6 Exercises That Teach You How to Do a Handstand (No Yoga Required)
You don't have to namaste all day to learn how to do a handstand. Master these gymnastics-inspired drills to start living the upside-down life.
So, you want to learn how to do a handstand (along with pretty much everyone else on Instagram). No shade-this traditional gymnastics move is fun to learn, even more fun to master, and the most fun to play around with once you're solid on two hands. (And it's not all about scoring a kickass Instagram pic. Turns out, getting upside down in a handstand actually has a bunch of health benefits.) For starters, handstands target your delts, lats, rhomboids, traps, arms, and core. Plus you get the same benefits from handstands as you would from any other strength training exercise: increased lean muscle mass, improved mood, increased bone density, and increased strength, just to name a few.
While most handstand chops go to yogis who've mastered the pose as part of their flow, you don't need to be a yogi to learn how to handstand like a boss. Take it from Jessica Glazer, an NYC-based personal trainer at Performix House and a former gymnast. Here, she deconstructs the handstand into drills that'll build the necessary core, upper-body, and back strength necessary to pull it off-so you can finally check "handstand" off your fitness goals bucket list.
How it works: Add these handstand prep moves to your usual workout routine, or do them all together for a gym session dedicated specifically to handstand prep.
You'll need: A plyo box (soft/foam is preferred) and a sturdy wall
A. Lie faceup on the floor with arms overhead, biceps by ears, and legs outstretched.
B. Lift legs and arms so shoulders and feet are off the ground. Keep the head in a neutral position.
Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Do 3 sets.
For many people, the thought of being upside down is terrifying. Finding a box or a chair and propping your feet up on it can get you comfortable
A. Crouch facing away from a plyo box with palms shoulder-width apart on the floor.
B. One at a time, step feet up on top of the box, lifting hips up and walking hands closer to the box. Align hips over shoulders over wrists, and straighten legs to form an "L" shape with body.
C. With neck neutral and quads and glutes engaged, hold this position as long as possible.
Work up to 30- to 60-second holds. Do 3 sets.
Bringing yourself to a plank position on your hands with your feet next to a wall and walking your hands close to the wall as you walk your feet up the wall can help you build strength in your shoulders-important for acing the move.
A. Lie facedown on the floor with feet just in front of a sturdy wall, at the bottom of a push-up position with chest, stomach, and thighs on the floor and palms directly under shoulders. Engage core to press up to a high plank position.
B. Walk hands back a few inches on the floor until it's possible to step feet up onto the wall. Continue walking feet up the wall and walking hands closer to the wall until in a handstand position. Toes should be touching the wall and palms should be as close as possible, but core should be engaged so hips don't lean against the wall. Press through the palms to avoid sinking into shoulders. Hold for a few seconds.
C. Slowly walk hands away from the wall and walk feet down the wall to return to plank position, then lower body to the floor to return to starting position.
Repeat 3 to 5 times or until failure.
Handstand Scapular Retraction
A. Start in a handstand position facing the wall (the position at the top of the handstand wall walks). Think about aligning the ankle, knee, and hip joints as well as the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Engage the quads, glutes, and core while keeping neck neutral (look forward at the wall, not down at the floor).
B. Without bending arms, press up and out of the shoulders to shove torso away from the floor.
Try 5 to 10 reps. Do 3 sets.
Scale down: If this is too difficult, you can replicate the motion right side up. Extend arms overhead with palms facing the ceiling (keeping core engaged and without letting ribs flare open). Focus on drawing shoulder blades back and down, then shrug shoulders to elevate palms by a few inches. Focus on the movement of the shoulder blades.
Forearm Box Drill
A. Place a plyo box about 1 foot away from a sturdy wall. Crouch on top of the box and place hands on the floor with wrists and forearms up against the box and fingers pointing toward the wall. Straighten legs and shift hips over shoulders to come into a pike hold position.
B. Shift weight into hands and kick one leg at a time up toward the wall, attempting to stack feet over hips over elbows over wrists and hold a handstand position. Tap heels off the wall for balance if necessary (but don't lean against it). Focus on maintaining a hollow-body position.
Repeat until failure. Do 3 sets.
Tick Tock Kick-Up
A. Stand with arms overhead, biceps next to ears, and one foot in front of the other in a shallow lunge.
B. Lean forward onto the front foot to place palms on the floor shoulder-width apart, kicking the back leg off the floor to lift hips over shoulders. If possible, kick the front leg up to meet the other.
C. When the rear foot starts to fall, step back onto the floor and press off hands to stand and return to starting position.
D. Repeat in a slow and controlled manner, kicking up higher each time and trying to reach a "stacked" position with feet over hips over elbows over wrists.
Try kicking up 5 times. Do 3 sets.
How to (Finally!) Do a Handstand
- Once you've worked the above drills into your routine, try to kick up to a handstand against the wall. Place your hands on the ground roughly 8 inches away from the wall, facing the wall. Kick the other foot up enough to where you get a bit of air and start to feel the weight of your body on your hands. Try kicking up just a little bit at first, playing around with the amount of force you need to get upside down. If you are afraid, you may ask a friend to help guide your legs up to the wall.
- Once you have mastered the kick up, try holding that handstand position at the top. Doing three or four sets of 30 to 60 seconds will help you build strength. Feel good in the kick up handstand? Take one foot away from the wall and try to balance. Put that foot back on the wall. Take the other foot and bring it away from the wall. Try to take one leg, and then the other leg away from the wall. Pro tip: Keep your legs together and tight to maintain good balance. As always, keep your core tight and your back muscles engaged. Try three to four sets of three to five attempts each time.
- Once you've learned to balance after starting against the wall? It's time to learn how to wipe out with grace. Learning how to bail will give you the confidence to keep practicing. Have a friend spot you as you kick up on your first freestanding handstand. You will inevitably feel the urge to turn out to one side or the other. You will step forward with one hand and then let your feet fall, one at a time, to that side. This looks like a sloppy cartwheel. Gymnasts do this, make it look pretty, and call it a pirouette.
- Once you can get out of the handstand safely, keep practicing. Whether you're learning to ride a bike, speak a new language, or do a handstand, once a week won't cut it. It takes time for the brain to cement new movement patterns. So practice how to do a handstand anywhere from five to 10 minutes a day, five or six days a week.