Let’s face it, a handstand looks almost as goofy as it is impressive. Arms and legs, doing the exact opposite of what they were made to do? A crazy idea by all means, but an altogether effective practice.
Even committed weightlifters (or at least those who can pull it off) often praise the handstand, sometimes calling it the calisthenics version of the deadlift; not because it does the same thing, but because it is an exercise that is very difficult to reproduce via other means.
But the path to a successful handstand is a rocky one, pun intended.
The exercise requires a whole lot of strength, stability, and balance of the entire body. Straying is all too easy, and injury can set you as far back to the beginning.
It is for that reason that we’ve made this article. Today we will go over our method of training for the handstand, and clarify some of the more common questions and misconceptions that you may have along the way.
The Many Benefits of Handstand Training
“There’s only so much that one exercise can do,” someone would say, and they would be right, However, a properly executed and held handstand has a long list of benefits. This includes, but is not limited to:
- It strengthens your core, which is good for just about anything you may ever want to do, including looking good.
- It is an absolute killer for the arms and shoulders. Given that what you are doing is essentially pushing your whole weight against the ground, there is a whole lot of resistance going on. This is great for both strength and muscular endurance.
- It is a great way of training balance and stability. Obvious considering that you will be standing upside down, but still worth mentioning.
- It will improve your grip strength. Yet another no-brainer. Your palms don’t have heels, forcing your muscles and tendons to compensate, which will go miles in making them stronger.
- It increases blood flow throughout your body, most notably to your head. Due to it not exactly being a natural position, a handstand will give your circulatory system a good shake-up, leading to a short term (and possibly even long term) increase in focus and coordination. All in all, it is a great way of rocking yourself out of a haze.
Given that a handstand employs such a diverse array of muscles throughout your body, while also requiring (and developing) stability and control, a certain level of physical ability should be reached before attempting the journey. We recommend:
- Being able to do 20 strict push-ups in one set,
- 20 sit-ups or crunches, also in one set,
- 60 seconds of plank hold,
- And 20 bodyweight squats, one set
Not exact numbers of course, but something you should strive for, considering the handstand’s difficulty and the potential possibility of injuring yourself. If you can’t meet the prerequisites, please work on those exercises for a while.
As for any gear or training aids, you’ll need yourself a stable wall, as well as an elevated surface such as a stool or bench, going about up to your knees.
Also—and this is nothing new, always remember to warm up well before each workout. It’ll save you a whole lot of pain, discomfort, and lower your chances of injury even further. Better safe than sorry is the rule of every game, and this one is no exception.
This course will be separated into eight tiers of mastery. In case it needs to be said, you should start at the lowest level. If it proves too easy, start your next training session at the next one, until you reach the tier that gives you trouble. Once you master that one, keep moving up until the end.
You should always give yourself at least a day of rest between workouts, so 3-4 sessions per week would be ideal. Aim for 3-5 sets, 8-12 reps of each exercise, per workout.
Tier 1: Incline Pike Push-ups
First, you should stand before your elevated surface. Put your hands on it while keeping them shoulder width apart. Bend your body at the waist to a 90 degree angle while trying not to bend your back. Your arms should continue the straight line of your torso. Now do a push-up while not deviating from the 90 degree angle.
Tier 2: Incline Pike Diamond Push-ups
Like the incline pike push-ups, but (as the name says), here you will hold your hands in the diamond position.
Tier 3: Pike Push-ups
Getting more difficult! Put the elevation out of the way for now, then, just place your hands on the ground while keeping your body at the above-described 90 degree angle. Now do a proper pike push-up. Repeat.
Tier 4: Diamond Pike Push-ups
As above, different forearm position. Somewhat more difficult, but closer to our ultimate goal.
Tier 5: Decline Pike Push-ups
Yet another sharp increase in difficulty. Get the elevation again, but this time you should put it behind your back instead of before you. Get into the pike push-up position, but instead of keeping your legs on the ground, place them on the elevation. Time to do those reps.
Tier 6: Wall Walks
Our actual handstand approaches. Literally. Start with the plank position, your feet against the wall. Now, while doing your best not to drop, simply walk back. Try to raise your feet up as far as they can go without losing balance. If you take too long with this step, feel free to add in some squats and more decline push-ups along the way, during breaks.
Tier 7: Wall Handstand
This is the part where you don’t take forever to walk up into a handstand, but instead essentially flip yourself into one. The hard part of course, it keeping your body’s tone so it doesn’t bend when your feet first hit said wall. Once you are successful, hold the position. Aim for 30-60 seconds. The time for you to move over to Tier 8 will be determined both by your ability to flip into a wall handstand, and by your ability to hold it.
Tier 8: Handstand Hold
By this point you should be more than capable of going into a handstand-like position even without the wall. All that will be left to perfect will be your balance. This will be an individual process, so do what works best for you. Again, aim for 30 to 60 seconds. Once you are capable of the full 60 seconds, great job! You’ve just beaten the handstand game!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.