Headstands: They're Not Just For Yogis

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably avoided headstands throughout most of your training career simply because you thought they were just a little too… well… “yoga-ey”.

(Also, I thought I was one of those rare people who just could never actually do a headstand because my elbows were too weird, or something like that. Big surprise, it turns out I was doing them all wrong.)

But although headstands are certainly a yoga staple, they’re also used a lot in gymnastics and calisthenics because, contrary to what you might currently think, they actually have a lot of awesome benefits.

So why headstands?

Here are just a few of the reasons why you should practice headstands regularly:

  • They get you used to being upside down so you can do handstands all day long.
  • They build up your core strength so you can start doing fancy tuck up variations of handstands.
  • They strengthen your neck so that you can perform other gymnastics exercises like forward rolls, handstand forward rolls, flips and even cool breakdancing skills without hurting yourself.
  • They’re fun! Seriously. There’s just something about being upside down that brings out the inner kid in everyone.

Here’s how to get started with them:

Getting Started With Headstands

Watch this quick video demonstration to see a headstand in action:

Or, if you’re video averse (like I am), below are the steps in written form. Go through these at whatever level you’re currently at until you’ve mastered the headstand:

Note: All of the below exercises are best done on a soft surface like carpet, gymnastics mat or even grass.

Step 1: Tripod

Tripods will get you used to being upside down, plus help strengthen your neck, core, and help you work on your balance.

How to do them: 

Get on your hands and knees on a soft surface with your hands about shoulder width apart. Lower your head to the ground, then straighten your legs behind you. Slowly walk your feet toward your elbows, then one at a time, raise your knees onto your elbows so that you’re balancing on your head and hands. To get down, just set one knee down at a time and walk out of the tripod.

Make sure to tighten your core, and think about creating a triangle of support!

Do it: Work up to 5 sets of 60 second tripod holds.

Step 2: Tripod into headstand

Once you’re fairly comfortable with tripods, it’s time to raise up into a headstand.

How to do it: 

Walk into a tripod position, focusing on your control. Once you’re there, slowly raise your legs up with control, squeezing your butt and keeping your core tight. Your legs should end up pointed slightly forward or straight up. To get out of the headstand, tuck down and walk your legs out.

Note: If you find the balancing especially tough, try doing this against a wall first. But start get used to falling—it’s not a bad thing. Learning to fall removes the fear of trying new exercises, a very positive thing. Just do your best to try and control the fall: if you feel yourself falling, try and fall onto your feet. If you feel yourself going the other way, try and fall into a bridge.

Do it: Practice getting in and out of a headstand with control. Eventually, you’ll want to work up to 5 sets of 60 second holds.

Step 3: Tuck up, pike up, straddle up

Once you’ve got the walking into a headstand down, it’s time to focus on the harder variations of getting into a headstand by tucking up, piking up and straddling up.

Tuck up: Start with your hands shoulder width apart on the floor with your head resting between them. Your legs will be bent and your feet will be on the ground. By engaging your abs, slowly tuck your legs toward your chest and raise straight up. If you have trouble getting started, it’s fine to jump slightly at first in order to get some momentum. To get down from the headstand, tuck down and return to the starting position.

Pike up: Start with your hands shoulder width apart on the floor with your head resting between them. Your legs will be straight behind you. Engage your abs, then keep your legs as straight as possible and raise them straight in the air. Again, if you need to jump slightly at first, that’s all right. To get down, keep your legs straight and lower down with as much control as possible.

Straddle up: Start with your hands shoulder width apart on the floor with your head resting between them. Your legs will be straight and straddled to either side of you. Engage your abs, then keep your legs as straight as possible and raise them together in a straddle position so that they end up together and straight at the top position of the headstand. To lower down, return them to the starting position, keeping your legs as straight as possible the entire time.

Do it: Practice getting into a headstand using all these variations. If you need to jump a little now, work on your control so you can eventually get into the pose without having to jump.

Oh, and one more tip: if you haven’t done much headstand training in the past, your neck is going to hurt like hell at first, and don’t be surprised if it’s sore the next day. This is completely normal, and don’t worry, it will get stronger amazingly fast.

Work at them consistently, and you’ll be a headstand master!

6 thoughts on “Headstands: They're Not Just For Yogis”

  1. Great stuff, Krista! I am still trying to get started but 12 minute athlete is great and I want it to become the new BodyRock (whom I have chosen to no longer follow). Thanks for the video! Nicole, from Greece.

  2. I loooove doing headstands! They make me feel strong and balanced. Plus the rush of blood to my head makes me feel more alert. Can’t go wrong with headstands!

  3. <3 Headstands!
    And it's so much fun to play around with them once you feel confident enough.
    Something to try: Lowering slowly to a tripod/knees on the elbows and then lifting the head off the ground for an arm balance. Fun!

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