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!