Lesson 1 – Intro to the basics

Chapter 1: The importance of the handstand

Have you ever wondered why on earth people want to master handstands?

It’s simple really – because they can and YOU can; and because it’s fun!

This question make me think about a famous quote:

“Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?

“Because it’s there.” 

George Mallory, British mountaineer

These, later on, became the most famous three words in mountaineering.

The same goes for the handstand, it’s an exciting, empowering physical challenge.

Chapter 2: What you need

Essentially, you need just yourself and some floor space.

However, you can also do handstands on blocks, canes, parallel bars, boxes, chairs or even people.

There are dozens of options and variations if you want to diversify your practise once you’ve mastered the basics.

Healthy joints are also a must. If you’ve never done handstands before, please consult your health practitioner first.

Some conditions may be aggravated during inversions so, better to be safe than sorry.

Chapter 3: What to do before starting training

Through years of teaching handstands, I’ve discovered the main challenges people face in their practice are: 

  • Lack of arm and shoulder strength;
  • Poor range of motion in the shoulder joint;
  • Bad proprioception (sense of awareness of the position and movement of the body).

In the best case, a lack of strength can lead to a lack of confidence in your ability to handstand, in the worst case, it can lead to injury.

A limited range of motion in the shoulders will result in poor alignment, making everything harder, particularly holding the position.

Poor proprioception may lead to losing (or not even getting) the balance right.

If you don’t know your levels I recommend assessing your level of flexibility, strength and balance before beginning the actual training.

At the end of this lesson you will find ways to evaluate your shoulder flexibility.

Chapter 4: How to evaluate your shoulder flexibility

One of the factors that have a huge importance in achieving a good handstand line is shoulder flexibility, and you can assess that in a very simple way, without any other equipment or help from anyone else:

  1. Lay on the floor with your knees bent (feet flat on the floor) and your arms stretched out to the sides, perpendicular to your body;
  2. Place your palms facing upwards and make sure your wrists are on the floor (this should be very easy);
  3. Move your hands towards your head while keeping your arms straight (this might be a little challenging);
  4. Stop if your wrists lose contact with the floor or your elbows begin to bend.

Important points while doing this exercise:

  • Make sure you keep your lower back on the floor during the arm movement by engaging the abs and tilting the pelvis forwards (see the posterior pelvic tilt exercise at the end of page);
  • If your shoulder flexibility doesn’t allow you to circle your arms above your head, you will encounter some difficulties, so be prepared and don’t give up!

If you’re doing this exercise correctly and you manage to bring your arms next to your ears, your shoulder flexibility is good.

If not, and your arms end up more in a V shape instead of being parallel, you’ll need to work on your flexibility.

Remember, you can still handstand even without a good level of shoulder flexibility but being able to “open your shoulders” will help you achieve your handstand goals faster.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt – how to bring your lower back flat on the floor:

1. Place your thumbs on your hip bones with your fingers to the side of your glutes (facing backwards);

2. push your thumbs into your body and rotate the hips forwards like in the image.

Chapter 5: Assessing your arms and shoulder strength

If your body allows you to achieve proper alignment and stack your weight on top of your hands as the base of support, you won’t need a lot of upper body strength to hold a handstand.

That said, if you want to do more advanced entries like the press to handstand, you’ll need to develop more shoulder strength. Some versions of the press to handstand don’t require much more shoulder strength, like a straddle press to handstand – where having good leg flexibility will allow your weight to stay on top of your hands throughout. On the contrary, the pike press to handstand requires significantly more shoulder strength.

One way to check your shoulder strength in a handstand is to load almost all your weight onto one hand for a couple of seconds. You don’t need to do a free single-arm handstand; just try a supported one with some parts of your body (feet, hips, knees etc.) are in contact with a wall or spotter.

If you can shift your weight, control the position and safely do a shoulder tap while maintaining the (supported) handstand you have good level of shoulder strength.

Chapter 6: The importance of core strength

“Core” refers to the whole trunk area and not only the abdominals. Basically, the core is what’s left when you exclude the extremities – the head and limbs. Using the term “core” to mean only the abdominals is a common error.

People frequently use excuses like “I don’t have enough core strength…” or “my core is too weak to do that”… but often this is just low confidence in their abilities. In fact, the core is the strongest part of your body, given its central position. Having a strong core is vital and can make all the difference.

In a regular handstand, the middle part of the body needs to be solid, which is relatively easy, however, in more advanced handstand variations, like the press to handstand, you need to use the torso to position the hips over the shoulders using the core, so more strength is required.