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How to Do a Gymnastics Handstand

by sorin ciovica on June 18, 2024

The handstand is a fundamental skill in the sport of gymnastics. Not only is it an important technique in itself, but it’s also a stepping stone towards unlocking other, more advanced maneuvers, such as walkovers and handsprings. There are many different ways to get into a handstand, but gymnasts almost always enter the position with a kick-up. Follow these steps to master the handstand, improve your technique, and practice safely.  Use a soft mat or AirTrack Mat to prevent injury. 


What is a Handstand?

A handstand is an inverted position in gymnastics where the gymnast balances on their hands with their body in a straight, vertical alignment. This skill requires strength, balance, and proper technique. It’s an essential move in gymnastics that forms the foundation for many advanced skills.


How to Do a Handstand: Step-by-Step Guide

Kicking up into a Handstand

Technique 1: Kicking Up into a Handstand

  1. Start in a Lunge Position Begin with a staggered stance, with both feet touching the floor. Stay on the balls of your feet to prepare for the kick-up. Place your stronger leg in front for better stability.

    • Tip: Set your feet a comfortable distance apart. Having them too narrow or too wide may make your kick-up feel difficult and unnatural.
  1. Raise Your Arms Lift your arms straight above your head, keeping your fingers pointed towards the ceiling. Your biceps should be beside your ears. Ensure your arms are straight without locking your elbows.

    • Tip: If your arms are bent too much when you get into an inverted position, it will make it much harder to hold yourself up.
  1. Reach Down and Lift Your Back Leg Bend at the waist, place your palms flat on the floor, and shift your weight onto your front leg while lifting your back leg. Make sure your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to the toes of your back leg.

    • Tip: Spread your fingers wide to create a more stable base.
  1. Kick Up Forcefully Swing your back leg up behind you, allowing your front leg to follow. Bring both legs together above you to complete the handstand.

    • Tip: Do your best to keep your legs touching the whole time you’re in your handstand. That way, you can avoid separation or windmilling, which can throw off your balance.
  1. Maintain a Straight and Rigid Body Keep your body aligned with your wrists, elbows, shoulders, core, hips, knees, and ankles stacked over a single point.

    • Tip: Olympic-level gymnasts look like statues when they go into handstands. Be sure to straighten out any bent or slack points.


Technique 2: Perfecting Your Technique

  1. Micro-Adjustments with Hands Use small movements with your fingers and the heels of your hands to maintain balance. Press your fingers into the floor if you feel yourself tipping forward and push down with the heels of your hands if you start to fall backward.

  2. Bring Legs Down One at a Time Extend one leg and carefully lower it down, followed by the other leg. Touch down with the ball of your foot, then lower your other leg. Once you’ve got both feet firmly on the floor, pick up your hands, stand up straight, and salute the judges.

  3. Hold Handstands Longer Start by holding for 3-5 seconds and gradually increase your time as you get stronger. It’s not uncommon for an elite gymnast to be able to hold a handstand for up to a full minute!


Technique 3: Practicing Handstands Safely

  1. Pick a Safe Spot Start on a soft surface like a AirTrack Mat or grass. Ensure there are no obstacles nearby. Find an area that offers you an amount of space equal to the full length of your body with your arms stretched over your head, plus an extra 1–2 feet.

  2. Stretch Before Each Session Loosen up your muscles with dynamic stretches to reduce the risk of injury. Basic yoga poses like child’s pose, plank, downward dog, boat pose, and standing split can also be useful for getting your muscles ready for a workout.

  3. Practice Against a Wall Walk your feet up the wall and hold the position to build strength and confidence. Try walking up and down the wall 3-5 times before you rest. Once you get the hang of walking up the wall, start kicking up into your handstand with your back to the wall to simulate the technique of a freestanding handstand.

  4. Ask for a Spotter Have a friend hold your legs when you’re first practicing unassisted handstands. If it’s your first time going into a handstand unassisted, have someone stand just in front of you to hold your legs once you get inverted.


Ways to Improve Your Handstands

Advanced Handstand Drills

  1. Open Shoulder Push-Up Walks Walk side-to-side and forward-backward in an open shoulder push-up position, then hop in all directions to improve strength and balance.

Open Shoulder Push-Up Walks
  1. Pike Ups Using a Yoga Ball Move from plank to pike position using a yoga ball. The goal is to get your bottom over your shoulders.

Pike Ups Using a Yoga Ball
  1. Tuck Ins Using a Yoga Ball Move from plank to tuck position using a yoga ball. Keep your core tight and bring your knees towards your arms.

Tuck Ins Using a Yoga Ball
  1. The Save Game Practice saving your handstand by adjusting your balance. Kick up to a handstand and try to save your balance multiple times.

Kick up to a handstand

Handstand Exercises You Can Do at Home

  1. Lunge Practice Practice the beginning lunge for a handstand by holding the position for 3 seconds and squeezing your core.

Lunge Practice
  1. Lunge & Lever Move your body into a “T” shape from the lunge position by lifting your back leg and lowering your torso and arms.

  1. Spiderman-Against-the-Wall Use a wall for support while practicing handstands to help maintain a straight-body position.

  2. Open Shoulder Push-Up Holds, Walks, and Hops Hold, walk, and hop in an open shoulder push-up position to improve strength and stability.

  3. Handstand Shaping Drill with Rope Use a t-shirt or rope to practice proper handstand body position.


Handstand Drills You Can Do at the Gym

  1. Handstand on a Parallette against the Wall Practice handstands on a parallette for added difficulty and better muscle engagement.

Handstand on a Parallette against the Wall
  1. Half Handstand with One Leg on Block Use a block for balance while finding the vertical position in a handstand.

  2. Handstand Flatback onto a Mat Tilt past vertical and fall onto your back to practice the tight-body position and feel the vertical alignment.


Key Muscles Involved in a Gymnastics Handstand


The handstand engages multiple muscles, including:

  • Shoulders: Provide stability and support.
  • Core: Maintains balance and alignment.
  • Wrists: Support body weight and balance adjustments.
  • Legs and Glutes: Maintain a straight body position.
  • Arms: Support body weight and control balance.


Handstand FAQs

What are the benefits of practicing handstands?

Practicing handstands offers numerous benefits. They enhance balance, strengthen core muscles, and improve shoulder stability. Handstands also increase body awareness and control, which are essential for many gymnastics maneuvers. Additionally, they help in building overall upper body strength and endurance, contributing to better performance in other physical activities.


How can I start learning how to do a handstand?

To start learning a handstand, begin by building core strength, shoulder stability, and wrist flexibility. Incorporate exercises like planks, shoulder taps, and wrist stretches into your routine. Practice handstands against a wall for support to get used to the inverted position and gradually work on holding the position longer. Once comfortable, move away from the wall to practice freestanding handstands.


Are there any tips for improving my handstand technique?

Improving your handstand technique involves several key tips:

  • Press through your shoulders: This helps in maintaining a straight line from your hands to your toes.
  • Engage your core: A strong core stabilizes your body and prevents arching.
  • Keep your gaze slightly in front of your hands: This helps in maintaining balance.
  • Regular practice: Consistency is crucial. Dedicate time to practice daily.
  • Micro-adjustments: Use your fingers and palms to make small adjustments to maintain balance.


What are common mistakes to avoid when doing a handstand?

Common mistakes to avoid include:

  • Arching your back: This can throw off your balance and strain your lower back.
  • Holding your breath: Remember to breathe evenly to maintain focus and reduce tension.
  • Overarching your shoulders: This can destabilize your handstand. Keep your shoulders engaged but not overly tense.
  • Relying too much on momentum: Focus on controlled movements rather than kicking up too forcefully.


How long does it take to master a handstand?

The time it takes to master a handstand varies greatly depending on individual factors such as strength, flexibility, and practice consistency. For some, it might take a few weeks of dedicated practice, while for others, it could take several months. Regular practice and patience are key.


What is the trick to doing a handstand?

The trick to doing a handstand lies in maintaining a straight body, engaging the core, and making micro-adjustments with your hands to balance. Focus on stacking your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles in a straight line. Consistent practice and body awareness will help you achieve a stable handstand.


How to do a beginner handstand?

For beginners, start with wall-supported handstands. Face away from the wall, place your hands on the floor, and walk your feet up the wall. Focus on proper form, with your body in a straight line and your core engaged. Gradually increase the duration of holding the position and practice freestanding handstands as you gain confidence and strength.


Can everyone do a handstand?

With practice, proper technique, and dedication, most people can learn to do a handstand. It's important to progress at your own pace and ensure you have the necessary strength and flexibility before attempting a handstand.


Can I teach myself to do a handstand?

Yes, you can teach yourself to do a handstand with dedication and practice. Follow a step-by-step guide, start with foundational exercises to build strength and flexibility, and gradually work towards the handstand. Using resources like instructional videos and online tutorials can also be helpful.


Why is handstand so difficult?

Handstands are challenging because they require a combination of strength, balance, and coordination. Maintaining an inverted position and aligning your body correctly can be difficult initially. Regular practice and building the necessary strength and flexibility are essential to overcoming these challenges.


Can you do a cartwheel if you can't do a handstand?

Yes, you can perform a cartwheel without mastering a handstand. A cartwheel involves different movements and balance techniques, making it more accessible to beginners. However, practicing handstands can improve your overall gymnastics skills, including cartwheels.


How long can it take to learn a handstand?

Learning a handstand can take anywhere from several weeks to several months, depending on individual factors like strength, flexibility, and practice frequency. Consistent practice and gradually increasing the duration and complexity of your handstand exercises will help you progress more quickly.