The humble handstand is a skill that many of us abandoned as kids, but mastering it again as an adult will bring you new confidence in yourself while boosting your upper body strength, flexibility and ability to move
Kyle Weiger got into adult gymnastics at the age of 30 and went from hardly being able to hold a handstand to free holding one for two minutes fifteen seconds, as well as learning mind-blowing variations such as handstanding on someone else’s hands, the one-handed ‘croc’ and the ‘zombie press’.
The benefits of nailing the perfect handstand go far beyond bragging rights, he tells RSNG: ’Handstands make you an overall better athlete. You need to develop new neural pathways in your brain and every time you put in another rep you develop better proprioception – they make you a better mover.’
Getting in shape is another key benefit, particularly as handstands fill a gap in bodyweight training and sports, which often lack an overhead push move. ‘To hold yourself upside down your core strength has to develop. You get stronger shoulders, triceps, traps and quads.’
There’s no one easy secret to handstand – applied effort multiplied by time equals proficiency
Interestingly, Weiger says the biggest benefit of handstands isn’t even a physical one. ‘It’s the mental one – going from a state of not being able to do something into doing it is way more important than the handstand itself. Realising that you can teach yourself anything is a much better skill to have than a handstand.’
If you can’t handstand yet, or you have trouble holding one for very long, then the best way to progress is to use moves that drill your ability to control your body in space. At first this can be frustrating, but as Weiger points out: ‘There was a time in your life where learning to walk was your full time job and it still took you a year.’
There are no shortcuts in handstand so use these six recommended moves from Weiger’s own online 6-Weeks To Handstand course to build your new skills. ‘You’ll realise you are way stronger than you ever felt possible and once you break that barrier then nothing is impossible.’
1. The Plank You might think you know how to plank but as a preparation for strong handstands it’s step one – being able to hold a static position with your shoulders in line with your arms is key. Weiger recommends starting with a 30-second plank and then every week you can add 15-30 seconds to the pose. You can do it every day, and use Weiger’s form tips:
‘Focus on the foundation of the hands – make sure your wrist is stacked right underneath your shoulder and you don’t want your shoulders too wide because then they distribute weight outwards rather than vertically.’ ‘Get used to protracting your shoulder blades; think about rounding your upper back. It prevents the sinking of the chest. When you get into a hand balancing move you want to constantly press into the ground because that’s what keeps you elevated.’ ‘Finally, I say this a lot: hollow body. Instead of your ribs going out you need everything tucked in. Don’t let gravity take over because you will no longer be working the pose.’
2. The Hollow This move is surprisingly tough. You’re aiming to make your body an even curve with no kinks, by balancing on your lower back and not your tailbone. ‘This is one of the single most important drills because it builds the belly strength to get upside down,’ says Weiger. You can do this pose every day and again start by holding for 30 seconds, or less, then add 15-30 seconds to the static hold every week. Here’s some advice from Weiger:
‘Flex your quads to get straight legs and point your toes – avoid making a V-shape with your body.’ ‘Tuck your tailbone down towards your heels – it’s a posterior tilt of the pelvis down towards your feet – and pull your bottom two ribs down and inwards.’ ‘Put your arms over your head and shrug your shoulders to your ears – you’re trying to make your body super-long because in a handstand you want to find the longest body shape you can for clean lines.’
3. Scissor Kicks This move is the simplest way to approach a handstand. ‘This is all about learning how jump off the ground and land softly. You jump one leg up and land with the other leg, and repeat.’ You don’t need to end up as high as the position shown in the photo – it’s the top of the move but you are drilling control with this one.
‘Worry about putting your feet down softly versus how high you kick. Work on control first.’ ‘When your hands are on the ground, walk your feet towards your shoulders so that your shoulders stack over your wrists. Otherwise you have to move more horizontally and vertically and then work out how to stop – make the equation as simple as possible.’ ‘Keep both legs straight all the time. Learn how to have control through space – this idea is called proprioception; being able to control your body without being able to see it.’
Everybody has time to do five minutes a day and if you don’t then your schedule is booked too tight!
4. The Tuck Once you’ve got comfortable with scissor kicks you can move onto this alternative handstand entry. ‘When you learn to dance you don’t learn just one move you learn a series and it’s the same with handstands. You start with two hands down and then tuck two bent knees into your chest and try to get your hips over your hands,’ says Weiger who also has these tips:
‘Take something tall and straight like a water bottle or yoga block and put them behind your forearms – when you tuck your job is to not knock them over. It’s a good test of whether I’m staying straight and pressing down, or I’m using a bunch of momentum to rock back and forward.’ ‘Imagine both your legs are one – so put your toes together, your knees together and your inner thighs together. If they move in unison they are easier to control in space.’ ‘Give yourself a slight bend in the knee, and then when you are ready jump up and curl your hips over your shoulders.’
5. Nose And Toes ‘If you have already got the strength to hold yourself upside down then you can try this more advanced move. You start in a plank with your feet at the baseboard, then you walk your hands back and feet up the wall. The idea is that just your nose and toes touch the wall for a hollow body,’ says Weiger. To get out of the move walk your hands back out from the wall. If you start to fall you should know how to half cartwheel out of it by spinning to one side.
‘After starting in the plank, walk one hand back and then one foot up the wall.’ ‘The tendency is to look at your hands but drop your head to the point where you are looking at the wall.’ ‘Put your nose and toes to the wall but simultaneously activate your belly to pull your chest off the wall. Crawl forwards to come out of it.’
6. Timed Handstand Once you can hold a freestanding handstand, then a more advanced move is to hold for time, AKA endurance training. ‘I put my iPhone on stopwatch below and just stare at the clock – me versus you! Get excited about wherever you are at – if you held for ten seconds and two weeks ago you couldn’t even hold for one? That’s called progress, that’s a big deal!’
‘Everybody has time to do five minutes a day and if you don’t then your schedule is booked too tightly!’ ‘Make sure you warm up – you can use the previous drills – and don’t just kick up cold because you are not going to get very far, and then you’ll get frustrated.’ ‘Applied effort multiplied by time equals proficiency. I have a student who practices twice a day, more than my protocol asks for, who is holding a 20-second handstand after three weeks. The more you practice and the longer you practice the better you become.’
WHAT NEXT? Check out Kyle Weiger’s online [6 Weeks To Handstand] https://kyleweiger.com/6-weeks-to-handstand-course-intro/ course and then watch him break down the best hand position and use of fingers to help control the moves in this video.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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Steps images by Matt Ray