The Handstand is an Iconic symbol of strength and flexibility. It builds strength, flexibility, and causes your shoulders to burst out of your shirt.
Unfortunately it’s not as simple as, “Do handstands.”
You need to prepare the body properly, and then focus on the correct drills to OWN the handstand.
Specifically, the handstand requires you to address 2 key points: Flexibility and Proprioception
[FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL BELOW]
The primary flexibility requirements are going to be Wrist extension, Thoracic extension, Shoulder flexion, and Hip extension.
Quadruped Wrist Circles: To achieve some wrist extension, get in a quadruped stance and use the weight of your body to move in a closed chain wrist circle, gently increasing the wrist extension with each progressive circle.
-Do this with fingers pointed forward, then backward.
-Finish up with a couple open chain wrist circles or figure 8’s.
Quadruped Spinal Flexion, Extension, Lateral Flexion, and Circles: From this same position, perform spinal flexions/extensions, and lateral flexions until you can turn that into a circle. This will open up the thoracic spine.
Quadruped Scapular Pushups and Circles: Still in a quadruped position, perform scapular pushups with straight arms (protraction/retraction) and, if possible, circles. This will help open up the shoulders as well as improve your proprioception.
Downward Dog: Finally sit back into a downward dog position with bent legs and ribs pulled down (abs engaged), emphasizing the chest moving toward the knees while keeping the arms straight and elbow pits pointed forward. This is going to address shoulder flexion.
Hip Circles: Come up to a half kneeling position and perform some closed chain hip circles with a posterior pelvic tilt to facilitate a hip flexor/quadriceps mobilization.
Proprioception (your brain’s map of your body, or body awareness):
In order to address the proprioception component, we are going to focus primarily on alignment and muscle activation. When you are upside down and everything is floppy, you’re coming right back down–and you might even hurt yourself. We need to fix your alignment–these are the drills to do it:
Reverse Hollow: Assume a prone position with arms extended overhead flat on the ground. From here lift the arms and legs up straight and try to engage the glutes and the muscles between your shoulder blades (while avoiding excessive tension in the upper traps).
Hold for a 5-10 count
Hollow Position: Flip over. Hold a hollow position (low back only touching the floor) by lifting the arms, shoulders, legs, and hips off the floor by pressing the lower back into the floor. If you find this too challenging at first bring the arms down by the sides and/or pull one knee toward the chest.
This is going to help wake up the muscles responsible for maintaining your good alignment.
Now you’re ready to pop up into a handstand.
The conventional wisdom says to just kick up against a wall and pop right into it. This is a MISTAKE and you will develop bad habits in your kick-up for later on, so we’ll start with some face the wall handstands, and then into the progressive kick up.
Face the Wall Handstand:
The face the wall handstand is an important piece of the handstand puzzle. It keeps you honest with your alignment. The goal is to have your hands 6 inches away from the wall with only your toes and chest touching the wall. Keep the hips away so you stay hollowed out. The goal is to hold this for 1 minute. This will give you a solid foundation of muscle strength and endurance as well as alignment.
Kick Ups: Place both hands on the floor with one leg straight and the other bent (like a sprinter getting into the blocks). The top leg (straight) is going to swing like a pendulum, while the bottom leg (bent) is going to gently press into the floor propelling you upward. The goal here is not to go all the way up into a handstand, the goal is to leave the ground and feel the transition of the weight from your feet to your hands while keeping your legs split apart. Maintaining this split stance is going to actually prevent you from hyperextending the low back by having one hip in flexion.
With each kick up, you want to aim for kicking up progressively higher, until you eventually reach a split stance handstand. I find that doing about 3-5 progressive kicks works best, but it’s better to air on the side of too many and develop your control.
Resist the temptation to fling the trailing leg up into the air to join the other one in its vertical glory–you’ll likely end up tumbling over the top.
Instead be comfortable in this split stance position and only when you’re ready start to bring the trailing leg up to vertical. Squeeze the legs together and maintain your alignment. When kicking up, make sure you are comfortable balling out
(Progressive kick-up and how to use the fingertips as the leverage point for balance.)
Just as your feet prevent you from falling over if you lean your body forward. Use the fingertips to push into the floor and bring you back if you feel yourself going too far forward.
With handstands, there seem to really be a lot of ways to skin the cat, but the key component is this–time.
When a baby learns to walk, it practices every day. Well guest what? You are a hand balancing baby and if you want serious improvements, a couple times a week is going to get you there exponentially slower than daily (or better yet, multiple times daily) practice. Be patient, and be consistent and you will achieve your handstand.
Better every day,