017: Handstands (Part II)

Season One Apr 20, 2020

Part II in the handstand tutorial series.

Chapter 2: strength training

If you haven't read Part I , start there. It covers general principles and intrinsic motivation.

Today, the focus is on strength 💪.

Handstands require some strength.
But it's less than people think.

They're more of a bodyweight skill move than a strength one.


Each corner offers benefits:

The more strength you have, the more you can make up for bad mobility or technique (“muscling it out”). This is common in people with have strong, tight shoulders.

The more technique and flexibility you use, on the other hand, the less strength you’ll require. Just by using a more efficient (stacked) line.

I recommend most people build a base of daily calisthenics or simple movements. Really, any form of mindful preparation that connects the brain and body and gets you moving in diverse ways.

Once you have a basic fitness / body awareness, here are four areas of strength transferable to handbalancing.

  • Wrists + hands
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Core

For each, remember two principles 💡

  • Get strong in a wide range of motion: You're only as strong as your weakest ROM. Get comfortable in more extended positions.
  • Strengthen from multiple directions: Train the opposite (antagonist) muscles. Balance the joints. I'll explain this more in a sec.

Your base = wrists and hands.

Handstands require a lot from hands (it's in the name). Unfortunately, most people never think to train hands and wrists directly. You can start right now.  

Warm up with easy articulations of the wrists and fingers. Do these when you need a break from writing or typing.

Next, slow body circles. 90 degrees of weighted wrist extension is a prerequisite.

Point your fingers forwards, then turned out to the side. Press down actively through knuckles, especially the index fingers.

Next, sit back in forearm stretch. Add a small bend in your elbows. You should feel this in the muscles - not the joints.

Then, flip the wrists. You can make this more active by gently pressing up and down. This can be intense - proceed slowly.

Finally, finger presses: Actively lift your palms, keeping the four knuckles connected to the ground.

If you want to make these (much!) more difficult, do them in a push-up / plank position.

The series is 100% portable. Can you find 2-3 min each day to add it into your routine? I invite you to try.

Once you have a plank, do push-ups. Engage the abs, minimize any lower back arching, and exhale as you press up. Add difficulty by elevating the feet.

[ The next exercises require equipment ]

I demonstrate these using kettlebells, rings, and TRX. Use whatever you have. Don't worry about the exact reps or weights - focus on executing controlled movement through a wide range of motion.

Horizontal pressing.

Next, vertical pressing.

The overhead lockout position is basically your handstand position (flipped).

Pause at the top before lowering. Engage the abs and resist the urge to arch into the low back as you extend overhead.

You may be wondering: "why pulling?"

Remember the two principles above: If you want to push harder, you'll want to pull harder. This will also help keep your joints balanced.

You can pull in the horizontal plane (rows)...

... and in the vertical plane (pull-ups).

We'll revisit these positions later.

A strong core helps stabilize the handstand.

Press low back into the ground. Exhale and lift the chest, neck long.

Tuck up (variation): When reaching overhead, avoid arching your low back.

L-Sits: Press the shoulders down, bring hips in line with hands. You can use yoga blocks, textbooks, chairs etc.

Add in your other favorite core exercises, as you wish.

If you’re comfortable going upside-down, here are some conditioning exercises.

Ball roll-ins: Tucked or piked. Lift the hips up and keep shoulders over hands. Don't sink into the back as you roll back out to the starting position.

You can also use slippery socks or furniture sliders

Next, walk-ins (elevated): Walk hands towards your feet. Lift the hips up. These are being done piked - tough.

Headstands - also piked. Hips high, core engaged.

If you do wall handstands - build duration there.

(we'll get here soon)

Play vs. Technique:

Make time to move creatively on your hands (crawling like a bear, breakdancing in the kitchen etc). Don't worry about lines or reps - just improvise, play and explore.

Have fun 😊

That's it for Part II.

Next, we'll talk flexibility.
And, soon, the nitty-gritty technique.


'Til next time 👋