Here’s a guest post from Ryan Hurst of Gold Medal Bodies on how to learn and train for handstands. I don’t allow many guest posts here. When I do, you know they are top notch.
I’d teach you how to do handstands myself, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to share my secrets in the ancient art of smashing my face into the ground.
So Ryan will take over from here.
There’s a giant video to accompany this article. I queue the video at specific times to shortcut you to what’s being talked about.
Good luck handstanding.
Hi, I’m Ryan from Gold Medal Bodies
Anthony, being the super cool guy he is, asked me to give you guys a nice starting program for hitting handstands. For those of you who don’t know me, I have a thing for being upside down and helping people get strong with various gymnastic type movements.
Besides the fact that handstands make a great party trick, they’re a great start towards more difficult inverted and hand balancing maneuvers.
So what’s so great about handstands?
Well, when you do them right, handstands strengthen pretty much every muscle you have. Obviously, your shoulders and arms will get much stronger in overhead activities, and you’ll also notice some great improvements in your core strength. The strength and balance you get from doing handstands transfers over to a lot of other physical activities.
And let’s face it, being able to pop into a handstand wherever you are is pretty damn cool.
Now, I know what some of you are probably thinking. “I can’t do that! I’ll break my head!” Handstands can be intimidating since there is always the possibility of crashing.
But, I promise, if you follow the progressions that I’m sharing with you today, you’ll get there as safely and as quickly as possible. There is no reason why you shouldn’t get the handstand, or even make your current handstand better than it already is.
Here’s a video I’m going to be referencing from here on out:
4 basic steps to handstand mastery
When I teach my clients to do a handstand, I generally take them through the following four stages:
- Facing the wall
- Facing away from the wall
- L-Handstand using a wall
- Freestanding Handstand work
But before you dive in and start taunting gravity, there are two things that you have to do to get ready for safe and productive handstand work—strengthen your wrists and ingrain the “hollow body” position.
Preparing your wrists
First we’ll start with wrist prep. If your wrists are weak, your handstand will be weak.
This is also one of the most common complaints I receive from people that have tried working on handstands and other handbalancing in the past. They just can’t carry weight properly on their hands.
That’s why we really need to focus on strengthening our wrists using the three variations below. (Below is the original video queued at 1:22, when the exercises start.)
The first is with our hands flat and fingers facing forward. Make sure to keep your arms straight. Rock forward and bring your shoulders past your fingers and hold for 3 seconds. Relax, then repeat for a total of 5 reps.
Next we’ll take our fingers backwards and sit back, holding for 3 seconds for 5 reps. Don’t let the heels of your hands come up off of the ground.
Palms up, fingers backward
For the final wrist prep, turn your hands over with palms facing up. Keep your fingers facing your knees and sit back, holding for 3 seconds for a total of 5 reps. If you have trouble keeping your arms straight, move your hands closer to your knees.
Mastering the hollow body
You MUST master the hollow body position if you want a solid handstand.
We’re working on a gymnastic-style handstand with a straight body (it’s a much better technique if you’re doing this for training), and that requires a tight core to keep your upper and lower halves working together when inverted.
The most important point for the hollow body position is keeping your lower back flat on the floor the whole time.
DO NOT progress to the next level in the hold until you can successfully hold it for at least one minute with your lower back fully down on the floor. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you’ve gotten all the juice out of the preceding steps.
Here’s the Hollow Body progressions:
- Legs bent
- Legs straight
- Legs straight and extended
- Arms extended
This hollow body position is pretty close to how you want to hold your body in the handstand, so having the strength to maintain this position on the floor can make or break your overall progress. (Below is the original video queued at 2:42.)
Be sure to continue working the hollow body until you’re extremely comfortable with it.
Wall work for handstands
We’ll begin our handstand work with our body facing against the wall. Most people start out facing away, but I’ve found that my students can apply the hollow body position better if they face the wall at first. (Below is the original video queued at 4:20.)
Handstand facing the wall
- Climb the wall – With your hands shoulder width apart, slowly walk your feet up the wall and walk your hands close to the wall.
- Hold the Hollow Body Handstand (tight body) – With toes against the wall, focus on holding the hollow body position.
- Exit the handstand by walking your feet down. Use a mat or pillow in case you crash, etc.
If you are having trouble getting into the handstand holding it, you probably need to work on strengthening your shoulders. So rather than trying to hold the handstand, work on walking up and down the wall for 3 reps for 4 sets.
Once you can comfortably get into the handstand while facing the wall, hold for 5 to 10 seconds x 6 sets. Give yourself a good rest between sets. Once that becomes easy, add 5 seconds to each set for all of the 6 sets.
We are working up to being able to hold 1 set for 60 seconds per set. Once you can perform that, it’s time to move on to the next level.
Handstand facing away from the wall
Facing outward is great because you can start working on popping up into the handstand.
Work on locking out your arms and jumping slowly up in the handstand. Try not to smack your back, butt, or feet against the wall.
Here is the progression:
- Jump to handstand
- Hollow body with heels on wall
- Look down slightly
- Slowly exit the handstand.
Once you can hold the hollow body handstand with feet against the wall for up to a minute, it’s time to start pulling your feet away from the wall.
The L-stand is awesome for gaining a lot of strength in your handstand and working on your form.
This is surprisingly difficult and is why I usually have my clients work on this along with the wall handstand facing out, and even when they get really good at that.
There are two key points for the L-stand:
- Focus on getting a 90 degree angle
- Push down and don’t let your shoulders collapse
You can work this the same way as your other progressions. 5 to 10 seconds x 6 sets and adding 5 seconds per set as you can. Work up to holding this for 1 minute per set.
The freestanding handstand
You have FINALLY arrived!
After hard work on each of the prior levels you are good and ready for the freestanding handstand.
The freestanding handstand can be a bit difficult psychologically because there is no longer a wall to help catch you! But don’t let that stop you. Focus on what you’ve learned so far and kick on up there. However, if things do go bad, remember that you can simply roll or turn out of it.
The sets and reps are the same as our other progressions. Start off with 5 to 10 seconds for 6 sets. You want to hold a solid free standing handstand for up to a minute.
Some points to remember:
- Start with hands on floor
- Tuck up with control
- Push away from the ground
- Hold with a hollow body position
- Exit the handstand – Turn out or roll if you have to bail
Most of all, have fun with it. Handstands are difficult for may people, but if you remember to make it fun, you’re going to keep practicing, and that’s key.
Advanced handbalancing for badasses
Once you’ve got your basic handstand nailed, you can step up for more interesting variations and advanced hand balancing moves.
Here are some advanced versions to work on once you get the freestanding handstand:
- Press handstand
- Lower to double arm lever
- Bent arm tuck to press hand
Alright, now get on it!
Don’t let any of this intimidate you, these progressions have worked for everyone I’ve trained and I’ve seen so many crazy grins from people that never thought they could get it.
Give it a shot and let us know (or leave a comment below) if you have any questions!
Ryan Hurst, GMB Program Director – Ryan has a passion for movement, playing with his kids and being outdoors. That’s why you’re more likely to find him running, lifting, jumping, balancing, and climbing than anywhere online. Visit his home: http://www.gmb.io