Handstands at Home

Handstands (and headstands) are our favorite way to get upside down without an apparatus. They’re excellent cross-training for aerial work and will help keep your shoulders strong and your core engaged. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just find an empty section of wall or close (and maybe lock) a door, and you’re ready to go.

Warming Up

As always, start with some light cardio to warm your body up properly, such as running in place or jumping jacks. If you’ve got space, crawling backwards with knees hovering just above the ground is a great way to warm up your shoulders.

Make sure to give your wrists some special attention prior to a handstand session. Circle them in both directions, stretch them out, then kneel down and place your hands flat on the floor in front of you. Keep your palms (including that bottom knuckle) on the floor and pull your fingers in, as if you were trying to wrinkle the floor underneath you. 

Conditioning Exercises

Once you’re warm, it’s time to target some of the major muscle groups you’ll use during your handstand. Here are a few of the conditioning exercises we recommend:

  • Planks and plank variations
    • Holding a plank strengthens shoulders and core and will help you get used to the pressure on your wrists.
    • If you get bored with a static plank hold, try moving from hands to elbows one at a time, then returning to hands, alternating which elbow comes down first.
  • Scapular pushups
    • From your plank position, sink your sternum towards the floor, allowing shoulders to pull together. Push the floor away to separate shoulders, without allowing the upper back to round.
  • Weighted hold
    • Find something heavy. A kettlebell or barbell is ideal, but you could also use a full water jug, a stack of books, or a very patient pet. Find hollow body while standing, then raise your item overhead. Push your shoulders up to your ears. Maintain hollow body.
    • If this is too easy, find a heavier item.
  • Elephant walks
    • From standing, bend forward and place your hands on the floor a few steps in front of you. Press into the floor and rise up on your toes. Stack shoulders over wrists, then try to bring feet towards hands without jumping. Try looking towards your feet, not at your hands.
    • This one is challenging, so be patient with yourself

Handstand Drills

One of the best drills for training is holding your handstand against a wall. Start with 15 seconds if you’re brand new, then work your way up to 30 seconds, then 60 over the course of several weeks.

If you’re more advanced, try beginning with a minute hold, then a 45 second hold, then a 30 second hold, all in quick succession. You can also do 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for as many rounds as you can muster – this is a great way to end your practice, as the goal is to wear yourself out! 

Whenever you practice your handstand, think about pushing shoulders up to your ears, finding hollow body, reaching your toes to the ceiling and actively pointing or flexing your feet, and using your fingertips to maintain balance. If this is too much to think about, begin by focusing on the push, then the hollow.

Other handstand drills you might enjoy:

  • If you have a yoga ball, find a plank position with your shins on the ball. Use your abs to pull your lower body in, so that your shoulders and hips stack over your wrists.
    • You might try this close to a wall in case you want to try lifting legs off the ball into a handstand, or in case you are worried about falling backwards.
  • Stand with your back to the wall. Find plank, then place your feet on the wall behind you. Walk your feet up the wall as you walk your hands in toward the wall. Go as high up the wall as you can, then slowly walk back down.
    • Use caution. If you go high enough, you’ll end up in a handstand facing the wall, with nothing behind you to break your fall.
  • If that last one seems too intimidating, stand with your back to the wall, fold forward to place hands on the ground, then place both feet on the wall. Adjust your position so that legs are straight and hips are stacked over shoulders and wrists. Actively push hands into the floor and feet into the wall.
    • When comfortable, try taking one leg to the ceiling, while keeping the other firmly pressed into the wall. Alternate legs.

Cool Down

End your practice with some gentle stretching, paying special attention to the neck and shoulders. Then give your wrists a final treat: press palms together in front of you, aligning the heels of your hands, bottom knuckles, and fingertips. Imagine your hands as opposing forces as they press into each other.

Briefly allow one hand to “win”, pushing the opposite wrist into flexion, then switch and let the other hand win. Keep both hands actively pressing throughout the exercise.