Handstand Tips ‘n’ Trix

Start every handstand session by warming up your wrists and shoulders. They aren’t used to holding your entire body weight and you will injure yourself by slamming on your hands repeatedly without a warmup.

Practice hollow body holds and other bodyline drills. Lay on your back with your lower back flush with the ground. Your legs can be as high as you need in order to keep that shape. You can lower them as you get stronger. You’ll have to use your abdominal muscles to keep your hips tilted appropriately. This is the shape you want in your handstand, and you’d be surprised how quickly your form will go to shit once you start inverting, so practice it before every session. If your back begins to extend, try a few hollow body holds before returning to handstanding.

Find a blank wall you can practice on regularly. Crawl your feet up the wall, chest-to-wall. Don’t bother doing a back-to-wall because that will just enforce poor form. It’s hard to do this and hold your shape. Just start by practicing hollow body and building up time. 30 seconds is a good first goal. Make sure to push through the ground—make your body as long as possible by bringing your shoulders closer to your ears. When you get good at the wall, you can start pulling your legs away from the wall one at a time. But to be perfectly honest, I could not ever get a handstand from the wall.

I was on the wall for a very long time and after a certain point I felt it wasn’t helping me anymore, so I just moved to freestanding. From this point it took another very long time before I was able to do a handstand, and even then it was only about for 1 second.

Learn to kick with straight legs. This is the number one issue I see when teaching others to handstand. I show them how to kick while keeping the leading leg straight and the other leg bent for pushing. And they proceed to flail wildly. Your sense of where your limbs are in space and what they are doing diminishes when you go upside down, especially if you’re just learning. POINT YOUR FUCKING TOES. It will activate all of your leg muscles and keep them straight.

Just practice kicking before attempting to enter a full handstand.

Find that sweet spot. Once you’re able to kick with straight legs, drive the leading leg up all the way and follow it with the pushing leg. It will take a long time to figure out where exactly stacked is (feet over hips over shoulders). If you are overbalanced, you’ll be leaning towards your head. If you are underbalanced, you will simply fall back down on your feet.

Underbalanced, Balanced and Overbalanced

Acknowledge the fear. When learning to find the sweet spot, my main problem was consistently underbalancing. Until this point I did not think I was afraid of being upside down, but I realized I had this fear and it was holding me back.

Learn to bail. Tuck your chin, slowly lower to the ground, and somersault. Alternatively/additionally, learn to pirouette bail.

Do not walk your hands. This was one of my worst habits that prevented me from achieving a solid full handstand. When you are overbalanced it is hard to resist this urge. It comes from fear of being fully inverted (yes, you will be COMPLETELY upside down) and lack of finger engagement. The instant you come up, DIG IN WITH YOUR FINGERTIPS. When you feel yourself overbalancing, dig in MORE! Don’t stop pushing! Fight for it! If you are about to fall backwards, bail.

The cambered hand. Spread your fingers wide for as big a base as possible, but don’t keep your hand flat. The heel of your hand, your knuckles, and your finger tips are your points of contact with which you grip the ground.

Squeeze dat ass. In handstand, all of your muscles are tight and working. Squeezing dat ass in combination with fully activated legs will help you hold your hollow body and allow it to hold as one piece.

Learn to headstand. Before I had my handstand, I had little body awareness when upside down and didn’t know how to keep my core tight. I had tried learning a simple headstand in the past and just couldn’t. After I had handstand, I was able to get a headstand on the first try. It was so easy it was a joke. Most people probably learn it the other way around, and I understand why. It will teach you the feeling of having your hips stacked over your shoulders, and you can also practice keeping your legs together, engaged and straight, develop your hollow body upside down, while having a bigger base than just hands to balance on—your forearms. I recommend placing your hands 4-6 inches away from a wall and attempting a tuck headstand. Keep your knees close to your chest. When you get this down, try the tuck in the middle of the room. From there, practice extending your legs.

Videotape your sessions. I just lean my phone on my water bottle and record. Being able to see what you are doing as opposed to guessing at what you’re doing by how you feel is crucial. You will see that your back is bending, that your legs aren’t straight and that your toes aren’t pointed. Videos are an invaluable tool to examine progress, discover weak points and make alterations in your training. Plus it makes for a sick training montage when you do get your handstand, which you will. It’s nice to think that some people are inborn handstanders, but the truth is everyone who can handstand has put an enormous amount of practice and dedication into their efforts.

I like this quote a lot:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

And this one:

There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equal as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that is that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.

Grease the groove. Put in your reps. The 10,000 hour rule. Whatever you want to call it, consistent and frequent practice is the main determinant of when your handstand happens. It took me around a year to get a handstand (and not a solid one either). It doesn’t need to take that long. A realistic timeline for someone who practiced daily might be 3-6 months. I didn’t have a safe place to practice in my house, and being stuck on the wall for so long made me feel like I wasn’t progressing.

Once I decided to leave the wall I progressed much faster because I didn’t need a prop to get my reps in—I could practice ALL the time. To this day, I handstand on the way to the bathroom at work, waiting for the elevator, in the elevator (this one is fun), outside during breaks at work, every time I pass through my living room, etc. This was key for me to move from a shaky handstand to a confident one.

Believe in yourself. Lol, I know, but seriously. Pretty much anyone can learn a handstand. The human body is, like, magical. You don’t have to do anything but put in the work, and your nervous system will eventually adapt and get it. I remember telling my roommate last summer that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do it. That handstanding was something for other, better people, but not me. But I didn’t stop trying, because I really wanted it. And I was rewarded for my efforts.

Stop when you are fatigued. When you are tired, your form breaks down, and you will be practicing BAD form. You do not want to code this neuromuscular pattern, so just end the session.

Strive for ambidexterity. You will naturally prefer one leg over the other. I only trained one side until I took a handstand class which encouraged ambidexterity. From then on I alternated legs every handstand. It didn’t take long for the other leg to catch up, and now both feel natural.

Sources for learning:

These all reiterate what I’ve written, more or less, with more and different words. These links are guides which actually provide steps to achieving your handstand.

Antranik’s Comprehensive Handstand Tutorial
I referred to this many times during my training. Antranik’s the best and this guide explains aspects of the handstand in greater detail than I do here. Better yet, he includes drills (which I never really did, but should).

Jackmonx’s Most Accurate Handstand Tutorial
This guy is a super hand balancer and also includes helpful drills.

Ryan is a former competitive gymnast and head coach at Gold Metal Bodies. You can check out that guide or this guest post he wrote.

You can read all the articles and watch all the videos you want, but none of that will substitute for actually doing it with your body! So go get upside down!

And one day you will be able to handstand on another person’s hands.

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