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Ever Wonder How to Do a Handstand?

This is a guest post from Jim Bathurst, from BeastSkills.com.

The Big Guy’s Guide to Holding the Handstand

The handstand is a skill that requires total body coordination and focus, not unlike a deadlift. But unlike a deadlift you don’t see too many larger guys doing the skill. The handstand seems relegated to skinny guys and 7 year old girls in many a lifter’s mind. But why?

CHECK OUT THE REST OF THIS KILLER POST AFTER THE JUMP

I’ll say that anyone, regardless of horizontal circumference, can become quite proficient at this skill.

Need proof? How about Bert Asseratti.

diesel crew one arm handstand
A rare sight

Not only could Bert do a one arm handstand, but also three one arm chin-ups in row! Certainly acrobatic feats are possible for anyone! John Davis, Olympic Weightlifting champion, was also known to partake in various acrobatic feats, such as the human flag.


The author (obviously not John Davis)

The Whys

So maybe now I’ve convinced you that you could do this skill. The next question that might pop up is why? Why do I even want to bother learning this skill?

I won’t go into long, convoluted descriptions trying to convince you how the handstand is essential to training, because quite frankly it’s not. If your goals are benching, squatting, and deadlifting, then the handstand won’t help. You need to bench, squat, and deadlift.

What I will present to you is the appeal of training for and mastering this skill. First, it will add some variety to an otherwise routine training schedule. As I illustrated earlier, it was something that oldtime strongmen use to practice with surprising proficiency. This balance of barbell and bodyweight strength seems to be lost to time.

Finally, just think of how cool it would look to do what other’s would think impossible of you at first glance. Sure he’s large and can lift heavy weights, but he’s probably not agile enough to tie his shoes, right? Then, BAM, handstand.

The Hows

How do we begin? We need to start with two things, learning how to shift weight on our hands, and trusting that we can support our large frames on our arms.

Shifting Weight on Your Hands

The first exercise we’ll learn is called the frogstand, or in yoga, the crow pose. This is the last time I’ll mention the word yoga in this article.

The skill starts with you squatting down with your hands shoulder width apart on the floor in front of you. We don’t need flexibility for this, and it doesn’t matter if the back is rounded. With your hands on the ground and arms straight, you want to put your knees to the outsides of your elbows.


Frogstand, ready for lift-off

In this position, squeeze your knees inwards and press your elbows outwards. This will tighten up the body. Just like staying tight in the bench helps with strength and control, so will it with the following position.

With the body tight, start to lean forward from your wrists. Do not bend your elbows too much!! Bend your elbows too much and you’ll bite it. This may be a good time to let you know that a mat or something similarly soft would be good to put on the ground in front of you to protect yourself if you decide to inadvertently decide to head butt the ground.

If you lean forward enough, you may soon find yourself able to pick your feet off the ground. You’ll now be balancing yourself on your hands, just like a handstand! You’ll find it much easier to stay up and control the position if you try and get your weight on the top half of your palm and your knuckles.


Remember it well

If you get too much of your weight on the heels of your hands, then the balance will be unnecessarily difficult. Get your weight forward more and grab hard into the ground with your hands. If this is difficult too, then recheck your grip strength and weak deadlift numbers. There are many online resources you can read to improve your grip strength, although specific sites elude me right now.

Once you get it, continue to practice this balancing position, as it’ll serve you well in the handstand.


Balanced Frogstand

Supporting Your Weight on Your Hands

Can you load up a barbell with your bodyweight and press it overhead? Congratulations! You can definitely hold a handstand. Can’t do it? For shame, but all hope is not lost. Holding a handstand is much more about getting your joints in line than pressing strength.

The next exercise we’ll work is called “walking up the wall”, for this exercise we will walk up the wall. I know, rocket science. Face away from a wall and put your hands down about 2 1/2 to 3 feet away from the wall (your size will determine your necessary distance). From there, put one foot up onto the wall, then put the other foot up onto the wall.


walking up the wall – start

Continue walking up the wall until your feet and hips are higher than your hands. Don’t let your hips sag or your shoulders move forward. Stretch the body out! Keep things tight! Try and get your body in a straight line. You’ll look something like this:


walking up the wall – end

If you can hold that position, you can hold a handstand. If you can’t, work on it.

Flipping things around

Alright, we’ve gotten more and more comfortable with this whole acrobatic thing. Now we’re going to flip the last exercise around, add some speed, and end up with something much closer resembling a handstand.

Now we’ll work on kicking up into a handstand against the wall. Take your hands and place them down facing the wall. They should be about 1 1/2 feet from the wall, not too close or too far.

From that position, we’ll be doing our best Uganda Bolt impression and getting into a runner’s start stance. One leg tucked underneath us, another leg straightened out behind us. Doesn’t matter which is which, just go with what comes naturally.


Like a 1 meter dash into a brick wall

The straight leg will stayed stretched out the whole time and give the majority of the kicking power by swinging upward in an arc toward the wall. The bent leg will help assist by giving a slight hop and push.

When you first try this, don’t try to reach the wall first time. Kick up a bit, then try to increase the distance you travel. Get comfortable with each step. This reduces the chance of breaking yourself.

When you first try this, there are three key points I want you to keep in mind.

1. Don’t bend your arms.

Seems obvious, right? Plenty of people freak out when going upside-down the first time and bend their arms. Don’t be one of them.

2. Don’t tuck your head.

Everyone seems to have an idea of a handstand where the head is perfectly between the arms and one looks away from the wall. This works for Olympic gymnasts, but most don’t have the shoulder flexibility to try this without doing a forward roll into the wall.

There are also balance considerations and various other things that make tucking your head a bad idea for most. Trust me on this one. Look straight down to the ground between your hands. Don’t move your eyes from that spot.

3. Don’t let your shoulders move forward.

The final point, and probably the hardest to first figure out is how to keep your shoulders from moving. A handstand has the hands, shoulders, and hips in a vertical line to balance.

If your shoulders start moving forward when you kick up, then not only are you getting out of alignment, but more than likely your head will start smashing into the wall. If you start to get pounding headaches when you practice this exercise, this may be the problem.


ouch

With any luck you’ve kicked upwards and rested your feet delicately on the wall. Or perhaps you kicked with all your might and now have a sizable dent in your wall. In either case, you’re upside-down and should now stretch out your body (like the wall walking exercise) in order to stay up and start to progress.


A Handstand Against the Wall

Congratulations if you’ve gotten to this point. It takes a bit of work to get here and now we’ve got something we can work with. For the next several months you’ll be here trying to find the balance of a handstand.

Finding the Balance

From this point, it’s a matter of tapping your feet off the wall, stretching your entire body from hands to toes to keep tight, and finding the balance point on your hands.

Where is the balance point? Have you been working the frogstand, or did you skip over that section when I mentioned the “Y” word?

You want to grab into the ground and keep your weight off the heels of your hands. Dedicated practice and you’ll be able to hold yourself away from the wall for longer and longer periods. Don’t forget to breathe during this time too. Save the red face for max effort squats.


Brad Gillingham with a Necessary Red Face

Conclusion

If you’ve gone through all these steps, then you’ve probably already amazed most people at your gym. As I mentioned, kicking up against the wall and finding your balance in the handstand will take a significant amount of time from this point. Don’t give up. I’ll write up another article in the future about how you can take your handstand away from the wall and hold it confidently in the open for what will undoubtedly become your coolest party trick.

Good luck with your training.

-Jim
Jim Bathurst currently runs the site BeastSkills.com, where he offers free tutorials on feats of bodyweight strength. He has been practicing acrobatics for over a decade, and has been requested to run seminars internationally due to his experience. Jim is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). In his spare time he deadlifts.

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10 Responses to “Ever Wonder How to Do a Handstand?”

  1. sidharth Says:

    Hey Jim,
    Always been an admirer of your philosophy of all round emphasis on both acrobatic skills and weight lifting skills. I benefited a lot from your tutorials on beast skills.

    As far as handstand is concerned everyday am getting proficient at it , so far as to balance myself for 15-20 secs off the wall now at a bodyweight of 87 Kilos with a history of devastating shoulder injury.
    Before i started concentrating on this particular skill and now, the difference is tremendous as far as my shoulder health, mobility and strength is concerned. I can tell my posture is better which has helped me in my weight lifting sessions, my grip strength etc.
    So for the record anyone with postural imbalances , shoulder issues this is a must have tool in your kit (along with handstand retraction/protraction/shrugs and HS pushup with gradual increase in ROM).It costs nothing but frequent practice. I do it between sets of everything in the gym.

    Tough bodyweight drills such as this have an immediate resetting effect and correcting wrong motor patterns with practice and directly carry over in making us more aware spatially and correct us when we are playing with weights in the gym.
    Its all about co-ordination after all.

  2. Joe Hashey Says:

    Good stuff Jim!

    Joe

  3. Dan Cenidoza Says:

    Thanks Jim. It was like you wrote that post just for me as this is something I have been working on. Was taken back when you said “the next several months” – I’ll get right back to work!

  4. Dan Cenidoza Says:

    Hit some big PR’s in time today thanks to that “balance here” picture of the hand.

  5. Adam Says:

    Hey Jim,
    Great article, but don’t knock the yoga! There’s some serious benefit to being able to hold those poses correctly, and I’m not referring to any new age-y enlightenment stuff, either. Poses like crow, scorpion (fore-arm balance), peacock (arm lever), eight-angle (crazy, f’d up arm lever), and unsupported handstands (aka: adho mukha vrksasana) require balance, flexibility, and lots of upper body strength. Warriors 1, 2, and 3 require lower body and abdominal strength like crazy if done correctly, and garland pose requires the open hips of an olympic lifter.

    There’s this misconception out there that yoga is somehow wussy and just for women and vegan wimps. Really, if you’re lifting heavy, yoga is of immense benefit in maintaining consistent linear progress (I try and include 1-2 hours of practice on each of my two “rest” days).

    Sure, there are the slow, boring, meditative classes, but there are also Ashtanga and “power-yoga” classes that make CrossFit WODs like the little girls in pink dresses they’re named after.

    The one thing I’ll admit yoga doesn’t do well is back work – but that’s why we have pull up bars, right?

  6. Jim Bathurst Says:

    @sidharth – thanks for all the kind words! I’m glad that the handstand has been so beneficial to you! In terms of the resetting effect, I was having a talk with a buddy of mine the other day about the handstand and its relationship with the primal patterns. If he puts together an article, you’ll see it on my site!

    @Dan – Hope all’s well! Yeah, it takes quite some time to get proficient at the balance. I could describe it all day, but it’s just a matter of practice. As for the “balance here” description, just think about how you stand on your feet. If you rock back onto your heels, you can’t control anything.

  7. The Big Guy’s Guide to Holding the Handstand « Streetlight Supermen Says:

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  9. Sam Says:

    many of the images links are dead

  10. Jedd Johnson Says:

    Crap! Thanks for letting me know.

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