Calisthenics involves more than just raw strength. If you really want to master the art of calisthenics and build strength then you need to incorporate balance training and gymnastics skills into your repertoire. Today I’m going to talk about how to do one of the most fundamental, yet undeniably tricky moves that you will need to know: the handstand.
I’ll be honest with you, I found learning to do a handstand hard. I’m not naturally well balanced or flexible. Before I started body weight training the most balancing I ever did was riding my bike. Now, after a lot of hard work and perseverance, I have learnt to do a handstand. In this article I’ll explain how I managed this. I’ll present you with the steps you’ll need to go through (minus the unnecessary steps I admittedly went through) to transform yourself from a stiff, lumbering caveman into an elegant gymnast – or something along those lines.
First off, what are we aiming for? There are two types of handstand, the banana handstand and the straight handstand. During this guide I’m going to talk about how to achieve the latter. Below is a description of each, including in brief the reasons why I’m only focusing on straight handstands:
Banana handstand = Torso bent so that legs hang in front of your head.
Straight handstand = The body is straight.
Once you have mastered the static handstand you can move on to even more impressive moves, such as handstand push ups.
1. How to do a Handstand
Whether you want to master the banana or the straight handstand follow my step-by-step guide:
Step 1 – Handstand Form
During a handstand balance is achieved through a combination of wrist, shoulder, pelvis and leg positioning. The banana handstand can seem easier but this is generally only because shoulder mobility is missing. To avoid this, ensure that you tilt the pelvis backwards and open your shoulders while keeping a straight back. The objective is to make a straight line with your body, from wrist to ankle.
Step 2 – Handstand Balance and Strengthening
Do some basic balance and strengthening exercises to help with preparation for the actual hand stand.
Stretching – A lot of pressure is going to be placed on your wrists, which means it’s important to thoroughly stretch your wrists before and after practising your handstand. Some simple wrist stretches include stretching our your arm with your fingers facing upwards and then using your other hand to pull back the fingers of your outstretched arm. Hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds and then do the reverse, turn your fingers to the floor and again pull your hand back towards your body.
Stability Ball – You can also use a stability ball (a.k.a. Swiss ball or exercise ball) to improve your overall balance. Pretty much any exercise performed on a stability ball will push you to improve your balance as it forces the body to adjust itself to the unstable surface.
Strengthening the core – Doing a handstand requires a lot of core strength to hold the body in position. This means doing crunches, planks and other core exercises are an essential part of preparing to do to a handstand.
Step 3 (optional) – Progression Exercise: The Pike Stand
If you don’t feel comfortable attempting a handstand just yet you can start by doing a Pike stand. I won’t go into lots of detail here but a Pike stand is where you place your feet flat on a bench and your hands on the floor. This position will help you to build strength in the right muscles and practise getting your back straight.
Step 4 – Wall Training for a Handstand
After this, start with wall training. There are several ways to get into position. You can kick off an end up facing away from the wall or you can walk up the wall with your hands on the ground until you are facing the wall.
Once in position your body will not be totally vertical, therefore it is important to ensure your body is still straight. Make sure your back is straight even when your legs are slightly leaning into the wall.
As you improve, move closer and closer to the wall. If you kick up too hard you will simply be pushed back by the wall. Keep trying until you learn the appropriate amount of effort needed to get into the right position. Once you have your hands immediately at the foot of the wall your body will be standing vertically against it. If you have mastered this it’s time for the penultimate step before attempting a free standing handstand: the one leg assisted handstand.
Step 5 – One Leg Assisted Handstand
To do the one leg assisted handstand kick off with your hands positioned about a foot from the wall. From this position you should be able to bend one leg at the knee and touch the wall with your foot. Use this one-foot to balance yourself, while the other leg remains straight.
If you loose balance you can let your legs hit the wall and use it to readjust yourself. Keep practising like this until you can doing the whole thing without using the wall.
Step 6 – Mastering the Correct Exit from a Handstand
Once you have mastered the assisted handstand you’ll want to practice your exits. You have two options: either you can do a simple roll or you can rotate laterally landing on your feet.
I recommend learning how to exit by rotating the body laterally. A role is fine when you have a soft surface under you but a rotating exit can be used anywhere. To achieve this exit you must fall back in the direction your legs came up from. As you fall swing one leg down faster than the other so that you land on one foot first, stepping onto your back foot a moment later.
Step 6 – Do a Handstand!
That’s it! You’re done. Now go and do a handstand.
2. Handstand Videos
What’s the point of learning how to do a handstand you may ask? Well, check out this video of Frank Medrano to find out:
You might also find this Frank Medrano (Vegan Warrior) handstand tutorial helpful:
More on handstands coming soon, including how to do an elbow handstand and how to train for a handstand push up.