If you think you’re “too big” to a do handstand, that it’s merely a party trick skill (not a strength) or that it’s only for CrossFit athletes, think again.
Handstands have been done in weightlifting programs around the world for a long time (check out Russian weightlifting legend Dmitry Klokov banging out some strict ones at a deficit in the video below.) And for good reason: the stability, mobility and strength needed to perform handstands and handstand push-ups carries over to any kind of strength training.
They also help develop body awareness and strengthen your scapulas, a key component for weightlifters, powerlifters (hello, bench press) and CrossFit athletes alike. (The handstand push-up is a staple in at least one annual Open workout.)
“What’s the point of a handstand? You are no longer using a barbell to strengthen your shoulders, it’s got a carryover effect that will help any overhead movement,” said Conjugate Gymnastics founder Sean Lind. “Both weightlifting and bodyweight movements are effective in building strength, so why not use both? We do so many variations of squats—we front squat, back squat, single-leg squat, overhead squat. Why wouldn’t you want to also attack the shoulders in a different way?”
Read on and start putting in some time upside down.
If the prospect of kicking up against the wall scares you, or if you struggle to lower yourself down (with control) so that your head is on the ground, you have to hone in on the actual handstand movement before moving into any kind of full-of-range-motion push-up.
The best way to build handstand strength and to learn how to stack your joints appropriately is to do handstands with your chest FACING the wall. The easiest way to get into that position is to do a wall walk up and then hold. (This can be scary the first time, so grab a spotter if you are unsure.)
Make sure your hands are shoulder width apart, and focus on stacking your joints—shoulders directly over wrists, hips directly over your shoulders and ankles directly over your hips. Most people learn handstands with their back facing the wall first, but that’s not ideal.
Athletes, coaches, anyone who wants to get better at gymnastics: STOP throwing yourself against the wall all loose with an arched back. Here's an easy progression to get your shoulders strong and stable and make handstand pushups (strict and kipping), holds and freestanding walks much easier. Today's #ADailyDose also works wonders if you're having shoulder stability issues.⠀⠀ .⠀⠀ Step 1: Wall walks. ⠀⠀ Step 2: Chest FACING handstand holds. These should be the majority of your holds. Try to get as close to the wall as possible so just your nose and toes are on the wall. It's scary at first but it forces you to stay tight and in proper alignment. (You can't cheat.) Work up to 90 second holds for multiple rounds.⠀⠀ Step 3: Shoulder taps. Get to where you can do 10 total without falling off the wall.⠀⠀ Step 4: Hands go all the way at your sides. ⠀⠀ Step 5: Enjoy the fact that your shoulders aren't weak and regular handstand holds and pushups are now easy. #athletedaily #movelikeyougiveadamn
Back facing the wall doesn’t help properly align your body, making it much harder to build the strength to eventually do a freestanding handstand. It’s also structurally better on your shoulders for handstands and handstand push-ups to face your chest to the wall as it’s impossible to arch your back.
“Chest facing [the wall] lets your shoulders open, forces you to tuck your rib cage in and keep yourself flat,” Lind said. “When your back is facing the wall, more mistakes can happen. Chest facing wall, it’s easier to get into a better position and protects the spine.”
Stay tight, squeeze your butt and work to have just your nose and toes touching the wall. Start small, maybe 10-15 second holds and then come back off the wall.
Do these at least twice a week, working up to the point where you can hold in a good position, (with your chest facing the wall) for a minute. Then, you’re ready to start attacking a full handstand push-up.
TO BUILD HANDSTAND PUSH-UP STRENGTH (AND EFFICIENCY)
What did one-minute chest-facing handstand holds have to do with plain old handstand pushups? If you don’t have the strength to do the former, not only are your joints and connective tissues not ready for the latter, but you’re risking serious injury.
“A handstand pushup isn’t a skill, it’s a strength movement, but you need a handstand first,” Lind said. “If you have a good handstand, you will have control when you start doing your kip,” Lind said. “If you kip and don’t have control, you’re gonna smash your head or fall over because you don’t know how to start and finish the movement.
You aren’t going to have someone do a full snatch or full clean if they can’t squat. Same thing in gymnastics. If they don’t have a handstand hold they can’t learn a handstand push-up. You can develop them separately, but putting the two together takes strength and skill.”
Here are some great handstand push-up progressions:
A while back in Montreal, Lind’s gym did a strength cycle where anytime athletes did bench, strict press or any other pressing variation, they’d superset it with a handstand hold immediately following. When the group retested their strict handstand push-ups at the end of the cycle the results were remarkable.
“We had athletes go from zero to 10 unbroken strict. I’m talking about athletes who started CrossFit with a thick green band for pull-ups,” Lind said. “This was the common theme. Not everyone got to 10, but combining the two movements improved capacity and strength incredibly.”
Speaking of strength, check out Olympic champion and three-time world champion Lu Xiaojun doing handstand push-ups with 40 kg. attached to his body. (Note, we do not recommend trying this at home. Grab a weight vest instead.)
TO HANDSTAND WALK LIKE A BOSS
1. You want: Pointed toes, tight core, and active shoulders.
2. Keep most of your weight on your mid-palm, but spread your fingers and use them to “grip the floor” for balance.
3. You want to look between your thumbs and try to keep your head as still as possible.
If you have basic strength and no shoulder or wrist issues than you just need to get inverted more to get comfortable being upside down. “That just takes time. It’s not rocket science- there’s no magic cue,” Lind said. “You have to be placed upside down on your hands to get better at handstands.”
Still intimidated? Try these progressions.
**Both founders of Athlete Daily have followed Sean Lind’s gymnastics programming for several years—going from zero strict pull-ups to 15 unbroken and strict muscle ups—and we highly recommend it to athletes of all levels. If you’re looking to improve your bodyweight skills, check it out here. Sean’s gymnastics programming is also available through Hybrid Performance Method here.