The handstand is a calisthenics static hold where you will be balancing on your hands whilst being upside down. Your body is held straight with both arms and legs fully extended. This awesome skill will not only make you look cool and feel cool but, will also develop strong upper body strength, body control, and balance. It will also unlock more imposing exercises and advanced skills such as the handstand push up, 90-degree handstand push up, and, one arm handstand.
This skill requires three components:
Upperbody Strength - To be able to hold your entire body weight and stabilize yourself whilst being upside down on your arms. You will need strong shoulders strength!
Flexibility - Mobilized wrists will create a pain-free handstand on the wrist joints, and mobilized shoulders will create a sufficient range of motion to achieve a good straight alignment.
Balance - To have body awareness (tension and range of motion), proprioception, and engagement (ability to control different aspects of the body and body parts).
Balancing upside down forces you to stabilize your muscles, you will continually engage your core, along with other key muscle groups in your body, to coordinate as a single unit. The primary muscles worked are the abdominals, anterior deltoids, posterior deltoids, and trapezius. The secondary muscles worked are the wrist extensors, forearms, triceps, quadriceps, and glutes.
The handstand is an intermediate-level skill because you will need sufficient upper body strength to support your weight and hold the position while being on your hands. Your legs need to be pretty solid to kick your body weight up into the handstand position. The flexibility in your wrists and shoulders must be mobile to create a good alignment and a pain-free handstand.
But don’t worry! Handstands are very fun the practice and it becomes addictive once you get the hang of it. This article will cover the best exercises and progressions so you can have a joyous hand-balancing journey.
The requirements for a handstand are:
Before you begin your handstand training, you must ensure that you are fully warmed up especially on your wrists and the upperbody. This will improve mobility in your wrists whilst reducing pain around your wrist joints, and lower the risk of injury. It is highly recommended that you practice the following wrist warm-ups:
Once you have completed the wrists warm-up, you should move on to mobilizing your shoulders to create openness as this will improve your body alignment for when you are upside down. Do the following:
The initial step to mastering the handstand is the building of your upperbody strength to meet the requirements for the handstand. You will need to develop your shoulders and core strength as well as endurance. The exercises that you should practice are:
This exercise is great for targeting your front and rear deltoids as your body will be in a pike position. This puts more load on your shoulders along with recruiting your core muscles, therefore, developing strength for the handstand hold. Your aim is to be able to do 10 pike push-ups, and you can learn more about the pike push by reading our pike push-ups guide. To perform this you will:
The push-up will develop your upper body strength especially your straight arm strength. Moreover, it will condition your muscles such as the anterior deltoids, triceps, and core, which is essential for supporting your body weight whilst being on your hands. Your aim is to be able to do 10 push-ups with good form comfortably. To learn more about improving your pushing strength, read our guide to push-ups. To perform this, you will:
The plank is a good indicator of your core stability. A strong core is vital for hand balancing as it provides firmness along with organizing your trunk position. It will help to control the tilt of your pelvis, rib cage, along with your torso and limbs. Your goal is to be able to do a 60 seconds plank. You can learn more about developing your core strength by reading our guide to planks. To perform this, you will:
To achieve any skills in calisthenics, you must go through its progressions to condition your body, develop your muscles and get them used to the movement paths that are required in that particular skill. These progressions will enable you to track your progress of where you are currently at and what will be the next progression - it is always good to know what the next steps are, and this article will cover it!
You should practice handstands for a minimum of 20 minutes per session, between 4-6 sessions per week. Moreover, do this at the beginning of every session rather than at the end to avoid fatigue. The more you practice, the better because of trial and error. With enough failure, you will eventually be able to find the balance point and hold the handstand!
This is the very first exercise that you must master as it puts emphasis on the anterior deltoids, and you will get a feel of what partially loading your body weight onto your shoulders feels like. Your aim is to be able to hold this position for 15 seconds for 3 sets before moving on to the next progression. To perform this you will:
This is a progression from the pike hold as you will place your feet on an elevated surface. This will put more load on your shoulders and core. Your aim is to be able to hold this position for 20 seconds for 3 sets before moving on to the next progression. To perform this, you will:
Once you arrive at this stage, this is where the real fun begins as you will be fully upside down with the majority of your body weight being placed upon your shoulders. This will further develop the strength and endurance in your upper body muscle and is a phase where you will begin to learn the art of hand balancing.
There are two variations within the wall handstand: the chest-to-wall (C2W) and the back-to-wall handstand (B2W). You should practice these two variations together to fast-track your progress towards your goal. You will initially work on the C2W handstand first, before attempting the B2W to build solid straight arm strength and endurance in your shoulders. Once you can do the C2W hold for 10 seconds for 3 sets, you can then attempt B2W handstands.
It is highly recommended that you practice both the C2W and the B2W hold together in a single session for at least 20 minutes at the start of your sessions. You can put more emphasis on one variation and alternate. For example, you could do 15 minutes of a C2W handstand drill, followed by 5 minutes of the B2W handstand drill. Moreover, you should practice the 3 handstand strength development exercises to condition your muscles.
Hand placement is a vital key to balancing yourself whilst being upside down. Note that if you are new to handstand, you may encounter wrist pain, which is normally caused by a lack of wrist mobility. This is normal and with consistent practice and wrist mobility work, the pain will gradually fade. However, if the pain is unbearable, you can try using the parallettes and alleviate the pain in your wrists.
You can purchase a set of parallettes directly from Amazon, along with other highly recommended pieces of calisthenics equipment by clicking on this link. You should do the following to your hands:
The chest-to-wall handstand will put more load on your shoulders as you will be upside down on your hands. This will promote shoulders strength and correct body alignment. There are 4 progressions from the chest-to-wall handstand variation alone, and your goal is to be able to hold 15 seconds C2W hold for 4 sets before moving onto the next progression. To perform this you will:
Once you can achieve the C2W target hold, you can move on to this progression. To do this, you will simply get into a C2W handstand position, followed by bringing one leg away from the wall until it is in line with your torso, whilst keeping the other leg on the wall for support. Hold this position between 10-20 seconds per leg for 10 sets. Practice on one leg in a single set. Your aim is to be able to hold 20 seconds on each leg for 4 sets.
This progression will have you alternate bringing one leg away from the wall whilst keeping the other on the wall, and switch between each leg to create a switching leg tempo. Push through with your shoulders, engage your glutes and core to ensure your body is in a straight line. Perform this between 8-20 switches per set for 8 sets. Your aim is to be able to do 18 switches for 4 sets before moving on to the next progression.
The C2W leg pull will require you to keep your feet and legs together and gently pull your feet away from the wall until your feet are in line with your torso. You will do this by gently pressing into your palms and lightly push your feet away from the wall, counterbalance by pressing with your fingers to shift your feet back to the wall. Perform this between 10-20 pulses for 8 sets. Your aim is to be able to do 18 pulses for 4 sets before moving on to the next progression.
In this progression, you will get into a C2W position and perform a leg pull where you bring your feet away from the wall, and you will try to hold a freestanding handstand. Keep your glutes, core engaged to ensure good alignment, and press into your fingers or pressing with the palms to find balance. Aim to hold between 2-15 seconds for 8 sets. Once you can hold 5 seconds consistently, you can then move on to the freestanding handstand attempts.
You move on to this progression once you can do C2W hold for 10 seconds for 3 sets. This is progression is where a lot of people struggle with and it mainly comes down to two factors: fear factor and/or lack of strength in shoulders and legs. To overcome this fear, all you have to know is that the wall is there to catch you, not to hurt you! If you are at this phase, you will have enough upperbody strength to support your body weight, therefore, have a little faith in yourself! To do this you will:
Once you are comfortable with the handstand kick-ups, you can hold the B2W handstand hold between 10-20 seconds for 8 sets. Your back may arch because your feet are on the wall, try to straighten your body alignment by engaging your core and squeezing your glutes to push your hips forward. Your aim is to be able to hold 15 seconds B2W hold for 4 sets before moving on to the next progression.
This progression is the same as C2W one leg hold but this time you will get into an assisted handstand with your back facing against the wall. You will get into the B2W hold position, followed by bringing one leg away from the wall, whilst keeping the other leg on the wall for support. Hold this position between 10-20 seconds per leg for 10 sets. Practice on one leg in a single set. Your aim is to be able to hold 20 seconds on each leg for 4 sets.
The B2W alternating legs will have you switch between bringing one leg away from the wall whilst keeping the other on the wall, and alternate this movement between both legs to create an alternating tempo. Focus on body alignment by pushing through the shoulders and keeping your core and glutes engaged. Perform this between 8-20 switches per set for 8 sets. Your aim is to be able to do 18 switches for 4 sets before moving on to the next progression.
The progression will require you to get into the B2W position, keep your legs and feet together, and gently pull your feet away from the wall until your feet are in line with your torso. You will press into your fingers and lightly push your heels away from the wall, and counterbalance by pressing the palms of your hands to shift your feet back to the wall. Perform this between 10-20 pulses for 8 sets. Your aim is to be able to do 18 pulses for 4 sets before moving on to the next progression.
Finally, you are at a phase where you can try to balance on your hands with limited involvement of the wall. You will get into a B2W position and perform a leg pull where you bring your feet away from the wall, and you will try to hold a freestanding handstand. Aim to hold between 2-15 seconds for 8 sets. Once you can hold 5 seconds consistently, you can then move on to freestanding handstand attempts.
Once you are comfortable with both the last progression of the C2W and B2W handstand, you can progress on to doing a freestanding handstand. At this stage, you should be able to consistently do 5-10 seconds of the C2W and B2W leg pull hold. Now it’s time to test the waters and do it without the wall, and it will be just a matter of trial and error until you find the equilibrium of your balance point.
First, you will need to know how to dismount from the freestanding handstand. A dismount is important as it will ensure that you are able to exit safely from a handstand. Once you can do this, then you are able to do a handstand virtually anywhere! To do a dismount, you will:
At this point, you will practice freestanding handstand using the dismount to safely exit the handstand. Now, it is a matter of trial and error and finding your equilibrium for the balance point. Remember to press your fingertips down and pull the hips back towards the ground if you are falling forward, and press into the palms of your feet, and pull the hips forward if you are falling backward.
To be able to hold your body in an upside-down position for a period of time will put a lot of pressure on your shoulders, arms, upper back, and core. You will have to condition your muscles through a variety of exercises and hand balancing drills in order to develop endurance and strength in the working muscles.
The handstand will increase your proprioception (the perception or awareness of the body’s movement in space). This will take your body awareness to a whole new level! Your proprioceptors will be able to react to more sudden changes in your body position, therefore, improving your body’s ability to naturally balance and your spatial awareness.
Handstand is an impressive skill and being able to hold it will display significant upper body strength and body control. This will most likely look aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of yourself and to others that would be witnessing this awesome skill - It is not every day that you see someone holding a handstand! Moreover, the journey to unlocking the handstand will be fun and a rewarding experience.
My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.