5 Total-Body Moves to Master Handstands (and Beyond)
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fitness feat that feels more rewarding — more “I am amazing and I can do anything!” — than a handstand.
After all, when you perform your first handstand, you are literally defying gravity and bending the rules of what the human body is designed to do. (Think: stand on its feet, not hands). “That’s very empowering,” explains Erica Suter, a Baltimore-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, who says handstands are one of the hardest bodyweight exercises you can perform — period.
“You have to build and maintain tension throughout your entire body to hold a handstand,” she adds. After all, if your core gives out, the weight of your legs will pull you to the floor. And if your legs don’t stay aligned with the center of your body, down you go. In the end, handstands are a lot like planks — only so much harder.
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Apart from testing total-body strength and stability, they build total-body strength and stability. Handstands work the entire body, hammering the muscles of the shoulders, arms, core and even the hips and legs, Suter says. Plus, they are a gateway to a lot of other awesome acrobatic movements such as handstand walks and handstand push-ups. Woah, buddy!
That said, no matter how exciting the thought of performing your first handstand is, knowing how to pull it off is something else entirely. That’s why we had Suter share a workout designed to get you upside-down in eight weeks. Perform it 2–3 times weekly for the best results.
1. GOBLET SQUAT
Holding a dumbbell vertically in front of your chest, stand with your feet just greater than shoulder-width apart and brace your core. From here, while keeping your torso vertical, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body until your elbows touch the insides of your knees. Pause, then slowly push through your heels to raise your body to start. That’s one rep.
Progress it: Perform three sets of 8–10 reps, resting for 30–90 seconds between sets. After Week 4, use a heavier weight for 3–5 sets of 3–5 reps, resting for 2 minutes between sets. Pick weights that allow you to just eek out your last rep with proper form.
2. HIP THRUST
Sit on the floor with your back pressed against the long side of a flat, sturdy bench and your feet flat on the floor. Hold a weight across the top of your hips. Brace your core. This is your starting position. From here, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to push your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees and your shins are completely vertical. Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to the start. That’s one rep.
Progress it: Perform three sets of 8–12 reps, resting for 30–90 seconds between sets. After Week 4, use a heavier weight for 3–5 sets of 3–5 reps, resting for 2 minutes between sets. Pick weights that allow you to just eek out your last rep with proper form. Try starting with a dumbbell and then progressing to a barbell, which will allow you to lift more weight.
Get on all fours and place your hands on the floor so they are in line with your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Keep your shoulders pulled back away from your ears and your core braced. Hold for as long as you can while maintaining proper form, for up to a minute. (Remember: Don’t sacrifice form for time!)
Progress it: Once you can hold a plank for a minute, progress to elevating your feet on a bench. Once you can hold that for a minute, progress to a higher bench or platform and then a wall.
4. BOTTOM-UP KETTLEBELL OVERHEAD HOLD
Stand tall and hold a light kettlebell, bottom-up, against the front of that side’s shoulder. This is your starting position. From here, press the weight straight up until your arm is fully extended. Be careful not to dump the weight into your back or lean to one side. Hold for as long as you can while maintaining proper form, for up to 30 seconds. (Again, don’t sacrifice form for time!) Repeat on the opposite side.
Progress it: Perform three sets of 15–30-second holds per side. Once you can hold for 30 seconds, choose a heavier weight.
5. BEAR CRAWL
Get on the floor on your hands and knees. Keeping your back neutral and hips down, lift your knees a few inches off of the floor. Brace your core. This is your starting position. From here, step one foot and your opposite hand forward in front of you as far as possible. Repeat on the opposite side, moving forward with each stride.
Progress it: Perform 2–3 sets of 10-yard crawls. Once that becomes easy, increase the distance to 20 yards.
PERFORM YOUR FIRST HANDSTAND
Stand facing away from a wall and place your hands on the floor one leg length away from the wall. Step your feet onto the wall so your legs are parallel with the floor. Your wrists, shoulders and hips should all be stacked, and your chin should be tucked in to your chest, Suter says. Brace your core, pull your shoulder blades down and together and squeeze your glutes. From here, slowly walk your hands toward the wall until you are in a handstand with your toes against the wall. Over time, work to remove your feet from the wall entirely.
Not there yet? Keep at the workout, testing again every four weeks!