If you’ve been working on handstands for a while now without much luck, you know they’re not an easy skill to develop.
Not only do handstands require a ton of body awareness and balance, you also need to be strong enough to hold yourself upside down for enough time that you can actually practice them. Anyone who has succeeded in mastering handstands knows they take lots of consistent practice. Yet with time and patience, handstands are doable!
Here are four exercises to strengthen the muscles you need to get into (and stay in) a spotter- and wall-free handstand:
1. Pike Rolls With a Swiss Ball
Pike rolls build your strength and help you practice correct hip and shoulder positioning for handstands.
To do them, grab a Swiss ball, get in a plank with your shins on the ball, and then slowly roll forward so you’re on top of your shoulders in a pike position. Aim to feel a stretch through your shoulders and get your butt directly over your head while you keep your core tight and point your toes. Roll back down with control.
2. Handstand Shoulder Touches
Shoulder touches are a fantastic way to build upper body strength for handstands.
With your chest to the wall, focus on keeping your entire body tight as you push up through your shoulders in a handstand. Try lifting one hand off the floor at a time and lightly touching your shoulder on the same side. Don’t worry if you can barely get your hand off the floor at first—these will get easier with practice.
If these are too tough at first, you can also do shoulder taps in a plank to build up strength.
Note: Rather than kicking up into a handstand against a wall (with your chest ultimately facing out), I highly recommend walking your feet up the wall so that your chest is facing the wall when you’re practicing handstands. Ultimately, this will lead to a much better free-standing handstand and is a good habit to develop early on in your practice.
3. Handstand Wall Walks
Handstand wall walks will really help to boost your strength and endurance when you're upside down. Don’t get discouraged if they’re tough for you at first; you’ll build up strength fast!
Start in a plank position in front of a wall, then walk backward up the wall so that your chest is facing the wall. Push up through your shoulders, pull your core in, and point your toes. Slowly lift one hand up as you shift your body and move to one direction before putting your hand back down.
If this is too scary at first, try doing handstand walks on a soft surface (such as a gym mat) so you’re not afraid of falling. You can also practice walking with your hands farther away from the wall to start building up strength and getting the feeling of being upside down, but eventually you should aim to get your hands as close to the wall as possible.
4. Handstand Wall Holds/Splits
Working on holds and splits against the wall helps you master the balance portion of handstands.
Walk up the wall so that your hands are about a foot away from the wall. Push up through your shoulders, tighten your core, and point your toes. Next, remove one foot from the wall and balance it overhead so that you’re in a straight line. Slowly remove the other foot from the wall and hold your handstand as long as you can. If you fall into the wall, just position your feet again. If you fall out of the handstand, simply cartwheel out.
Practice wall splits regularly and your free-standing handstands will definitely improve. Just be patient—handstands are not easy!
Krista Stryker, NSCA-CPT is the author of The 12-Minute Athlete: Get Fitter, Faster, and Stronger Using HIIT and Your Bodyweight and a leading expert on high intensity interval training (HIIT) and bodyweight fitness. She currently lives in Venice, California, and is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
From trying her first push up in college, to teaching herself to do pull ups and handstands, Krista is living proof of her philosophy that everybody is an athlete. She has helped tens of thousands of people to unlock their full athletic potential through her 12 Minute Athlete HIIT Workouts app and 12 Minute Athlete blog. You can find her @12minuteathlete on all social platforms.