From yoga classes to CrossFit WODs, handstands are having a moment. But conquering the handstand remains elusive for some of us. We think, “That probably would be a great exercise if I could just get myself upside down!” but as we get older, our logical side displaces that fearlessness we had as kids.
Good news, though! There are both mechanical and mental steps that we can practice and consider when attempting handstands to help calm our psyched-out heads and get us upside down.
To get your body handstand ready try:
- Navasana (boat pose): This pose activates your lowest abdominal muscles. This muscle lock – drawing your bellybutton to your spine – is the core of all your balance postures, handstand or not. For more intensity, try straightening legs, adding oblique twists, and incorporating “canoe” exercises. To do a canoe exercise, inhale as you lower your body to a hover, keep you shoulders off the ground and your legs extended six inches off the ground, then exhale as your draw your legs back up and lift your chest high again.
- Forearm plank: This pose helps strengthen the shoulder muscles you’ll need to support your weight when you’re flipped upside down. Keep your core tucked in while in plank position, elbows wrapped in and shoulders away from ears to continue building core strength.
Setting up for handstands:
- Start from downward facing dog and walk feet closer to hands. From here, draw belly to spine and feel that core engagement you felt in plank and Navasana.
- Practice the motion of locking shoulder blades into position as your rock forward more. To get the feel for it, you can also do this motion standing up, hands flexed out in front of you, palms facing away, and retracting your shoulder blades behind and down your back, then releasing back to neutral.
- When your feet are about a foot and a half away from your hands in downward facing dog, lift one leg up in the air, sending energy through your toes and pressing down through your hands.
- Now play with gently hopping your bottom leg up, keeping it close in to your chest as you come to balance (one leg will be extending up to the ceiling, the other bent into your chest as your send shoulders over wrists and look forward).
- As you advance in the balance, you can extend the bent leg up to meet the straightened leg and squeeze thighs together with feet flexed or pointed.
Keep in mind that while handstands do require a lot of upper body and core strength, stacking your bones is also important. Correcting the alignment of your body upside down will help you find that sweet spot of balance.
What to think about to maintain balance in handstand:
- Stack shoulders over wrists and look about six inches ahead of fingers. You’ll feel like you’re more forward than you should be, but that’s what it feels like to stack your body in proper alignment.
- To avoid going too far forward and to find your balance, grip with your fingertips! Pressing into the floor with your thumbs and fingers will help steady your body with slow control.
- Find what works for your feet. Whether you press through the balls of your feet or flex them towards the ceiling, make sure all of your leg muscles are engaged. Squeeze thighs together, and no matter the variation, and keep sending energy through your feet. If your legs are just dead weight up there, they’ll quickly bring you down, but if you lift up and out, from your core all the way through your legs, you’ll feel lighter on your hands and stay up longer.
- Use the wall for an added element of safety, but don’t become too reliant on it!
Finally, don’t take handstands too seriously! We spend 100% of our time walking on feet, so thinking it should be easy to just reverse that and maintain a steady balance on our hands is crazy talk. When an instructor offers a type of handstand exercise in a class, have fun, laugh at yourself and keep practicing!