Why Mastering the Handstand Will Give You Stronger Abs

Handstands might look like they belong to gymnasts and superfit athletes, but we have good news: Any reasonably fit, able-bodied person can do one. Of course, the benefits of nailing a handstand translate to your whole body: Stronger back, stronger shoulders, superstrong core. It's a total-body exercise that is, more or less, just standing there. The trick, of course, is practice. “There’s no magical length of time it takes to master a handstand,” says Parinaz Samimi, a certified yoga instructor. “It comes down to commitment and making time for a daily practice.” So if you’re ready to look like an Olympian without the years of training, here’s your game plan.

Start With Core Strength and Mobility

Samimi points to two exercises that serve as foundations for the handstand: bear crawls and plank holds:

Bear Crawl: According to Samimi, bear crawls are a great beginner exercise because they help you develop comfort with loading your body weight onto your hands and shoulders. They also force your upper and lower body to work in conjunction since your core activates as you transfer your weight forward, moving your limbs contralaterally. Incorporate bear-crawling into your warm-up, trying different variations as your upper-body strength and coordination improve.

Plank Holds: Planks help develop static core strength, simultaneously targeting the shoulders, glutes, and quads, all muscles you must be able to control while holding a handstand. Plus, they also help you develop proper handstand form while in a horizontal position. Focus on creating a “hollow core” by tucking your tailbone under and drawing your belly button and ribs toward your spine. Incorporate three sets of 45- to 90-second planks as part of your warm-up routine.

Progress to Wall-Assisted Inversions

Wall handstands are the perfect first step toward a full handstand because, in addition to developing the strength necessary for the isometric hold, they also help you develop comfort with being upside down.

L-Stand Against the Wall: According to Samimi, the L-Stand helps teach you how to correctly stack your hips over your shoulders while supporting yourself correctly on both hands. “Beginners often allow their shoulders to collapse,” she says, “but in a handstand, it’s important to keep the shoulder blades engaged while pulling the lats down the back, as you would during a pull-up.” Start in a downward dog position with the wall behind you, then walk your feet up the wall until your body is in an “L” shape, your hips bent at 90 degrees, and your knees straight. Check to make sure your hands, shoulders, and hips are all stacked, perpendicular to the floor. Treat this as you would a plank — aim to do three to five sets of 15- to 30-second holds as part of your warm-up or cool-down.

Wall WalksWill Torres, the founder of mobility-focused training center WILLSPACE, points to wall walks as an ideal transitional exercise, as they develop strength, flexibility, and stamina. Start in a high plank or push-up position, then begin walking your feet up the wall behind you while maintaining a rigid body. As you walk your feet up, begin walking your hands back toward the wall. The goal is to get your chest as close to the wall as possible, eventually holding the position for a full minute. Perform three rounds of three to five reps, three times a week.

Head Taps: Head taps are a progression from the wall walk that work on the unilateral strength of each arm. Torres says once you can hold proper handstand alignment for the entire prescribed wall walk rep scheme, add the head tap by taking one hand off the floor to tap your head (or the shoulder on the same side). Place it back down, then alternate sides. Perform three rounds of 10 reps per hand, three times a week.

Full Handstands

Once you’ve developed sufficient core stability and stabilization through each arm, you’re ready to move on to the real deal.

Kick-Ups Near Wall: The goal of kick-ups isn’t to use the wall for balance, but to have it there “just in case,” like a pair of training wheels on a bike. Torres suggest you warm up with three rounds of wall walks and one to two rounds of head taps. Then, turn to face the wall and enter a downward dog position with your hands just in front of the wall. Kick one leg up, aiming to find your balancing point before your foot touches the wall, then come back down. Alternate legs for three rounds of 10 reps per leg, three times a week. As you get better and more comfortable, gradually move farther away from the wall.

Handstands: After about a week of working on kick-ups, it’s time to attempt the handstand in an open space. Warm up with several sets of each progression, then perform a kick-up with no assistance. Hold the handstand as long as you can, and repeat. Aim to beat your own best time with each consecutive handstand.