Hang out at any CrossFit gym for long enough, and you’ll eventually see some form of handstands in the programming.
“Just kick up to the wall and work on your handstand holds for awhile!” your coach might say.
But for some of us, it’s not that simple...
Inverted movements - most commonly Handstand Push-ups, Handstand Walks, Wall Walks, and Handstand Holds - are a great way to make workouts or accessory work more challenging. Yet pretty often, I have athletes approach me and say:
“Ben, I don’t even know how to kick up into a handstand.”
Handstands for beginners can be challenging and intimidating. Which is exactly why I want to start from the very basics, and walk through how to properly warm-up for handstands, how to kick up into a wall handstand, and how to build handstand strength.
Like all gymnastics movements, it’s important to make sure your body is properly warmed up and ready to support your weight. Let’s take a quick look at two handstand warm-up drills.
Get on your hands and knees, with your hands facing forward, directly underneath your shoulders. Keep your elbows straight, and slightly shift your weight forwards - feeling a stretch in your wrists. Shift back and forth in this position, 6 times.
For position 2, turn your hands to face out, still on your hands and knees. Shift your weight slowly from side to side, with straight elbows, 6 times.
Next, turn your hands to face as far backwards as possible. Gently lean back and forth, 6 times.
For the final position, put the top of your hands on the floor (your fingers will be facing your body). This may feel slightly uncomfortable, so keep the stretch gentle. This stretch is also known as the gorilla wrist stretch. Shift your weight front to back, 6 times, to help stretch out your forearm extensors.
Sidenote: If you don’t have the strength to kick up and lock out against the wall - don’t sweat it! Scroll down to our ‘building handstand strength’ section and start implementing some handstand strength drills into your workouts.
Here are the 3 main cues to remember when kicking up into a handstand against the wall:
(Fun fact: I tried teaching my younger brother, Scott, how to kick up into a wall handstand in the hallway of my parent’s house, and I forgot to give him the “lock your arms out!” tip…. His head ended up knocking a hole in the drywall. Mom was so happy. Good times.)
Make it easier on yourself and lock out your arms as soon as you start the movement. The second your hands plant onto the ground, your body should flip up - and it’s a similar feeling to holding weight over your head. Which is much easier to do with your shoulders set and elbows locked out.
Once you have locked out and flipped your body against the wall, you should be looking THROUGH your arms, not down to the floor. This can actually put your neck in an awkward position… and isn’t necessary at all. Look forward, keep your head and neck neutral, and this will put you in a much stronger position to hold yourself up.
In order to stay stable, I suggest flexing your glutes and quads. I like to actively press my heels against the wall to activate my posterior chain. This will help your whole body stay rigid. Also, try to squeeze your feet together, making your body one straight line. For some reason, when people are upside down, then tend to lose control of their legs and core, which can cause big problems when you’re upside down. Yes, the handstand hold is mainly “arms”, but with your entire lower body strong and stable, you’ll have so much more control and balance!
When I say momentum, I don’t mean that you should be slamming yourself against the wall into a handstand as hard as possible. (In hindsight, that’s probably what happened to my brother in the head-meets-drywall incident of 2009). But some momentum is going to help. Start by taking a couple steps away from the wall, and then take 1-2 big steps forward before planting your hands in front of the wall.
This will help give you a bit of a ‘float’ while you’re kicking up. A big error that I see athletes make is just planting their hands on the ground, and then trying to donkey kick (awkwardly) up into a handstand. This usually results in kicking up, not making it up all the way vertical, and then falling back down over and over.
Just a single step can help you get enough momentum to easily float up into the wall.
Still not feeling confident about kicking up into a handstand? It might be a good idea to start with a headstand, or just trying a few partial ‘handstand kick-ups’ to get comfortable with the feeling.
Check out this video for quick demos of the movements:
Whether you’re able to confidently hold yourself against the wall or not, working on strength for handstand holds is a good idea for beginners to implement into their training. Check out a few of our favorite handstand strength drills…
Start with a weight so that you can do several reps, push up and lock them out evenly overhead. No bent elbows - locking out fully is the key here (just like with handstands). Control the descent back down to your shoulders.
An alternative to this drill is to do single arm KB presses, and just do each set with one arm at a time focusing on full range of motion and control.
Start by lying flat on your stomach, with your feet against the wall. Push yourself up into a ‘push-up’ position with your elbow locked out, and then slowly start to walk your hands towards the wall, allowing your feet to also move up the wall at the same time.
Work as far up the wall as you are comfortable with - a full unscaled rep would be considered nose and toes to the wall. Hold there for a second, and then work your way back down the wall to your starting position on the floor.
All you need for this drill is a box.
Put your feet onto the box, and hands on the ground - basically creating a right angle with your body. As mentioned above, your head should be looking forward, not down.
Once comfortable in this position (making sure that your torso is vertical) slowly start walking your hands to the side, allowing your body to pivot around the box. If you need to bend your legs a bit in order for your torso to be vertical, that's totally fine.
Start to walk yourself around the world (the box) maintaining good upper body tension, pressing through your shoulders. After you complete a full rotation around the box, switch and go the other direction.
This drill will not only help with getting more comfortable upside down, but also teaches how to transfer weight from one hand to the next... which is going to set you up to take the next step of working on handstand walks.
Hopefully this article helped you get a little more comfortable with the idea of being upside down. If you’re still not ready to take on handstands, make sure to start working on your handstand strength, and trying out different progressions. The more you work on them, the less intimidating they’ll become!
Disclaimer: WODprep is not associated with CrossFit® in any way and opinions are separate from the CrossFit® brand.
The CEO and Head Coach at WODprep, Ben is passionate about helping fitness athletes of all abilities get their competitive edge and learn new skills! He's currently living in Denver, Colorado with his wife and two dogs, and whenever possible the two love to travel and explore new places around the world (and meet new WODprep athletes).
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