We consider the handstand as one of our key skills, it is a fantastic movement to quickly help deepen your understanding of the body and its systems. The postural and core benefits from applied handstand training are second to none and the learning process is thoroughly engaging.
In this post you will find a collection of simple exercises and drills that will help solidify your foundations and prepare you for the handstand. The handstand is a journey and it must be approached as one. We must be conscious that the sum of the small parts makes the whole and throughout the process great emphasis must be placed on all foundation elements. Your foundation is everything and just like a building, you cannot build a sky scraper on a swamp.
All exercises in this series should be performed as actively as possible, looking for connection and engagement throughout. We also recommend performing hanging drills prior to beginning the session, hanging should already be part of your daily routine (aim for 5-7mins daily) but in this instance try and accumulate 2-3 rounds of 60s hangs before you begin the routine.
Note that we suggest general rep ranges on each movement but not set structure. Training structure will vary from individual to individual so adjust the volume and intensity according to your ability or how you’re feeling that session. If you are new to this process we would recommend starting with 2 sets of each drill (With the exception of exercise 7, here aim to perform 3-5 working sets with ample rest) working through the exercises start to finish. If you find one drill particularly beneficial then spend more time on it, but please don’t avoid the difficult ones. They’re difficult because they need work! Work up from 2 to 3 sets as you progress.
If you want to further your understanding of the movement, then our new Handstand class takes place online on Wednesdays at 17:30 through Lift: Online. All classes are suitable for beginner and intermediate students and can be booked here.
Tag us in your journey on instagram.
Body Placement: Kneeling on all fours with the back of your hands on the floor placed shoulder width apart. Active legs with toes pointed behind.
Hand Placement: Placed shoulder width with the back of hands on the floor, pressing the wrist into flexion whilst maintaining locked out elbows. You may struggle to get to this position without bending the elbows. Persevere and it will come.
Shoulder and Spine: Explore how externally rotating your elbows and drawing in your belly button activates the trunk and creates a feeling of stability in the shoulder. This will promote greater connection with the ground.
The Movement: Maintaining neutral or slightly protracted shoulders, “block” down through the collarbone to maintain a solid connection with the floor. Drive up, extending the wrist and ending on the knuckle with your fist directly pressing into the ground. On the negative look to return the wrist to the floor whilst maintaining a fist before opening the hand. This will increase the eccentric tension on the wrist extensors and help to release these stubborn muscles.
Body Placement: Kneeling on all fours with your hands on the floor placed shoulder width apart. Active legs with toes pointed behind.
Hand Placement: Place hands shoulder width with middle fingers pointing at 12 O’clock.
Shoulder and Spine: Once again explore how externally rotating your elbows and drawing in your belly button activates the trunk and creates a feeling of stability in the shoulder.
The Movement: Maintaining neutral or slightly protracted shoulders, “block” down through the collarbone to maintain solid connection with the floor. Drive the palm up flexing the wrist, aiming to end with your palm off the floor with all 4 fingers remaining flat on the floor. This movement can be really challenging if you spend a lot of time doing barbell work or typing away at a keyboard but is essential for developing adequate strength in the hands. On the negative look to return the palm to the floor whilst maintaining a fair amount of eccentric tension in the flexors of the forearm. Think of this like trying to resist the negative as you return your hand flat to the floor, one phalanges (finger bone) at a time. This eccentric loading does wonders for strengthening the connective tissues in the fingers and wrist and is excellent for developing the “brakes” for the handstand.
Body Placement: Sitting in an L shape, place your hands on the floor facing backwards with your middle finger at approximately 60 degrees to the rear either side of the hip. Depress the shoulders by locking out the arms and pressing down into the floor. This will raise your hips off the floor.
Hand Placement: Hand position can be modified to change the stretch. Experiment yourself and see what needs work. We like to start with hands pointing to the rear.
Shoulder and Spine: Remain active through the arms and the trunk, drawing the belly button in and bracing the abdominals. Think about externally rotating at the shoulder to increase active shoulder extension.
The Movement: From the supported L-sit position, pivot on the heel of the straight legs whilst driving the hip up into extension. At the same time actively extend the shoulders aiming to achieve a flat ‘Table Top’ between the shoulder and hip. At the top of the movement, pause to take stock and feel the connection. Once satisfied, slowly return to the start position ensuring to depress the shoulders and compress the trunk so to keep your hips off the floor. This is not only strengthening the shoulders for handstand but is also the foundation of your future L-sit.
Body Placement: Kneeling on all fours with hands elevated above the head and actively pressing down on a box (You can also use a chair or a wall). keep the legs active with toes pointed or tucked under.
Hand Placement: Hands should be placed at shoulder width or just outside, gripping the surface. Look for the connection.
Shoulder and Spine: Draw in your belly button and brace your trunk, stabilise the spine to increase the intensity on the shoulder and thoracic. The goal is to avoid the lumbar spine compensating for poor thoracic extension – do not let the lower back arch at this stage. Like with exercise 1 explore how externally rotating the elbows effects the tension throughout movement and helps to activate the shoulder.
The Movement: Begin with a braced trunk, active shoulders in slight protraction. At this point you should already be drawn to tension in the shoulder. Don’t push it so far it that it creates pain but start to find some comfort in the discomfort.
Maintaining engaged abdominals, begin actively extending the spine from the middle of your back. Remember to watch out for your lower back compensating and apply a principle of “move less and feel more”. Increase your spinal extension whilst striving to maintain an active shoulder as the joint passes through flexion. The chin should be the last thing to rise. To reverse the movement, begin by dropping the chin articulating the spine through protraction and return to the start position.
Exercise 5 - Superset
Perform these exercises back to back with rest between rounds.
Body Placement: Lying on the floor with you hands by your sides and with palms up (picture holding dinner plates). The external rotation of the arm helps you to feel the tension connecting the hips, spine and shoulders during the exercise.
The Movement: Draw in your belly button and brace your abdominals to stabilise the spine. The goal is to lift the legs and back of the shoulders off the floor whilst avoiding the lumbar spine moving into extension. You will know this has happened if you can get your hand under the small of your back. If you begin to fail and you lose control of the lumbar, then bend the knees into a hollow tuck position. The aim is create and hold a dish shape with full body tension. Aim to achieve 3 sets of 30-60s.
Body Placement: Position yourself face down with toes pointed and glutes active. Arms should be raised above the head and remain extended.
Shoulder Placement: Hands should be placed above the head with arms fully extended. To keep the shoulders engaged and maximise the connection to the thoracic lock out the arms and externally rotate the elbows. A good cue is to rotate your hands so that your thumbs point up at 60 degrees. Search for those ‘sleepy’ areas in the posterior chain, in particular between the shoulder blades.
The Movement: Brace the trunk, picturing tension around you like a cylinder. Lift the feet and the chest off of the floor into an extended arch maintaining a ‘long’ body from the tips of your toes to the tips of your fingers. Hold in the top position. Aim to achieve 3 sets of 30-60s.
Body Placement: Position yourself face down with toes pointed and glutes on. Arms should be raised above the head and remain fully extended. Use lacrosse/tennis balls to squeeze. This will help you create tension throughout the body.
The Movement: Engage the abdominals, squeeze the quads and point the toes. It may help to drive the bridge of your foot down into the floor. Draw the belly button up away from the stick and squeeze the glutes, focussing on flattening the lower back whilst creating space between the tummy and the stick. Maintaining a ‘long’ body from the tips of your toes to the tips of your fingers and raise one ball at a time whilst maintaining the correct horizontal handstand pattern. When performed correctly you will begin to feel the muscles in the thoracic firing. Nurture this connection from shoulder through the lumbar to the glutes. Alternate for reps between arms. A good tip is to finish with raising both arms together whilst maintaining flat spine to reinforce the handstand pattern. A set could be 5 unilateral lifts each side followed by a bilateral max hold.
Body Placement: Elevate your feet and stack your hips and shoulders over your hands, we are trying to achieve a 90 degree ‘piked’ position. The higher the elevation, the less pressure on the hamstrings/posterior chain more pressure will be placed vertically on the shoulders. Experiment and find your preferred setup and if you struggle to get into the pike position bear in mind that both shoulder flexion and posterior chain flexibility may be limiting factors . If you struggle to work out where you are going wrong, join one of our Handstand classes with Lift: Online, Wednesdays at 17:30.
Hand and Shoulder Placement: Hands should be placed shoulder width or just wider with middle fingers pointing at 12 O’clock. Focus of ‘blocking’ through the traps and think about shrugging your shoulders as high as you push through the floor.
The Movement: For those who have not trained much handstand we recommend remaining on the pike position in image 1. Work up to holding this position for 3-5 sets of 60s before attempting to add more load through alternately bringing one leg off to the vertical position. Once you have achieved good volume on these pike progressions you can move towards wall assisted handstand drills. These are covered in detail at the studio and during our online classes.
Exercise 8 - Superset
Aim to complete 3 rounds of each exercise. Perform them back to back with a rest between rounds – don’t forget to do both sides of exercise 2.
Body Placement: Position yourself in a high plank position with shoulders directly over your hands and middle fingers pointing to 12 O’clock.
The Movement: Think about externally rotating the elbows as you press through the floor and protract the shoulder. Brace the abdominals whilst squeezing the glutes and quads and hold for 30-60s.
Body Placement: Position yourself in a high side plank position with shoulders directly over your hands and middle fingers pointing to 12 O’clock.
The Movement: Think about externally rotating the elbow as you press through the floor. Draw the belly button up whilst squeezing the glutes and quads and drive the hip up vertically. Hold for 30-60s.
Body Placement: Position yourself in a high rear plank position with shoulders directly over your hands and middle fingers pointing away from you to 12 O’clock. Retract the scapular and press the floor away.
The Movement: Think about externally rotating the elbows as you hold the shoulders extension, retract the scapular and drive the hips through whilst pressing down on the heel/underside of the foot. Your goal here is to get the base of the foot flat to the ground. Hold for 30-60s.