fear of being upside down, and will protect you from injury if (and when) you fall out of the handstand.

Practice: Develop Proper Technique with Correct Progressions

Every part of the 5Ps is essential to nailing down the skills you need for the handstand, but the Practice portion is probably the most important–and most neglected–part of learning any skill.

If you’ve ever learned to play an instrument, you know the key to mastery: practice, practice, practice.

Think of the handstand like learning to play the violin. You’re going to have to practice the foundational parts of the skill, over and over, until you’re ready to move on to more complex variations.

In this video, I’ve included variations starting from a rote beginner level, leading all the way to the freestanding handstand.

Here are the variations are shown in this video:

  • Elevated A-Frame
  • Frogger
  • High Frogger
  • Elevated L-Stand
  • Wall Entries
  • Wall Float
  • Wall Line Work
  • Split Leg Kick Up
  • Straddle Handstand
  • Full Handstand Entries

Rather than think of these exercises as step-by-step progressions, try to approach them like the pieces of a Tetris board. If you’re an absolute beginner, you’ll want to start with the first variation I show, but as you progress through them, you may need different pieces than someone playing on a different board.

The pieces don’t necessarily go “in order,” although they certainly can be followed that way.

Just make sure not be too rigid in your approach to these variations.

Play: Explore Variations to Solidify Your Skills

Serious practice is important, but playful exploration within and around the skills you’ve just practised is a key to mastering those skills.

It’s impossible to tell you exactly what you should be doing for the Play portion, since everyone is at a different level, and feels comfortable with different things, but in this video, we’ll show you some examples of Play.

Here are the key points covered in this video:

  • Practice happens at the edge of your ability; Play happens at the core of your competence. What that means is you’ll play with variations with which you are completely comfortable.
  • Play at whatever level you’re at, and find different ways to explore those variations.

As an example, let’s say you’ve been working on wall kick-ups. To Play with this skill, you may try kicking up against the wall and then moving your head around in different directions to see how it changes things. Or you could play with different ways of breathing, or with where you place the pressure through your palms.

No matter what level you’re at, you can–and should!–prioritize Play in your training sessions.

Push: Condition Your Body to Perform Safely & Consistently

Next up is the Push session. This is the part of the session that will feel most like a “workout,” but their real purpose is to strengthen your body and give you the range of motion to hold a straighter handstand for longer.

The key is to work at a lower level of skill so that the quality of your movement remains high.

Here are the exercises are shown in this video:

  • Band drill
  • A-Frame shrugs
  • Hollow body hold
  • High frogger

You’ll notice that these exercises are drills that focus on particular parts of the handstand.

This is pretty different from trying to jump up into a handstand and just hold as long as possible (not very helpful advice, especially for someone just starting out with handstands). By approaching your “conditioning” in this way, you’ll get a lot more out of your skills practice.

Ponder: Reflect on Your Practice and Learn from Mistakes

This is the final piece of the puzzle that can make or break your progress with the handstand: mindful reflection.

In this video, I’ll talk about what it means to “Ponder” about your handstand practice, and how it will dramatically improve your overall performance and experience with the handstand.

Here are the key points covered in this video:

  • Taking a few minutes at the end of your session to reflect can make all the difference in your handstand journey.
  • Think about what you learned from the session–good or bad–and how you can apply that to the next session.
  • If you’re not enjoying the process, you need to reexamine your approach.

As you go work on your handstand, you’ll see that progress is anything but linear, and if you don’t know what to expect, it can really mess with your head. It’s easy to start feeling down about your progress if you get too caught up in day-to-day fluctuations in your performance.
By taking a few minutes throughout and at the end of your session to mindfully reflect on how things went, where you struggled, and any big wins you had, you’ll start to see the bigger picture over time.

And it will help you figure out what to focus on in your next session so that you get the most out of that.

Step 3: Apply Your Skills

The application of your handstand skills is really what this is all about.

There’s nothing wrong with doing handstands for the sake of doing handstands, but through working with tens of thousands of clients, we’ve found that, when a skill is tied into a bigger picture goal, it has a lot more meaning for most people. And that makes training for that skill a lot more enjoyable.

So, there are two primary applications when it comes to your handstand skills:

Literal application

Getting good at handstands opens doors for so many other hand balancing skills, such as handstand push-ups, planches, one arm handstands, and more.

Real world application

Practising handstands improve strength, flexibility, body control, and balance throughout your body, which applies to many needs in daily life. For instance, handstands will make your shoulders stronger, which will make it easier to lift heavy things.

The application is really your why for practising handstands, and keeping that in mind as you practice will help you continue to make progress and keep moving forward in your handstand journey.

How to Practice Handstands: Develop Your Best Training Plan

All that goes into mastering the handstand may feel a bit overwhelming. But when all the pieces are put together, this approach should streamline your handstand practice, and make it a lot more directed and focused.

Because the handstand is a skill, you’ll benefit from frequent practice, even if you can’t do long sessions each time.

Basic Practice Tips:

  • Practice 2-4 times a week so your central nervous system can acquire the skill efficiently.
  • I recommend 45 minutes if you’re super serious, but for most people, 15-20 minutes is a lot more realistic.
  • It’s impossible to say how long it’ll take because we’re all different. Just keep with it, and you’ll improve.

Here’s a sample program for four days a week, 45 minutes per session. This is just a sample, but you can use this template to inform your own handstand training program.

How to Do a Handstand: A Complete Guide to Getting You Upside Down 3

This overall training structure is what guides all of our programs at GMB, as well as our hundreds of free resources like this handstand tutorial.

Get the Handstand Cheatsheet

Whew! We covered a LOT of information in this article! To make it a little easier to digest all of these sweet handstand nuggets, we put together this handy infographic.

How to Do a Handstand: A Complete Guide to Getting You Upside Down 5

Want to hang this cheatsheet up at home or in your gym? Lucky you! You can grab a beautifully printed copy here or just right-click and print out the low-res image above ?

By Ryan


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