4 Drills for Getting Stronger and Better at Handstands
If you’ve been working on your handstand for a while now, but are still struggling with your balance and endurance upside down, don’t worry - you're not alone.
Ask any longtime hand balancers and they'll tell you that consistent handstands take years to build up to. Yes, there are several ways to work smarter to help speed up the process - which I’ll share with you below - but you have to be patient and willing to put in the work.
Handstands Require Practice
There are some exercises you can work on sporadically and still make progress - but handstands are not one of them. More than anything else, the key to a solid handstand is consistency. To build up to a solid handstand, you’ll need to spend time working on them almost every day (but please, give yourself at least one day off a week to let your body rest).
If you’re fairly new to handstands, you’ll need to start by working on your handstand line and building up your endurance for holding yourself on your hands. Having a strong upper body and core is crucial to a good handstand, and understanding the proper alignment of your shoulders, hips, and toes will make freestanding practice later on much less frustrating.
"Be aware that balancing in a handstand is ridiculously challenging, even for people who have worked on them for years."
Once you’ve built a certain amount of strength and are used to being upside down, only then should you start working on the balance portion of handstands. Be aware that balancing in a handstand is ridiculously challenging, even for people who have worked on them for years. Progress will happen slowly, but if you’re consistent, it will happen.
Note: If you find your wrists start hurting after too many handstands, you can alternate between flat hands and working on parallettes.
4 Drills for Getting Stronger and Better at Handstands
1. Pike Rolls With a Swiss Ball
A great way to help you build strength and practice correct shoulder positioning for handstands.
- Grab a Swiss ball.
- Get in a plank with your shins on the ball.
- Slowly roll forward so you’re on top of your shoulders in a pike position.
- Try to get a stretch through your shoulders and get your butt as far over your head as you can while you keep your core tight and point your toes.
- Roll back down with control.
Practice this often and you’ll start to better understand the correct handstand line for a freestanding handstand, as well as build strength and flexibility in your shoulders.
2. Handstand Wall Walks
A great way to boost your strength and handstand endurance - plus, they look pretty cool and will undoubtedly impress your friends.
- Start in a plank position in front of a wall.
- Walk backward up the wall so your stomach is facing the wall.
- Push up through your shoulders and pull your core in.
- Once you’re into position, lift one hand up, then shift your body and move to one direction before putting your hand back down, bringing your feet along with you as you walk sideways against the wall.
If this is too scary at first (especially if you’re doing it on concrete like I am), try doing handstand walks on a soft surface such as a gym mat to help ease your fear. Alternatively, you can put a ton of pillows or a couple of yoga mats down in case you fall.
"More than anything else, the key to a solid handstand is consistency."
You can also practice walking with your hands further away from the wall to start building strength and getting the feeling of being upside down, but eventually you’ll want to work on getting your hands as close to the wall as possible.
3. Handstand Shoulder Touches
One of my favorite ways to build upper-body strength and condition for handstands.
- Walk up the wall so your chest is facing the wall.
- Really focus on keeping your entire body tight as you push up through your shoulders.
- Your hands should be just a few inches away from the wall or as close to the wall as you’re comfortable with.
- Lean slightly to one side, then lift your other hand up, touch your shoulder on the same side, and lower back down.
Ideally, you’ll work toward having enough control so you’re not slapping your hands down each tap. It should be fairly quiet as you set your hand down. Don’t get discouraged if shoulder taps are really tough for you at first or if you can barely get your hand off of the floor. They will get easier with practice.
You can always try shoulder taps in a pike push up or modified handstand position or place a pillow or 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 with the balance portion. This was one of the drills that helped me the most when first learning to do a handstand.
- Start in a push up position and walk up the wall so your hands are about a foot away from the wall.
- Push up through your shoulders, tighten your core, and point your toes.
- Remove one foot from the wall and balance it overhead so 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, simply cartwheel out (this is a good thing to get used to doing as you will fall when doing handstands).
While you’re practicing these, try to get a feel for the balance in your fingertips. Fingertip balance is what will really help you hold a freestanding handstand later on, and building awareness through this exercise will help you learn how to keep yourself from falling immediately after you get up in a handstand. Practice this regularly and your freestanding handstands will improve. Just be patient.
"Fingertip balance is what will really help you hold a freestanding handstand[.]"
Note: For those of you who would rather kick up into a handstand against the wall, I’d highly recommend trying the walk-up option instead. Holding a handstand with your chest against a wall mimics a freestanding handstand much better than having your back to the wall.
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 support that they just can’t figure out how to hold without it.
Spend as little as five 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 show you what your weaknesses are and help you improve.
Most of all, practice, practice, practice. No matter your fitness level, handstands are doable - but they’re not easy. The only way you’ll get better at them is to keep trying.
Check out these related articles:
- 5 Steps to Work Through Your Fear of Handstands
- How to Maintain and Control a Handstand
- My 4-Week Program From Achieving Handstand Happiness
- What's New On Breaking Muscle Today
Photos courtesy of Krista Stryker.