When you hear the word “handstand,” chances are you think of acrobatics or gymnastics before you consider fitness. Handstands are something many of us performed as children, back in the days when our centers of gravity were low and our willingness to try new things was high. But if you’re ready to give them another try, handstands actually do make sense as part of a regular workout routine, as the challenging move is sure to work and build countless muscles across your upper body, legs, and core.
Handstands aren’t the easiest move, of course, and you shouldn’t expect to go from right side up to upside-down without some progress points along the way. But once you master the techniques of a handstand, you’ll have an excellent new move to add to your regime. Ahead, two trainers share everything you need to know to incorporate this advanced workout move into your repertoire. Keep reading to learn all about how to do a handstand, and get ready to use muscles you may not have known you have.
MEET THE EXPERT
- Ebenezer Samuel (CSCS, FRC, and PPSC certified) is the fitness director for Men’s Health, a personal trainer to NFL players, and the head of training innovation at the virtual training platform Flexit.
- Kristin Addis is a certified yoga teacher and trainer for the virtual training platform Flexit.
What Is a Handstand?
A handstand couldn’t be a more straightforward name for this move. As Samuel tells us, it’s simply “the act of standing on your hands—essentially, you’re flipping your body upside-down and holding that position.” He notes that “a few decades ago, it was viewed more as a stunt or display of athleticism and performed mostly by gymnasts and circus performers,” but now, handstands are common additions to calisthenics routines.
Addis says that handstands are common in yoga practices, noting that “a handstand in a traditional yoga practice is known as one of several more advanced inversions.” She explains that you can do handstands either in the middle of a room or against a wall and receive nearly all the same benefits.
The Benefits of Doing Handstands
While handstands may be intimidating if you’re anxious about being upside-down or haven’t successfully done one in a long time (or ever), if you’re interested in working them into your routine, the complex move will boost your fitness in several ways.
- It’s a full body move: Samuel tells us that your “entire body is active during a handstand, but the move is particularly taxing on the shoulders, mid-back muscles, abs, and glutes. Your mid-back muscles, meanwhile, work to support your shoulders in the handstand. Your traps also work overtime in the handstand, helping to lift your entire torso up higher.”
- You’ll work your core intensely: Samuel says that to successfully complete the move at all, you “need incredible core strength to hold a handstand. If you don’t keep your abs and glutes tight, your spine will begin to arch, and you’ll lose your balance.”
- Handstands stimulate mind-body connection: Addis informs us that “the practice of any inversion, especially a handstand, creates intense mind-body connection as well as the ability to shift perceptions and see the world different, as you are literally upside-down. “
- It helps improve hip control: Samuel tells us handstands are “challenging your torso and your legs to find control and balance in space. We’re used to our legs being planted on the ground, and this allows us to control our hips.”
How to Do a Handstand
If you’re new to handstands, it will be easier to try this method, which involves the support of a wall.
- Stand facing a wall. Place your hands down on the floor—Addis says they should be about eight inches away from the wall, in a position that resembles a downward dog.
- Walk your feet in towards your hands.
- Slowly kick one leg up toward the wall.
- Bring the other leg up to meet it, against the wall. Addis says to “practice pressing [your] hands into the floor and up and out of the shoulders as you connect the feet and legs at the wall.”
- Continue to extend your legs up the wall. Addis tells us to “squeeze and tighten your glutes and thighs” as you do this.
- One at a time, bring your legs off the wall, to end in an unsupported handstand.
- Return your feet to the wall and slowly lower them to the ground.
No Wall Method
This is a more advanced version of a handstand, as it doesn’t use a wall for balance. It’s ideal to try if you feel confident with the wall method and are looking for a new challenge.
- Start out in a standing position. Samuel says to keep your glutes and abs engaged.
- Step forward with one leg and put your hands on the ground. Samuel instructs us that they should be “exactly shoulder-width apart, spreading your fingers as much as possible.”
- Kick up your back foot. This should drive your hips forward and up, and your other leg should rise as well.
- Continue raising your legs until your feet are up in the air. Samuel tells us that “as your legs begin to feel perpendicular to the ground, tighten all your leg muscles, as well as your abs and glutes” to continue driving them up.
- Hold the handstand position.
- Release the position by gently lowering your legs, one in front of the other.
To learn how to do a handstand, try the wall method first. If this proves too difficult for you, Samuel recommends an inverted shoulder press. He says this is “essentially doing a handstand without having to balance the full load of your legs, an easy way to get started with building the shoulder stability needed to do handstands.”
Another option that’s easier than a wall handstand is a variation on a downward dog. Do this by starting in a downward dog position against a wall. From there, Addis says to walk “the feet up the wall to the height of the hips, and the arms under the shoulders.” She tells us that “this variation allows your body to be in an L-like position and specifically target the upper body strength needed for handstands, as well as establishing the comfort of being fully upside-down.”
Handstands are an advanced move, and there are many situations in which you should not do them. “This is an advanced posture that requires practice, strength, and balance,” Addis notes. It should only be attempted by advanced exercisers, and anyone who wants to try them but hasn’t built up the requisite strength or technique should start with the easier modifications.
If you don’t have a strong enough range of motion, you should also avoid handstands. To discern whether or not your range of motion is sufficient to try handstands, Samuel recommends the following: “Place your right arm overhead, reaching as high as you can. Place your left arm on your right ribcage, and tighten your abs, closing your ribs. Look at the position of your straight right arm overhead. If it is now in front of your torso, you shouldn’t do handstands.”
If you’ve injured your shoulder, wrist, or any other part of the body that bears a lot of weight with handstands, avoid doing them and consider asking for your doctor’s advice on when it would be safe. Additionally, Addis says that “anyone that is not practicing core strength or upper body strength as a regular practice should not attempt to get into a handstand.”‘
Handstands vs. Headstands
The closest exercise to a handstand is a headstand. In a handstand, your arms are straight and you balance on your hands. A headstand can be considered to be easier because rather than having your arms straight, you bend them and balance your weight on your head and forearms or hands. Generally, people can do headstands for much longer than handstands because with so much more of your body on the floor, you don’t have to rely nearly as much on your balance. You can also use headstands to get you comfortable with being upside-down before trying handstands.
The Final Takeaway
A handstand is an advanced workout move that gives you the opportunity to turn life literally on its head. The move uses muscles throughout your body, and it especially requires strong upper body and core strength to perform. If you’re just learning how to do handstands, you should try them against a wall first. If that proves too challenging, try a modification that doesn’t have you going all the way upside-down. Handstands take practice and perseverance, but if you stick with it, you’ll gain balance, strength, and a brand new perspective.