You might have noticed that I talk about handstands quite a bit on the site—and if you follow me on Instagram, you probably see that I actually do them pretty often as well.
That’s because handstands are one of the best possible exercises you can do—not only do they build immense amounts of upper body and core strength, they’re great for balance and challenge you mentally like crazy.
Yet there’s no doubt about it: handstands are hard. If you’re not strong enough to hold them much at all yet they can be extremely frustrating, and the balance part of handstands is ridiculously challenging, even for people who have worked on them for years.
Handstands have always been a huge struggle for me. Since I first started trying to do them about two years ago, I’ve been shocked at how slowly I’ve progressed. They’re one of those exercises where your progressions may happen so slowly it may be hard for you (or anybody else, for that matter) to even notice them.
Yet after working on them pretty steadily for a year now, I definitely have made progress. You can see my beginning handstand taken about a year and a half ago (on the right) vs. my current handstand (see above).
Yes, I still have a ways to go. I still lean a little to the left (stupid shoulder!), and can only hold a freestanding handstand for about 15 seconds (my max is 30), and even that’s not consistent. But the more I practice them, the more I can tell I’m a lot further than I was in that first photo—something I’m pretty happy about.
Here are ways I’ve been able to progress in my handstand, and how you can too:
#1: Pike rolls with Swiss ball
These will help you build up strength and practice correct shoulder positioning for handstands!
Grab a Swiss ball (ideally one a little bigger and more inflated than the one I’m using), get in a plank with your shins on the ball and then roll forward so you’re on top of your shoulders in a pike position. Try to get a stretch through your shoulders as you keep your core tight and point your toes. Roll back down with control. Practice this often and your handstands will improve!
#2: Handstand wall walks
Handstand wall walks may be intimidating at first, but they’ll really help to boost your strength and handstand endurance—and they’re not as crazy hard as they may look!
To do them, start in a plank position in front of a wall, then walk backwards up the wall so that your stomach is facing the wall. Lift one hand up, then quickly move to one direction before putting your hand back down.
If this is to scary at first, try doing it on a soft surface such as a mat or some soft carpet, or you can just put a ton of pillows down in case you fall. You can also practice walking while in a piked position so you get the feel of it before trying it in a handstand.
#3: Handstand shoulder touches
Shoulder touches/taps are one of my favorite ways to build strength and condition for handstands. When you do them, focus on keeping your entire body tight as you push up through your shoulders. Ideally, you’ll work towards having enough control so that you’re not slapping your hands down each tap—it should be fairly quiet (I’m still working on this—my fuelband hitting the floor each time didn’t help!).
And don’t get discouraged if this is tough for you at first or if you can barely get your hand off of the floor. It will get easier with practice!
You can always try shoulder taps in a modified handstand or place a pillow/mat under your head at first if you’re nervous about falling on your head.
#4: Chest against the wall hold/split
This is a great way to practice holding freestanding handstands if you’re having trouble working up to them, and it’s been one of the things that’s helped me the most with my handstands.
Start in a push up position and then walk up the wall so that your hands are about a foot away from the wall. Remove one foot from the wall and balance it overhead so that you’re in a straight line. Slowly remove the other foot from the wall and hold your handstand as long as you can. If you fall backward, just put your feet back on the wall. If you fall forward, do a handstand roll (not advisable on concrete) or simply cartwheel down. Holding a handstand with your chest against a wall mimics a freestanding handstand better than having your back to the wall.
Practice this regularly and your freestanding handstands will improve—it’s helped me a ton!
Freestanding handstand practice
If you want to get better at handstands, there’s really no way around practicing them without a wall—and often.
Some people spend too much time practicing on a wall, and eventually plateau because they get so used to the wall that they just can’t figure out how to hold them without it. Spend as little as 3-5 minutes a day practicing your handstands, including freestanding ones (and yes, falling is perfectly acceptable), and you’ll start to become more aware of your body and how to make it stay upright for longer.
If you’ve been doing this for a while and are feeling stuck, here are two things to try:
- Have someone hold you in a handstand. This can help give you the freestanding feeling without making you rely on a wall.
- Take a video of yourself trying to do a handstand. This can really help show you what your weaknesses are and help you improve.
Most of all, practice, practice, practice! No matter what your fitness level handstands are doable—but they’re not easy. The only way you’ll get better at them is to keep on trying.
And don’t forget to some fun along the way!
33 thoughts on “4 Drills You Can Do To Get Stronger and Better at Handstands”
These are great tips! I have been taking a handstand class for about a year and the instructor told us that it takes anywhere between 6 months and 2 years to get a freestanding 10-second handstand (depending on where you are when you start). I’m not quite there yet…
So true. Keep practicing, you’ll get there!
Okay, so you have convinced me. I used to do headstands but my feeble attempts in the last number of years have been unsuccessful.
My wrists are really weak but I imagine this would help to strengthen them.
I am going to try again. I’ll start with the wall walking. 🙂
Thanks for this post!
keep on going Wendy, after a month the pain in wrists greatly decreases!
Yes! Glad you’re back on 🙂
Nice post Krista!
I’ve been practicing handstands for about two months now and had a lot of fun, I made real progress on this. I am using videos to get feedback to be able to see my stuck points and learn from them, I highly recommend too.
In my case I am just doing freestanding handstands, I liked this exercises and I will add to my handstand workout, thanks!
I practice at least 15 minutes 4 times a week and in every workout I do at least two freestanding handstands that reaches over ten seconds, but with not much control, not a very straight position.
At the beginning, one thing that bothered me was the head pain, after the workout my head felt like it would explode, very uncomfortable. Now I give at least fifteen seconds between the handstands and it is a lot better, but sometimes I feel like my heart was pumping inside my brain.
Did you had that problem?
Do you have any thoughts to overcome this?
Thanks for this post again, and like we say here in Brazil
A big hug to you! 🙂
do you drink a lot of water? i don’t do handstands but if i drink some water then do an inversion stretch right after, i get the same sensation in my head. it has to do with your intake of water increasing the volume of your blood so when you do an inversion like a handstand all your expanded blood is rushing to your head thus giving you that sensation. careful, you could reap some serious consequences there..
I didn’t noticed that, next time I will notice.
But i think that i didn’t drink water right before the workout.
Thanks for the responde 😉
A lot of it is just practice – it can be pretty disorienting at first being upside down for so long if you’re not used to it. But it WILL get better! Just keep practicing, and give yourself rest as needed in between handstands to recover.
Great tips! I was able to get a free-standing, 5-second handstand with about 2 weeks of on-again, off-again effort, and I’m a 39-year old male with about 10 pounds of excess fat on my frame. I expect to be able to do 10+ second handstands in the next couple of weeks. To me, 6-12 months seems excessively long unless you are not starting from a decent fitness base, in which case it would actually make a lot of sense! If you’re already fit and active and do strength training, the handstand is truly not that hard. These exercises are good for improving core strength which is the primary piece of the puzzle you’ll need (some decent upper body strength too, but it doesn’t take more than an average amount of strength to hold one.) Just my opinion. Good luck everyone!
Wow, that’s awesome Ryan! I guess it depends on the person – the balance part of freestanding handstands has been extremely difficult for me, even though I can hold a handstand against a wall for two minutes no problem. Depends on the person I’d say. Either way, nice work!
Definitely does depend on the person! Some days are better than others for me. Still have a ways to go. It’s pretty cool to be in a freestanding handstand… very fun! Keep up the practice!
Krista – great article! I was fortunate to have a gymnast dad who taught me handstands when I was a kid, so I have been doing them for the past 30 years or so. Your progression is really smart – especially for people who need to build enough shoulder strength to just hold themselves, even against a wall. I find that even very strong people who can hold a handstand against a wall can struggle with freestanding if they are not developing a lot of wrist control, i.e., with learning how to balance. I encourage people to work on frog stands and similar poses that demand more balance, just so they can get used to “steering” with their fingers. I even prefer to have people walk on their hands before they can freestand, because it is like “controlled falling” – overbalancing a bit so they just have to balance in one direction (against the forward momentum) instead of both forward and backward.
Love your technique for perfecting handstands! I actually learned from doing yoga: Ashtanga and Rocket yoga to be exact. Since I have plenty of shoulder/back/arm strength, the issue for me was balance. After a few months of kicking up into handstand and maybe holding for 5 to 10 seconds at a time, I began to realize that handstand is simply an arm balance once you get your hips into the right position.
So I explain/teach handstand “slightly” differently (but there is no one way..) – I don’t use the wall, but I teach people to engage their core once they’re upside down. Once your hips are over your head (even if you’re back bananas – which isn’t great, but even I have this issue!) the core muscles above the navel “suck in” (known as “uddiyana bandha”) and this stabilizes your torso to your hips/butt/legs..it’s a very weird feeling, sometimes the legs wiggle back and forth a bit, but once you have the core muscles engaged, you don’t fall or anything!
That’s great Charlie! There’s obviously tons of different ways to learn skills like handstands, and yours is very intriguing. Sometimes with wall training people rely way too much on the wall anyway.
What Charlie said will definitely help people progress faster: use a tight core to position your hips correctly over your head. To do this properly, get somebody to hold your feet – this is hugely preferable to using a wall. I learned how to do handstands while studying acrobatics, and “core is key”. In fact, another way to get better at holding your handstands is to practise walking around on your hands rather than immediately falling out when you start to wobble.
The other key tip is to push out through your shoulders – don’t allow your shoulders to droop or collapse. Deliberately extend your arms, as if you’re pushing the ground away. Combined with a tight core, this will allow you to make substantial progress in a matter of weeks rather than years. All the guys ‘n’ gals in my acrobatics class were able to hold freestanding handstands after 6-8 weeks – but we all helped each other, too. Doing handstands with a group of other people really speeds things up!
Krista, I love all your fitness stuff, keep up the great work! Where are you at in the top photo? It reminds me of Camas.
Thanks Justin! I hope everything is going well with you. So funny – I took that photo in my parents’ driveway in Camas 🙂
I’ve recently started to do headstands on my own, I am still a bit wobbly & look like a banana, but it’s getting there….Anyways, this week I tore my calf so decided to give handstands a try while I’m in recuperation mode. I’ve made two attempts at this now. My biggest fear lies in being upside down, falling and getting injured. Last night I managed to get my feet up onto the wall in a vertical handstand position and stick it…..Next goal will be trying to find my balance point and getting my feet off the wall…..So much fun…Thanks Krista for the ideas and tutorial.
HI Krista, my major fear is to fall on my neck and break it and so on, so forth. I know I might be exaggerating here but I cannot help it! So I am less afraid to do a shoulder stand but not handstand- thought it’d might help me out.
Any tips guys? Is this really a silly fear?
Hi Sha, you probably wouldn’t actually break anything, but it is good to practice some forward rolls so that you know how to tuck your head as you fall. Try it on grass or a mat at first and then practice lowering yourself into a roll as you fall out of a handstand. You can also learn to cartwheel out.
I am a level 9 gymnast so, I have had lots of handstand practice. I agree with everything you said and you excersizes and very helpful. I still do them sometimes.
omg this helped me a lot! i have been trying for years and not i got it.
So helpful I could hold it for a long time now
Great Kate, glad it was helpful!
That is so cool I am a kid I read have just read that I now I know how to do handstand thank you so much for these great tips
I have been practicing the hand stand with about 10 push ups against the wall. I have improved greatly but not enough to do freely. Now that i see that its really considered an exercise and there is actually information on this its more exciting especially at age 50. I have decided to try to do back bends too but the challenge is much greater.
i can hold a handstand for 10 seconds
Good for you, great job!
When you do a free handstand, try to put your head between your arms