A handstand is one of the most important skills in gymnastics. Not only is it one of the basics on floor, the straight-body handstand position is everywhere in other skills. The handstand position is in a giant on bars, in a front handspring on vault and in handsprings (back and front) on both beam and floor. So, it’s important to both learn how to do a perfect handstand, and to master it.
I’m going to share with you some exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles you need for a handstand, along with some drills you can do at home and at the gym to learn how to do a handstand.
Muscles You Need for a Handstand
You need strong arms and shoulders, along with a strong core in order to master and learn a perfect handstand.
- Arms & Shoulders: You need strong arms and shoulders to hold your body up in a handstand. You also use the muscles in your shoulders to help keep your balance.
- Core: You need a strong core to help keep your body in a tight-body position.
Exercises You Can Do at Home
I’ve listed some exercises you can do at home to help you strengthen the muscles you need in order to do a perfect handstand.
- Planks: You can do plank exercises to help strengthen the core muscles you need to do a handstand. You can do a plank exercise from either your wrists or your elbows. When you are in the plank position you want to be squeezing your legs, butt and core. Your shoulders should be over your elbows, and your body should be in a straight line from your head to your feet. As you are squeezing all your muscles and maintaining a straight-body positions, make sure to breathe! Planks are great for working multiple muscle groups, but especially your core.
- Push-Ups: Push-ups will help you develop the arm strength you need to hold a handstand. Get into a straight-body plank position with your shoulders over your wrists. While squeezing your core and butt, bend your arms. You want to focus on your body position and only go as far down as you can while still maintaining control of your movement. Raise your body again by straightening your arms to complete the repetition.
- Pull-Ups: Pull-ups help to strengthen your upper-body, your arms and shoulders. You can do both pull-ups and chin-ups with a pull-up bar for arm strength. For pull-ups, you hold the bar with your fingers facing away from your body, and pull your chin over the bar. For chin-ups, you hold the bar with your fingers facing towards your body.
This is a great video with skill progressions for learning handstands.
Handstand Exercises You Can Do at Home
Many of the exercises I mention you can see in the video above. These are exercises and parts of the handstand you can practice at home.
Lunge: You can practice the beginning lunge for a handstand. Start standing with your legs together and your arms by your side. Then to start your lunge, put your arms straight over your head next to your ears, and step your dominant leg in front of you and bend it slightly. Your back leg should be straight. Hold this position for 3 seconds (you want to be squeezing your core) and then pull your legs back together with your arms at your side.
Lunge & Lever: The lunge part of the lunge and lever is the same, but then you want to get your body in the shape of a “T.” To do that, with your arms straight over your head next to your ears, lift your back leg up at the same time as you move your torso and arms down. You want to keep your body straight. You want to stop when your back leg is straight out behind you perpendicular to the leg you are standing on, while your torso is also perpendicular to the leg you are standing on. You should be in the shape of a “T” with your body. Once you have hit the “T,” slowly move your body back to the lunge, keeping your arms and torso in a straight line with your back leg.
Spiderman-Against-the-Wall: Spiderman-against-the-wall is a way of doing a handstand against the wall, while using the wall for both support and to help keep you in a straight-body position. To do this, stand near a wall that has nothing (no furniture or other objects) near you that you can hit. You can also do this with a wedge placed against the wall, or with a handstand homework mat. Stand with your back to the wall. Put your hands on the ground and one of your feet on the wall. Walk your feet up the wall and move your hands closer to the wall until your belly is flat against the wall. Hold for a couple seconds and then crawl back down the wall and back to your feet.
Open Shoulder Push-Up Holds, Walks and Hops: This drill is great to help you learn the proper handstand body position. You can see this shape at 35 seconds in this video. Get in your push up position with your hands a little bit in front of you to create the open shoulder push-up shape. Then try to hold for 20 seconds, working your way all the way up to a minute. Then you can try to walk 5 steps side to side, and then 5 steps forwards and backwards. When you can do that well you can try to hop.
Handstand Shaping Drill with Rope: You can see this drill in this video. Grab a t-shirt that you can hold like the rope in the video. Stand in a straight body position with your arms straight above your head. Push your arms back, using your shoulders, so that they are behind your ears, or at least next to them. Hold this for 20 seconds. Press your ribs in, and then let them go back out. Do this 3x. Squeeze your legs while standing on your toes in relevé. Hold this for 10 seconds. Now lay flat on the floor on your stomach. Extend your fingers as far as you can while pushing your armpits into the floor. Then move your fingers back. Do this 3x.
Handstand Drills You Should Be Able to Do at the Gym
All of these exercises you can see in the video above. These are drills you should be able to do at the gym in order to master your handstand.
Handstand on a Parallette against the Wall: This exercise is similar to spiderman-against-the-wall except for it’s a little harder because you do it on a parallette. The parallette makes it a little bit harder to balance, but that helps you figure out the muscles you need to use to balance correctly. You can do this against a wall with a mat.
Half Handstand and Find Vertical With One Leg: For this handstand drill you need a block. Do a handstand on the floor next to the block, and put one leg on the block to keep your balance. The other leg should be in the air trying to find the vertical handstand position. Repeat on the other leg.
Handstand Flatback onto a Mat: Here is another handstand drill that helps the gymnast find vertical. For this drill you need an 8-inch mat. Stand next to the end of the mat and do a handstand with your hands on the mat. Make sure you are squeezing your body tight with your head tucked in between your arms. Then you will want to tilt past vertical and fall onto your back in a tight-body position. The purpose of this drill is to practice the tight-body position and let the gymnast feel vertical, and how much of a tilt causes her to fall backwards.
Tools for Learning a Handstand
Here are some tools you can use to learn a handstand.
8-Inch Mat: An 8-inch mat is needed for the handstand flatback drill. You can also stand on the 8-inch mat and practice handstands.
Handstand Homework Mat: The handstand homework mat helps gymnasts practice handstands at home safely. It is padded so when you do a handstand against the wall it won’t hurt.
Parallette: A parallette is useful to help a gymnast perfect her handstand. It’s much harder to do a handstand on a parallette instead of on the ground. It’s also helpful for when a gymnast is learning giants or cast handstands, to practice her perfect handstand on it.
How to Do a Handstand Step by Step
So now that you have gotten stronger with the conditioning exercises and you’ve done handstand drills, it’s time to do a handstand! Here are the steps:
- Start in a lunge. Your arms should be straight above your head and your dominant leg should be in front slightly bent. Your front knee should not be over your ankle.
- Kick up to handstand. You want to feel vertical and try to hold the straight body position by squeezing your bottom, your abs and trying to push through your shoulders. You want to try to pull your toes towards the ceiling.
- Lower one leg at a time to land in a lunge. You should land in the same lunge that you started from.
The exercises and drills above should be able to help you learn how to do a handstand. If you do the strength exercises and get the muscles you need for a handstand, and then practice the handstand drills, I have no doubt you will learn how to do a handstand soon. Once you’ve mastered a handstand, you can can move on to other gymnastics skills.