The handstand is the perfect test of balance, coordination and upper body strength ane if used regularly, the handstand is a fundamental skill. However, it needs a lot of practice to perfect!
Lots of people both regulars and those who are new to training programmes can find it hard to get used to or master. The idea of throwing your body upside down doesn’t always appeal to many at the beginning, however, once you nail your handstands, you feel a whole new level of control over your body, and, in a way, a deeper understanding of it, and the muscles used to control yourself in movement.
This article will guide you through the necessary exercise to build up towards a Handstand and Handstand Pushup no matter your current experience level.
The Benefits of Handstand Push-Ups
Learning how to perform handstands or handstand press-ups provide you with a whole array of benefits from building muscle and stability to ensuring to continue to build strength without the use of equipment.
1. Help to build muscle
The Handstand push-ups will have you building strength and muscle in your entire upper body, from your delts, pecs, lats, triceps, to your abdominals! The large load of weight going through your upper body requires stability and strength.
The exercise requires a lot of strength through the shoulder, back, arm, and chest muscles, so as you slowly increase to holding your entire body weight you’ll start to build strength and muscle. There is also a lot of force exerted by the triceps and the arm extensor as well as the core muscles to stabilize your posture, as you get more proficient all these muscles grow and strengthen.
2. Help to improve your balance
The Handstand and handstand push-ups require you to stay upside down and if you get really good without a wall to help stabilise. The exercise requires strength through the shoulder, back, arm, and chest muscles, but more importantly the core muscles to stabilize your posture, and keep you strong and study when holding or performing the movement.
The building of strength withing the core means that this can transfer into other movements and make you both stronger and more balanced.
3. They don’t require equipment
Handstand push-ups are similar to overhead pressing your weight, and that will be a significant load to lift. The best part? No equipment is needed and with limited access to the gym, these can be great exercises that require a whole upper body strength but with no equipment.
It can be a difficult move to master but will have you building strength in your entire upper body, from your delts, pecs, lats, triceps, to your abdominals!
Mastering the Handstand
Mastering the handstand will then mean you can move on to learning the handstand push-ups and then the handstand walks, two exercises often used mostly in Metcon and cross-training.
To be able to do good handstands and movements from this, you need to have good shoulder mobility.
Make sure you always warm up your shoulders before performing any exercise. Start by circulating your arms at the shoulder forwards and backwards before then stretching them along with your chest and back to keep you open and mobile for the best possible handstand movements.
Start by practising your handstands against a wall to help with stability, but if you are worried, or you don’t have the strength to hold your weight, using the exercises below will improve your upper body strength, and allow you to progress to full handstands and later handstand push-ups, but also get your head more used to the idea and feeling of being upside down!
1. Hollow Holds
Hollow holds are an excellent bodyweight exercise which is extensively used across training and disciplines that require a strong and sturdy core. The exercise teaches control and helps build a tight core which once mastered can be progressed in hollow rocks which allow you to generate power through the body to perfect and perform certain movements.
- Start the movement by laying on the floor on your back, extending your arms out above your head and your legs straight.
- Raise both your arms and legs at the same time slowly and with control until you shoulder blades and legs are entirely lifted. Sucking your belly button to your spine and tensing through your trunk.
- Hold this position for 20-30 secs before lowering back down, rest for 10-20secs and then repeat.
- Once you master the hold, try holding your form and adding a small rocking forward and backwards movement without breaking form.
2. Pike Push-Up
When it comes to pike push-ups think of them as the downward dogs tougher sister, great for building strength and stability in the shoulders and uses only your upper body to complete the movement. Its the perfect stepping stone towards a handstand due to the strength building in the shoulders but also because it requires your core to keep you stable. Add these into your workout 2 times a week for 3 rounds of 5-8 reps.
- Start the movement getting yourself into a high plank position, your arms straight down with hands under your shoulders, core engaged with a nice flat back.
- Lift your hips up and back, tucking the head (while keeping your back straight) so you are now an inverted V shape.
- Start the movement by bending at the elbow and lowering your head towards the floor, ensuring to keep your back and legs straight and core tight.
- Just before your head touches the floor hold for a second, and then pushing through you hands return to starting position.
3. The Box Push-Up
Once you’ve mastered the pike push-ups it’s time level up to the box push up which is perfect for building more strength and stability in the shoulders and uses your core as you progress through the movement. For this, you will need a wooden box or something of a similar height that is sturdy to work on. As you get better and stronger progression through the movements below until you can progress onto to the handstand and then handstand push up.
Beginner Movement (Phase one)
This first phase of the box press up if for beginners but should be pretty easy for anyone to try!
- Start by laying on top with your quads touching the box, legs bent, straight back, and you upper body handing over the edge with your hands on the floor in line with your shoulders.
- As with the pike push up, you start the movement by bending at the elbow and lowering your head to the floor (keeping your torso parallel to the box) hold just before your head touches the floor and drive through the hands to starting position.
- This will help to build up your upper body strength in shoulders, and will also help you progress to feeling more comfortable and get used to having your feet above your head.
Intermediate Movement (Phase two)
Once you are comfortable with phase one and are able to perform a decent number without being tested it time to progress to phase two, which will make it a little harder.
- Get into the starting position from phase one but bring your hands in closer to the box and lift the top of our thighs off the box too.
- By bringing your hands in and lifting the top thigh it means you are in more of a vertical position, and closer to a full handstand push up movement.
- Start by just holding this position until you feel comfortable then once you are comfortable to start the movement by bending at the elbow and lowering your head to the floor (keeping your torso parallel to the box) hold just before your head touches the floor and drive through the hands to starting position.
Expert Movement (Phase three)
Phase three is getting you ready to graduate and move onto the real thing. Practice makes perfect and the more you push to grow stronger in your shoulders and core the closer you’re getting so don’t be afraid to progress each day.
- Start by turning your plyo box to the highest level it can be, and get into the starting position from phase two but lift the entire thighs off the box so you have your knees on the box as you can see in the image.
- Ensure to concentrate on getting your head tucked through, your core engaged and creating a vertical straight line with your back. This position will test your balance and upper body strength the most and is the closest to the handstand.
- Start by just holding this position until you feel comfortable then once you are comfortable to start the movement by bending at the elbow and lowering your head to the floor (keeping your torso parallel to the box) hold just before your head touches the floor and drive through the hands to starting position
- Once you are comfortable with both the hold and movement in this position, you are ready to try your handstand against the wall.
Handstand Tips For Beginners
Handstands are a movement that requires continual practice so once you have learnt movement you continue to perfect and tighten the muscles but also to not lose the feeling of being upside down. Some people do them very naturally, for others it takes a lot of determination and practice but don’t give up and keep practing.
1. Make sure your hands are quite widely spread
This will make it easier to hold as well as helping with push-ups in the future,so aim to have them slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
2. Don’t position your hands too far away from the wall.
Obviously, you don’t want them too close or you won’t be able to kick up into your handstand properly but too far will also mean you have to go far past your balance point, which is what you want to be working on, so find a place that feels comfortable to you that allows you to easily hold your body in a straight line.
3. Remember to engage your whole body
Make sure you are aware of the muscles you are using and keep them engaged. It is especially important to engage your core, so you are ready to catch yourself in a strong, controlled position.
Once you feel strong in your handstands (making sure you are looking through and keeping a straight back, don’t let it dip), and you’re happy that your upper body strength is good enough, you can start working on the handstand push-up!
A great way to start practising these is to scale the movement by using weight plates underneath your head. These are great for people that don’t have enough upper body strength to do a full strict handstand push up but can do half or ¾.
If you are scaling, work out where you will be practising, and put some weight plates down with something soft on top to rest your head-on. You can put on and take off plates as needed, once you try one you’ll be able to work out if it was too easy or maybe too difficult. The key is to always be very controlled in these movements, and never be in a rush.
To begin, get into your handstand, slowly lower your body down by bending at the elbow until your head sits comfortably on the mat, and then keeping your core tight, push up through the hands and return back into the handstand.
Take Home Message
The handstand is a highly skilled movement and requires alot of strength and it careful practice but it a movement which once master can be both fun and challenging!
It require a great deal of practice and can progressed with kipping movements and presses but take extra care when working on these movements. Always bring your head down gently, and if you are getting tired, come away and rest before practising again!