Handstand Progressions

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If you find yourself re-arranging your face from one of the above expressions–you’re not alone.  Handstands are scary.  They are hard.  They have the potential for injury.  Handstands aren’t something most folks find themselves doing after the age of 7. 

That all stated–learning to stand on your hands (or perform other gymnastics based skills) provides the opportunity for the development of balance, proprioception and kinestetic awareness.  Gymnastics skills require a level of ‘tightness’ and core activation that is unmatched in the other movements we find ourselves doing in the gym.  Once clients can successfully perform a handstand–the options are limitless!  Not to mention–handstands are a pretty cool party trick.  smile

I like to separate handstand practice into two categories…skill work and strength work.  For most clients–a significant amount of skill work must happen before any strength work can follow.  I see several folks throwing themselves against the wall in an effort to get inverted.  What would happen without the wall to catch you?  I want you to have the best of both worlds.  You need to be able to successfully (read: safe & consistent) kick into a free standing handstand–and recover (a skill).  You also need to safely kick up to the wall in order to work handstand holds and develop handstand push-ups (strength development).

Handstands are all about getting your center of gravity over your balance points (hands), and then maintaining that balance.  It is the transition from feet to hands that has most people scratching their heads….looking around….and skipping the handstand work all together.  Take a look at the following drill.  It is a balance drill designed to get you comfortable going from your feet to hands.  Do 3-5 on each leg….that’s right…do BOTH legs!  Start on the tall box….and after a few weeks move to the small box–and eventually to the floor.  Your goal is to maintain balance while you lever forward like a teeter-totter—torso lowering while back leg lifts.

Starting position is critical.  Start in full extension with your arms.  Shoulders to ears–and super tight through your core.  You’re going to eventually be holding your own body weight in your hands—so get tight!  Pull your belly button to your spine, anchor your rib cage in and lock in that breath.

Untitled from Andy Deas on Vimeo.

Stay tuned….more handstand progression work to come! 



Written by Natalie

Natalie Taylor has been participating in sports and fitness activities for over 25 years. She was both a competitive gymnast and swimmer and these activities led into coaching jobs as she earned her degree in physical education. Natalie is a graduate of the Chico State teaching credential program and has been teaching physical education or coaching for nearly 20 years. She has coached both High School and Junior High Volleyball, and the Cross Country and Track and Field intramural program at the local junior high school. Her interest in running and triathlons as well as her background in gymnastics create a superior combination for clients wanting a balanced workout of endurance and strength or clients interested in supplementing their endurance activities with much needed power/speed training and oft neglected flexibility. Finding time for fitness isn’t always easy—however, in just one hour with Natalie you will work multi-joint strength development, speed, stamina and flexibility. What keeps clients coming back? Every session is unique, so boredom never stands a chance! Natalie holds her NSCA CPT, as well as a variety of Cross Fit certifications. Natalie will help to make fitness a functional and successful part of your life.

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12 Comments

  1. Christina

    Great post. It’s funny. I remember my first day of Elements class. It was full of all Level One Athletes and unbeknownst to me I didn’t know there was another level above Elements. That night, they practiced “L” Sit Pullups, walking on their hands, and doing weighted pullups with ease. I remember thinking to myself, “Sweet Baby Jesus, what did I get myself into?” Now, Im finding that Im doing the stuff that intimidated me on my first day of On Ramp. Opportunities are limitless here and I love the never ending goals you can set for yourself so you don’t plateau or get bored.

  2. Chris Friedland

    C’mon Natalie, you should break into the walking handstand and walk up and down off the box. Let em know what ‘progression’ really means!

  3. i find i’m smarter during a handstand. all that rushing blood, facilitating synapse function. then again, some people would argue that standing inverted, ready to break your neck, isn’t the smartest thing you could do. some people would also say, rushing blood has nothing to do with synapse function. i don’t know about that – the one test i took standing on my head in O-Chem i totally aced.

  4. Becka I totally agree!  It’s much easier to speak Italian when walking on your hands!

  5. This handstand info is good! I looked at all of the videos and I think that they should be in a different order for people who have never done a handstand before! Learning the beginning lever position is crucial but there should be some basic walk up the wall drills and progressions before you just kick to handstand! As a former collegiate gymnast and coach I love crossfit because it is so much like gymnastics conditioning, but I fear the risk for people trying out gymnastic skills without basics and position training first! Start with your feet or knees on a couch or block with hips in the air in the right shape with your upper body and work your way up from there! If you can’t do a handstand pushup from that position with the correct shape and form you won’t be able to do it from a handstand!

  6. DJB:  Thanks for the comment.  I think the videos are uploaded on vimeo in a different order then I will be posting. I have three more posts planned for handstands–and I divided the progression into a ‘skill’ and a ‘strength’ portion of a handstand.  The strength part you describe as feet/knees on the couch (or planking on a box in my case) is coming….I think folks can safely work both components and at some point that will converge into a complete movement.  We’re on the same track!

  7. I think its important to remember that not all of us are in our 20’s anymore. While I think its nothing short of amazing to watch Vaughn do a hand stand push up, its not on my “to do” list at all, ever! I can’t see a reason to put myself in a position to get really hurt when my efforts are better spent trying to get more than one pull up done at a time with less chance of a permanent injury!  I do appreciate this “point of view” from all the NorCal trainers as I’ve never felt pushed to attempt one (ok, maybe just a bit from Katie!:) Keep up the great work NorCal staff, my wife and I love our weekly workouts (after they’re over that is!) and just today our youngest son Luke, age 11 started in the junior class.

  8. Great post Natalie!  I certainly need to spend more time working the skill part of handstands and I look forward to the next part of the series.  Reading between the lines of a couple of the comments above, overcoming fear was the biggest obstacle for me in my handstand progression. 

    C’mon, seriously no reason to fear because if you fall from standing your head has 4-6 feet to go before it hits the ground, but in a handstand you are only looking at 1-2 feet…much less of an impact!

  9. Natalie,

    Great post, we’ve been doing this exact drill on folded up panel mats, this month’s skill at SBK is handstands in all their glory. It works really well as part of a warm-up couplet or triplet too.

    We linked to it today, thanks!

  10. Quality write up. Check out our website (linked) for a few more handstand drills and progressions (with more to come).

  11. Before attempting a handstand there are some crucial basic skills that are needed to prevent injury. A handstand is a very difficult skill to learn.

    1. Learn to do a front roll.would35

    2. Learn to kick up to a handstad and do a front roll.

    3. Kick to a handstand and if you fall forward, learn to step down.

    Having an experienced spotter help a beginner is also critical.

    These might seem like simple skills but with over thirty years of coaching gymnastics, I assure you that they must all be learn to prevent injuries.

    Mike Jsacobson

    Former International coach and NCAA Championship gymnast. Owner of U.S. Gymnastics Training Centers.