There’s no getting around it: Learning how to do a handstand is one of the coolest feats of physical fitness. That’s true whether performing a handstand is your ultimate fitness goal or you want to work your way up to handstand progressions such as handstand push-ups and one-arm handstands.
Here’s how to perform a handstand safely and effectively — or work your way up to it if you’re not quite ready.
What Are the Benefits of Doing a Handstand?
This calisthenic exercise is more than a great party trick.
1. Builds total-body strength
“Holding a handstand doesn’t just strengthen the arms, but also the muscles of the shoulders, back, and even hips and thighs,” explains Openfit Executive Director of Fitness Stephanie Saunders. That’s because staying upside down requires the body to be completely rigid from head to toe. If anything relaxes, everything will crumble.
2. Develops core stability
A handstand is basically an upended plank, requiring and building core stability in a big way, Saunders says. One of the primary muscles worked is the transverse abdominis, which acts like an internal weight belt to support your spine.
3. Enhances proprioception
Holding a handstand develops your body’s ability to know and control exactly where it is in space (aka proprioception), Saunders says.
4. Forges mental toughness
One of the biggest challenges in holding a handstand is the mental aspect — namely, fear. Can you do it? Will you fall? Learning to overcome your fears is a huge benefit of learning to perform a handstand, and it translates to other feats of strength both in and out of the gym.
How to Do a Handstand
Lean how to do a handstand with these step-by-step instructions. If you’re attempting your first handstand, follow these steps while facing a wall. (As with any move, perform this one at your own risk.)
- Place your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart with your head as close to neutral as possible.
- Spread your fingers wide, with the weight evenly distributed across your palms and your index fingers pointed forward. If you have wrist mobility limitations, you can point them outward slightly.
- Position your feet on the floor so that your body forms an upside-down V with your back flat (not rounded).
- Brace your core, press into your hands, and lift one leg up until both legs form an L, and then hop the other one off the ground, raising both up until your body is vertical to the ground (i.e., in a handstand).
- Once in the inversion, check that your joints are stacked; your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should all be aligned.
- Squeeze your legs together, pull your belly button into your spine, and think about pulling your hip bones to your ribs. And don’t forget to breathe!
- To exit, lower one foot at a time.
How to Work Up to a Handstand
Handstands build strength and stability, but they also require it. Before you can follow our steps on how to do a handstand, you might need to master these training-wheel moves first.
The following exercises are designed to help you build the wrist, arm, shoulder, core, and glute strength you’ll need to perform an unassisted handstand.
1. High plank
Assume a push-up position with your body forming a straight line from head to heels and your hands aligned with (and slightly wider than) your shoulders. Squeeze your core and glutes to keep your body rigid. Hold for time, and then return to the starting position.
2. Hollow-body hold
Lie flat on your back with your legs together, your toes pointed, and your arms straight above your head. Engage your core and press your lower back into the ground as you raise your arms, head, shoulders, and legs a few inches off the floor. Hold for time, and then return to the starting position.
3. Wall walk
Assume a push-up position with your feet against the base of a wall. Step each foot progressively higher up the wall as you walk your hands back toward the wall. Continue until your body is completely vertical. Hold for time, and then return to the starting position.
4. Stability ball pike
Assume a push-up position with your shins on top of a stability ball. Keeping your back flat and legs straight, raise your hips, rolling your toes onto the ball so that your body forms an upside-down V. (If you can, get your upper body vertical to the floor). Hold for time, and then return to the starting position.