Not only are handstands an incredibly effective way to build shoulder and upper-body strength, they're great for core strength, increasing your balance, and they may even help with circulation and bone health. Plus, they’re just plain fun!
Once you get over that initial fear of being upside down, you’ll learn to love handstands just like I did — and start doing them every day.
The best part: handstands can be tailored to all fitness levels, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been working out diligently for years. And they're a perfect companion to HIIT workouts as well.
Here’s how to get better at handstands, even if you've never done one before:
If you're just starting out, handstand with your feet on an elevated surface.
1. Find an elevated surface that’s about waist high, such as a plyometric box, a table or a high bench.
2. Place your feet on the surface with your legs straight, then walk your hands towards your legs so that you’re bent in a 90 degree angle.
3. Push up through your shoulders, keep your core tight and hold. Work up to holding this for 30 to 60 seconds.
Not only will holding this modified handstand help you build up strength in your shoulders, it will also help ease you into the idea of being upside down!
Next up: handstand facing away from the wall.
1. Face toward the wall, place your hands on the ground shoulder-width apart, and kick up into a handstand. Try not to slam your feet/back/butt onto the wall, and practice control.
2. Work up to holding a wall handstand for 60 seconds. Don't be discouraged if you can only hold it for five to 10 seconds at first — you'll get there with practice!
Note: If kicking up to the wall is scary for you at first, try skipping this one and moving onto the next step.
A bit more difficult: handstand facing the wall.
1. Face away from the wall with your hands on the ground shoulder-width apart.
2. Slowly walk your feet up the wall until you’re vertical.
3. Then, walk your hands close to the wall, push up through your shoulders, and keep your core tight.
4. Practice letting your feet come off of the wall so that you’re balancing without the help of the wall, even if you can only hold it for a second or two at first.
5. Get out of the handstand by walking your feet down the wall and then towards your hands, or by cartwheeling down.
Try holding a chest-to-wall handstand for 10 to 30 seconds for three to four sets. If this is too tough for you still, you can practice walking up and down the wall until you start building up strength. This alone is a great equipment-free exercise to help build shoulder and core strength!
Tip: place a pillow or an ab mat underneath your head to help decrease your fear of crashing.
The ultimate goal: the freestanding handstand.
1. Start with your hands on a floor in an area where there’s nothing around you to bump into.
2. Kick or tuck up with control and hold the handstand, making sure to push through your shoulders, keep your core tight, and point your toes as you do so.
3. Lower yourself down with control (falling is perfectly acceptable at first).
Practice handstands regularly and you’ll not only gain strength and build muscle, you’ll also boost your confidence — and have fun while you’re at it! Good luck!
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.