Photo credit: Emergency Brake
This is the first in a series of “How To” blog posts intended to help you develop your skills outside of our classes. These posts are intended to support our students in practising their skills between classes. Although they are not written for non-students (“civilians”?) they may be helpful; but there is no substitute for proper teaching – even with a relatively safe discipline like juggling, and especially with any higher-risk activity like acrobatics.
A quick search on Google for “how to handstand” returns about 8,160,000 results. So why am I writing a how to practice handstands at home post? And why is it the first in this series? Because a lot of the stuff on the internet gives poor technique, assumes a certain level of competence or assumes a certain age of the participant. I wanted to write something that was intended to help our students and their parents – not the entire internet – and presented good technique. I’ve mostly used videos by GymnasticsWOD who present very good technique. Thanks, Carl. And aside from it being an important skill (it’s an essential building block of cartwheels, round offs, handsprings, back flips and more) it’s first because I decided to write this one first.
So with all of that said, let’s get started…
How to Practice Handstands
Here’s what various handstands look like.
You can see in the first handstand position the legs and arms are bent, the head is stuck out, the back is arched, and the legs are apart with feet flexed. This is bad.
The second part shows a classic old-school handstand shape. The legs are together and tight, toes are pointing, arms are locked out straight but the head is still sticking out and the back is still arched. The shoulders, neck and back are being over-worked. This is better than before but still not good. Unfortunately it’s often the best people can manage with poor shoulder flexibility as the back has to compensate for a poor shoulder angle by arching.
The third shape is what we’re looking for. This is a good handstand. The whole body is in line. feet over knees, knees over hips, hips over shoulders, shoulders over elbows, elbows over hands. Notice how the shoulder angle is now opened to 180° and the back is no longer arched. This is efficient and effective, and is what we are aiming for: straight and tight.
There are basically three factors that impact your ability to handstand.
- Your strength
- Your flexibility
- Your body awareness
Developing each of these three aspects will enable you to be confident performing a handstand.
Six Exercises to Practice Handstands at Home
Here are six exercises that you can do to practice your handstands at home. Doing the following exercises – with good technique – will improve your handstands. But if you do them with poor technique you either won’t improve, or won’t improve as fast as you could. It’s almost always better to practice for a shorter time with better technique than it is to sacrifice good technique just to hold on for a few seconds more. If you find yourself unable to maintain good position: stop, rest for a few seconds and start again properly.
1. Dish Holds & Rocks
Strengthening your core will massively improve your handstands. Practice holding dish position for ever increasing times. Start at 20 – 30 seconds and build from there in 10-15 second intervals. Obviously, if you’re strong start with a longer hold.
Remember: in dish you want to keep your back flat against the ground. Have someone try to slide their hand under your lower back to check if you’re in a good position.
If you can hold dish, try to rock without losing your body shape. The body tension this develops is critical for maintaining your position in handstand while focusing on balancing at the same time.
Note: American’s call dish “hollow”.
You should also try this with arch position.
2. Front Support Hold
With the exception of the shoulder angle, this shape is essentially the same as a good handstand shape. It helps develop static strength, stamina, body awareness and a good line. In front support the lower back should be flat, with the pelvis tucked in; the chest should be in with the upper back slightly rounded; legs should together and the glutes (bum muscles) should be squeezed; and the head should be in the natural line with the spine (ie. not lifted or dropped).
Start with holding front support for 20-30 seconds and then increase it by 10-15 seconds. You should be able to hold it comfortably for at least 1 minute. You can also try raising your feet and putting them on something like a chair.
Here’s a good video that demonstrates good technique in front support, and how to progress it towards a handstand. Skip to 4:46 to get to the front support position but you’ll miss the good stuff about shoulder position for handstands.
The higher you go, the more weight is on your hands and the harder it is. Raise your feet high enough and you’ll eventually end up with…
3. Handstand Against a Wall
Doing a handstand against the wall is a tried and tested method of developing your handstands – even at advanced levels. But you have to handstand with your chest facing the wall . If you have your back to the wall you’ll arch your back. Facing the wall let’s you keep good lines.
It may seem too easy but it works – handstands against a wall let you concentrate on your body shapes and lines while taking away the need to concentrate on balance. It also helps develop your strength and stamina.
You can also do this at an angle with your hands a bit further away from the wall, this is easier but make sure you keep the body straight and tight! As you get stronger you can slowly move your hands closer to the wall, creating a steeper body angle, eventually ending up completely vertical.
As with the front support holds, aim for 20-30 seconds building up to at least 1 minute. Good hand balancers will be able to stay on their hands for at least 5 minutes.
Once you are able to stay in handstand comfortably for 1 minute, gently try to push off of the wall, pushing your weight into your finger tips to balance.
4. Bunny Hops and Tucked Handstand
These may seem simple but a good bunny hop is hard to do. Make sure you have your fingers spread, hands shoulder width apart, elbows locked out, head in a neutral position and feet & knees together. Start with some small bunny hops, pushing weight into your hands as you go. As they get bigger you’ll need someone to support you so you can stay on your hands in tuck. Have your parent/friend stand so that they can support your shoulders and hips as you tuck up into a tucked handstand position.
As you improve and get more confident, you’ll be able to extend your legs into a proper handstand.
5. Handstand Tick Tocks & Kick Ups
If you’ve practiced everything up to this point you should be ready to start kicking up into handstand. Make sure you start standing in a straight, stretched position, take a long lunge forward, reach your hands away from you and do a small kick up, letting your feet come slightly off the floor. See if you can get the kick up to be slightly bigger each time until you start to feel that you are balancing on your hands for a moment. Make sure you keep your legs in split so that the weight of your legs stops you tipping over the top.
Once you can reach the balance point you can try swapping your legs. This helps you to practice balancing and bringing your feet together while still reducing the risk of tipping too far over.
Make sure you’re maintaining your straight position the whole way through the movement and are returning to your straight, stretched starting position to finish.
As you improve you can try to hold the balance, maintaining a small split, and slowly bringing your feet together. Trying to kick up and bring your feet together fast is a sure-fire way to lose your balance as not only does your kick up have to be precise but the second leg has a tendency to make you overshoot.
How often should I practice handstands at home?
Practice your handstands at home as often as you like. The more practice you do the stronger and better you’ll become and the more fun handstands will be. Don’t practice when you’re over-tired or if your wrists are hurting. You want to push yourself but not damage yourself.
And most of all….