So you want to do a handstand...

So you want to do a handstand. There are two factors that will prevent the handstand from happening. The first factor is fear; in order to do the handstand you have to be okay with being upside down. Hopefully you have access to some mats, but if not try a carpet or soft surface. 

Practice doing a forward roll: Place your hands on the ground in front of you bend your knees and roll on forward. Once you’ve mastered going in a straight line…well then you have defeated your fear of being upside down. 

 Now we run into our second limiting factor…strength. Let’s say you ain’t afraid of no upside downs. You attempt the handstand and realize, I should’ve counted my macros today. Here are some options for building in the strength progression for the handstand. I will list them all and you can decide where you’re at strength-wise. 

Push Up: Maintaining a perfect plank, lower your body to the floor in one solid piece, elbows pinched by the sides and pelvis posteriorly tucked. Bring your chest to deck and press back up with elbows pinched in close to the body and the body from head to tailbone maintaining a straight line. If you can doTEN straight through, move on.

Box Walks: Using a step or box, begin in a push up position and walk your hands as close to the step as you can. The feet stay in one place! Tightness in the hips or legs may prevent how close your hands get to the box, but that’s a whole other article… Either way give it a try. 

Wall Walks:  Last step! Begin in a push up position and walk your hands as close to the wall as you can. Your feet should move up the wall as your hands come in. Only as far up as you feel comfortable.

Once you have made your way face to wall at least 5 times…well my friend, your strength is there!

Now that we have overcome the fear, and gained some strength, let’s talk about the actual handstand. The next part of the progression is the kick and follow through. Many times getting the feet to the wall is the most challenging part of the handstand. It is important to choose a side you will be using from here on out. The kicking leg is important. I myself, kick up with my right leg for two reasons: it is stronger than the left, and I have more flexibility in the left leg to achieve the extension necessary to kick up. That being said, choose your kicking leg and stick with it. Keep in mind I’ve worked with children and adults and this progression may seem silly and simple, but it is effective.

The kick and follow through progression:

Donkey kicks: Hands flat on the floor (NEVER BEND YOUR ELBOWS) and kick the legs up with bent knees…this helps with the fear thing if you’re still a little nervous.

¾ kicks: As above, kick a little harder with straight legs and only come up about three quarters of the way and try to tap the feet at the top.

Full on kick: Stand facing the wall (the bigger the initial lunge is for that kick, the easier it will be – being closer to the floor and all). Place your hands about an inch away from the wall and kick. You can kick as hard as you need the wall ain’t going anywhere. Eventually your body will figure out how much force is needed to get the legs up and you will master getting your feet to the wall seamlessly and effortlessly.

The end goal, we want to be able to do these sexy handstands away from the wall, am I right? So let’s stick with the wall for a bit and attempt letting the feet off the wall for 3 whole seconds.

Let the feet off the wall: For this you need to recruit every single muscle in your body, but most important will be the traps, core, and glutes. It’s like holding in the biggest poop you’ll ever take while someone is punching you in the gut – if that imagery is helpful. Progress from 3 seconds to 5 seconds. Then to 8 or 10 seconds. Try this for a few rounds before moving from the wall.  If you’re holding that handstand by the wall for ten seconds consistently, you can start moving away from the wall and do them free standing.

Free standing handstands require that graceful kick and follow through, as well as the strength to squeeze like you’ve never squeezed before. There are ways to bail out of this if you need to.

The first way is my favorite and it’s that forward roll we talked about earlier. While in the handstand, if you feel you kicked to hard and are falling over, tuck your chin to your chest and roll on out of that handstand.

Option two is simply going back to the starting position (the original lunge you did before kicking to the handstand). I suggest doing the free standing ones with a bestie before you do it alone. Get comfortable not having a wall and then tell you bestie…it’s been real and thank him. Time to try it on your own!

My last piece of advice is how you should go about programming. I am a proponent of the Crossfit EMOM. No it’s not an electric mom…it is a lovely acronym for...

Every Minute on the Minute, and is exactly what it sounds like. For every minute you will try to complete whichever part of the progression you are up to. For example, attempt to get at least 3-5 wall walks per minute for 5-10 rounds which comes out to 5-10 minutes.

The reason I like the EMOM is because it helps you transition from the cognitive stage of motor learning (figuring out what muscles to use and making tons of mistakes) quickly into the associative stage (when the technique starts to become automatic and your body learns the feeling of the correct position). Some people call this muscle memory, but the neuro nerd in me prefers using the terms of motor learning for skill acquisition. By round 5/6 something 'clicks' in your body and you just start doing the exercise without all the thinking, and you feel more comfortable with the movements. Being that the handstand is a pretty advanced movement, using an EMOM will help you get it faster.

Patient Handstand SL.JPG

Success! 

After 4 weeks of strengthening with planks and box walk outs, Sisi has progressed to the next phase! 

Pictured left: Kicks and follow through. 

How often should you practice? 3-4 times a week. Everyone will have a different timeline dependent on how strong and how experienced you are.

Beginners, meaning those who are doing it for the first time, give it about three months to master a perfect handstand. There are a lot of moving parts, and you want to make sure you are maintaining proper technique and also NOT overtraining. So 5-10 minutes 3-4 times a week work on your progressions. 

Now get to work! Tag us in your videos so we can cheer you on! @DelfinaPilates @HouseofPhysicalTherapy