Sunday, 19 January 2014


One of the main aims of many of those who come to bodyweight training is to learn how to do a handstand.
A solid freestanding handstand is by no means an easy feat however, and it will require many hours of practice before you can hold the position for any length of time.

This progression will suggests some steps towards building a strong handstand.
There are many different methodologies to train this skill however, and this is only one of many.

Prerequisites: Wall handstand push ups

First of all, let me start with an apology: I have very poor lats and shoulder flexibility, and this prevents me from demonstarting the technique with optimal form...
If you look at the picture above, you can see that my back is arched. This was once considered proper form in gymnastics and hand balancing, as it was thought to be more graceful than a straight handstand.

photo courtesy of
 Nowadays, gymnasts are taught to keep perfectly straight form when performing a handstand, as this lends itself better  to the progression towards more advanced skills (see picture).

 My lack of form is in part due -as I mentioned- to terrible shoulder flexibility, but also because (like many newcomers to the handstand), I learnt this skill by practicing with my back against a wall, which encourages some curvature of the spine when holding the position.
This is a habit which, once acquired, is very difficult to correct, and my aim in this article is to help you avoid this pitfall.

Before we proceed with handstands proper, let's have a look at a few exercises which will help with good practice.

 The crow stand is an ideal position from which to start building towards a handstand: it let's you get a feel for hand balancing, and how shifting your centre of gravity can affect your balance.
You should be able to hold the position for 1 min before you start working on your handstands. See here for the crow stand progression.
Hand positioning: when practicing crow stands and handstands, your hands should be shoulder-width apart, pointing forwards, and your fingers should be splayed. It also helps if you bend your fingers slightly, as if trying to claw at the ground with your finger tips. From this position, you can balance your weight between by pressing alternatively through your fingers, or through the palms of your hands.
The hollow body position: in order to develop a straight handstand, it is important to spend some time in the hollow body position. Lying on the floor, lift your legs and arms of the ground, with the small of your back remaining in contact with the floor at all times. Engage your core muscles.
You should be able to hold this position for 1 min before you start working on your handstands.
Headstand: once you have mastered the hollow body position, kick into a headstand, and engage your core muscles so as to maintain this 'hollow body' when inverted. Build up to a minute in the headstand position.
Straddle to headstand: this drill will not only develop your balance, but it will encourage you to hold that 'hollow body' position when in motion.
Start with your head on the ground and your legs in a straddle, lift your legs up whilst keeping them apart, then bring them together once you reach vertical. Then reverse the motion to lower your legs under control.
Pike to headstand: this drill will challenge your balance and engage your core muscles. Start with your head on the ground and your legs straight, feet together. Raise your legs under control till vertical, then lower again under control.

Handstand against a wall. Starting on the ground with your feet towards the wall, walk your feet up the wall, as well as your hands towards the wall. Try to come as close as possible to the wall, and aim to adopt the 'hollow body' position.
Shrug your shoulders so your head would be as far as possible from the ground, and point your toes up.
Try to generate as much tension as possible by engaging your core and straightening your body.
Build up to one minute in this position before proceeding to the next step.

A note on dismounting the wall handstand: if after one minute you find yourself not having the strength to walk your hands and feet back down the wall, you can get off the wall handstand by rolling forward: bend your arms and tuck your chin in. Allow yourself to roll forward onto your shoulders (rather than onto the top of your head!).
Another method of dismount is to pirouette out of a wall handstand: bring one hand forward, keeping your arms straight ; this will allow your body to twist, and your proximal leg will fall off the wall to the side. Let your second leg follow the first one, and you will land on your feet safely. This movement is very natural, and much simpler than it sounds!
Wall handstand with one leg off the wall. From a wall handstand position, take one leg of the wall and point your toes up. You will near a point of balance, but don't try to fully balance on your hands yet.
Build up to one minute in this position.
Off the wall freestanding handstand. From the position above, bring your second leg to meet the first, toes pointing up and with good tension throughout. Find a point of balance, and build up to 4 or 5 holds of 15s, with a minute rest in between.
Kicking up into a freestanding handstand: this is usually done as a dynamic motion. Plant one leg on the grounds, and put your hands on the ground in front of it. Kick up with your other leg, then allow your first leg to follow the second.
If things go wrong and you cannot find a point of balance at first, simply roll forward, or pirouette out.
Freestanding handstand: aim for 4 or 5 consistent holds of 15s at first, with a minute rest in between. Then build up to 2 holds of 30s ; one of 45s and one of 15s. And finally aim for a full hold of one minute!

Aim to do 5 min of handstand work consistently every day: the key to this skill is to practice regularly until the balance becomes natural.
You will encounter frustrations, but they are all part of the process... Enjoy your journey!


  1. Hello, awesome progression!
    In the Straddle to headstand, do you should lift legs straight?
    I can do 1'30 headstand, but having problems with balance lifting legs straight.

    1. Yes, legs straight... Practice, practice, pratice...

  2. When you kick up into a free-standing handstand if you keep your body straight from your hands through to your back foot and pivot the whole lot around the hip of your forwards lunging leg as a lever it gives you much more control and makes it far easier to hit the balance point. Most people will not take a big enough lunge and will close their shoulder angle or bend at the waist to reach down to the floor rather than holding straight and reaching forward. Then you have to use your core muscles to pull your legs up a bit like a press to handstand so it is way harder.

  3. Beautiful website you put in alot of work into it, great job and best wishes on your endeavours.

  4. can skinny guys do handstand??

  5. Shoulder impingment. Do you suggest to shrug while handstanding so to avoind shoulder impingment? Thanks