The handstand is a challenging and visually stunning yoga pose that is often regarded as the pinnacle of inversion postures. Gaining the ability to balance solely on our hands requires courage, strength, and endurance, and it can be an intimidating endeavor. Let’s explore the yoga instructor’s advice on how to master your handstand safely and confidently.
In order to master a handstand you need to ensure you have good wrist mobility, core strength, and robust muscular endurance.
Handstands and handstand warm-ups can offer numerous benefits such as improved balance, posture, mental focus, and increased courage.
You will need to approach the journey with dedication and perseverance — balancing on your hands isn’t something you can master after a few attempts.
The key physical elements you need to master your handstand
There are very few people who can just pop up into a handstand on their first attempt. As with most things, we need to practice building our skills from the ground up rather than just going for it and hurting ourselves in the process.
It’s crucial to start slowly. If you go too hard or too fast, you are more likely to hurt yourself. You wouldn’t hit the gym and start bench pressing 50 kg if you’ve never bench pressed in your life. It’s no different with a handstand; you need to build up to it.
Below are some of the most important key elements that you’ll need to work on to prepare for handstand practice.
In order to carry your weight on your hands, you’ll need to develop robust upper body strength, especially in your forearms, triceps, and shoulders.
Exercises which help develop these essential muscles include:
- Shoulder presses
- Plank variations
- Yoga poses like downward dog or four-limbed staff pose
Strong and flexible wrists are an essential — yet frequently disregarded — part of handstand preparation. When you place your entire body weight on your hands, your wrists are put under a lot of strain. If you do not properly prepare your body for a handstand, you could get hurt.
Exercises for wrist mobility include:
- Daily wrist circles
- Wrist flexion and extension holding a dumbbell
- Frequent finger stretching
Wrist flexor and extensor exercises
As with many yoga poses and fitness exercises alike, having a strong core is essential for maintaining proper alignment, staying balanced, and providing stability. If your core muscles are not working effectively enough while performing a handstand, you risk wobbling and losing your balance.
Exercises for core strength include:
- Plank variations
- Leg raises
- Yoga poses such as shoulder stand, headstand, and boat pose
Holding yourself upside down requires a hefty amount of muscular endurance. You need to be able to balance and keep your muscles engaged if you want to sustain a handstand for any length of time.
Exercises for building muscular endurance include:
- Plank variations, held for increasing periods of time
- Yoga poses like four-limbed staff pose
Key mental elements to mastering a handstand
It’s not just the physical body that needs to be strong in order to do the much-coveted handstand — it takes a huge amount of mental strength and agility too.
It is quite common to be afraid of falling upside down. In fact, the majority of people who learn handstands report this as a barrier. However, you will need to have courage and face your fear head-on if you want to master this inversion.
The key to overcoming fear, as with anything that frightens us, is to take tiny, doable steps. As we become more courageous in one posture, we gain the confidence to move forward and attempt more difficult tasks.
Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to do a handstand the first time you try — it's not easy to go from being upright to flipping your perspective completely in one go.
Don’t expect to be walking across the room on your hands after a few attempts. While this might be the end goal, you need to apply consistent effort to learning the mechanisms of a handstand and how to do it safely.
Developing the strength and bravery to be able to hold oneself upside down will require consistent practice. Just like with anything new you learn, you have to give yourself enough time to process each step fully before going on.
The benefits of handstands
Even though handstands are a difficult inversion to get to grips with, their benefits can be numerous, including:
- Upper body strength. Handstands demand a lot from your upper body, and regular practice will lead to greater gains and definition, especially in your triceps and shoulders.
- Core strength. During handstands and handstand prep exercises, you’ll be getting an intense core workout, which will build stability and definition in that important muscle group. Having a strong core also takes the pressure off the lower back, potentially helping to ease lower back pain.
- Improved balance. Handstands strongly challenge your ability to balance, and mastering them will help with coordination and balance when you are standing up right as well as upside down.
- Mental focus. Mastering a handstand requires strong mental focus. A break in concentration can mean that you start wobbling and fall out of the posture. By practicing this level of focus, you may improve your ability to concentrate in other areas of life too.
- Confidence boost. Because of the sheer challenge of a handstand, mastering it can give us a big confidence boost. When we achieve something that’s been difficult and a real test of endurance, it can do wonders for our self-esteem and ability to believe in ourselves.
Handstand prep exercises
It is important that you take the time to complete the warm-up exercises, even though it might be tempting to just throw your hands down and try a full handstand. By preparing your body beforehand, you’ll be better equipped and more likely to succeed in a safe and sustainable way.
Wrist warm up
Warming up your wrists helps to prepare them for the stress of weight-bearing during your handstand.
- Start by making small circles with your wrists in both directions to get them moving well.
- With your arms out in front of you, alternate between making tight fists and stretching your fingers out as wide as you can.
- Push your palms together firmly, elbows out to the side, and move the heels of your hands away from each other while keeping your fingers touching.
Downward facing dog
This well known yoga pose will prepare your core, arms and shoulders for the extra challenge of a handstand.
- Begin in a plank position and push your hips up to the ceiling.
- Make an upside-down V shape with your body.
- Pedal the legs out to get a good stretch down the hamstrings.
- Transition a few times from plank to downward-facing dog and back again.
For anyone who is afraid of being upside down, this exercise will help you build the confidence you need to go all the way.
- Stand about 2–3 feet away from a wall with your back to it.
- Come down into an all-fours position.
- Reach one leg at a time behind and gradually walk up the wall.
- Go as far as you are comfortable — you can progress over time.
- The aim is to get your body into an L shape with your hands on the floor and feet on the wall.
Wall supported handstand
When you are ready, a wall supported handstand can help you experience the sensation of being completely upside down while having the wall to support you.
- Place your hands about a foot away from the wall.
- Gently kick up into a handstand position.
- Rest your legs against the wall.
- Focus on engaging your core and maintaining proper alignment.
One-legged supported handstand
After you are comfortable with a wall supported handstand, taking one leg off at a time will help you build the confidence for the full posture.
- Come up into a wall-supported handstand.
- Once you are properly aligned, bring one leg off the wall and lower it until it makes an L shape.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Tips for staying safe during handstand practice
When practicing handstands, safety should always come first if you want to develop confidence. Follow these top tips to stay safe while learning to master your handstand:
- Practice on a soft surface. You are going to fall out, wobble, and tumble a lot when you first start practicing, so it’s a good idea to cushion your landings.
- Use a spotter. Having someone else there when you first start practicing this inversion can be a valuable aid in helping you to stay upright and balanced, and assist you if you fall out.
- Listen to your body. Pay close attention to what your body is telling you and take it easy if you need to rest. Continuing to practice when your body is tired and aching can be counterproductive.
By frequently engaging in the prep exercises, dedicating yourself to building strength and flexibility, and training both your body and mind for the challenge of this inversion, you’ll find yourself conquering the mighty handstand with safety and bags of confidence.
Do I need to do yoga to be able to master handstands?
While having a background in yoga can be beneficial to mastering a handstand, it’s not essential. As long as you build a strong foundation by strengthening your wrists, shoulders, arms, and core and practice diligently, you should be able to do a handstand.
How long will it take to do a handstand?
That will depend on your current fitness level, dedication, and perseverance. Handstands are a personal journey, and there’s no specific time frame in which you should expect to be able to stand freely on your hands. Keep practicing and building the strength you need, and you’ll be upside down in no time.
- Journal of Exercise Physiology. Physiological responses to Iyengar yoga performed by trained practitioners.
- Journal of Physical and Outdoor Education. Effect of learning methods and arm muscle strength on learning outcomes - handstand.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Changes in the muscle activity of gymnasts during a handstand on various apparatus.