Calisthenics moves can be as simple or challenging as you want, but one of the things many people love about this style of exercise is that you can make impressive moves with increased strength and training.
Incorporating handstands into a calisthenics workout is a challenging yet rewarding way to expand your routine. Once you master the basics, you can move on to more complex handstands that work a range of muscle groups throughout the body.
Handstands aren’t something that everyone can get straight into, especially if they don’t have the strength and balance to maintain hold.
The good news is there are ways to make the transition into handstands easier if you’re willing to take the time to practice.
In this article, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about transitioning into handstands in calisthenics, including the basics for beginners and more challenging moves you can consider in the future.
Why are Handstands Used in Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a form of exercise similar to gymnastics that was intended to increase body strength and mobility through activities that use body weight as resistance.
The handstand is a perfect example of this, where body weight is used to build strength in the arms, upper body, and core.
Calisthenics has taken the handstand to the next level through freestyle movements and by performing them on equipment such as high, or parallel bars. The more challenging the move, the more potential it has to work different muscle groups throughout the body.
Handstands are often used to increase strength in areas (such as the arms, shoulders and wrists) that make other calisthenics moves easier to perform.
What are the Benefits of Performing Handstands?
Several benefits can be gained from performing handstands as part of a calisthenics workout.
Below are the main benefits you can expect to see if you perform handstands regularly, especially if you progress into some of the more challenging versions.
1. Increased Mobility and Flexibility
Performing regular handstands can help increase mobility in the shoulders and wrists, which can, in turn, make you more flexible in those areas.
Doing additional mobility exercises and yoga before starting to handstand is also an excellent way to ensure you’re mobile in the right areas (particularly the shoulders and wrists) to help make the move easier.
2. Increased Strength and Control
Handstands use body weight to help increase muscle strength in the shoulders, arms, back, and core.
When you do a handstand, muscles in these areas are activated, which helps build strength over time.
The more handstands you do, the more body control you’ll get, which helps make the move easier as time progresses and can help you perform more challenging kinds of handstands.
It’s worth noting that if you’re looking to build muscle mass, there’s a limit to how much you can build using handstands and calisthenics alone. People who do regular calisthenics workouts often perform additional weight training if muscle mass is their goal.
3. Increased Grip and Wrist Strength
Most of the pressure exerted during a handstand will be placed on the wrists, arms, and shoulders, making them a great way to increase wrist and grip strength.
Increasing wrist strength is useful in calisthenics, especially if you do a lot of bar exercises such as pull-ups, where a strong grip is key.
Performing handstands is also popular with bodybuilders who need a good grip for deadlifts and rock climbers who rely on strong hands and wrists for climbing.
4. Increased Circulation
Not many forms of exercise involve going upside down, so this benefit is fairly unique to the handstand.
Performing a handstand changes the center of gravity and sends more blood to the head and helps oxygen flow around the body. This can make you more focused and alert following the exercise. Some people even claim that handstands can help with hair growth.
5. Improved Posture and Stability
Because handstands require strength and control to hold the pose, they’re an excellent way to improve stability and posture.
With practice and improvement, handstands help build strength in the upper body and back, which are the main problem areas when it comes to bad posture.
Handstands also require the body to be in perfect alignment, which is good for stability, especially if you can hold the pose for as long as possible.
Building Up to Handstand: For Beginners
To perform a handstand, it helps if you’ve been doing calisthenics or a similar exercise routine for a while to ensure you have the strength and mobility to handstand with minimal risk of injury.
Unless you were a handstand master as a child, getting into the handstand position and being able to maintain hold takes time and practice to perfect.
The hardest part of a handstand is the control required to kick the legs into the air while keeping the body stable so you don’t fall back down.
So rather than diving into trying and failing multiple handstands, there are things you can do to prepare the body for an easy transition into the move. You can also start by using a wall to build the strength, muscle memory, and control you need to do a handstand without any support.
Here are our tips on the best ways to transition into handstands:
- Use yoga moves to help with handstands. Yoga is an excellent way to transition into handstands, especially the downward dog, which is effectively stage one of the move. Yoga can help you with the control, mobility, and flexibility that’s needed to perform a handstand.
- Perform wall pikes. The wall pike is performed by placing the hands flat on the ground (fingers pointing away), with the head down. You then walk the legs up the wall until your body forms a 90 degrees L shape (keeping feet flat on the wall). Using the wall pike helps you get used to the feel of a headstand and being upside down without taking your feet off the wall.
- Try walking up the wall into a handstand. With practice, you can walk your legs further up the wall from a wall pike position until you feel comfortable enough to kick up and take the feet off the wall into an unsupported handstand.
- Use the wall to handstand for the first time. If you’re ready to handstand without walking up the wall to get into position, you can handstand in front of a wall to support you if you feel like you’re going to flip over. It’s also good to have a wall there if you feel like you’re losing balance because you can touch it with your foot to get back into position. You can also try doing toe taps by alternating a tap on the wall with each foot to help get used to moving while in hold.
How to Do a Basic Handstand Without Support
If you feel you’re ready to start incorporating handstands into calisthenics, here’s how to get into a basic handstand position without using support (such as a wall).
You might want to use a mat if you’re worried about falling, although you’ll need a flat and stable surface to maintain balance. It’s also important to warm up properly, paying particular attention to the shoulders and wrists.
There are two options on how to kick the legs into the air, many people find it easier using step two which involves kicking one leg up at a time.
- Get into the downward dog position by placing the hands on the ground shoulder width apart with the fingers pointing away from you, hips in the air, and the heels lifted slightly from the ground.
- Lift one leg up into the air, bend the other leg to get some power into the kick, and then kick it into the air so both legs align with the rest of the body.
- Or, from the downward dog position, bend both legs and kick them up simultaneously (depending on which method you find easier).
- Once you’re in the handstand position, hold in the abs and keep the body straight to stay in hold.
- To get down from the handstand, keep the legs straight and allow them to fall back into the downward dog position rather than collapsing down in a heap.
Head position is really important for maintaining the pose, and you need to ensure that the top of the head is completely parallel with the ground.
How Long Should You Hold a Handstand?
When you first start performing handstands, it’s more a question of how long you can maintain hold rather than how long you should.
Most people can only maintain a handstand position for a second or two at first, but with practice, they can be held for up to a minute.
The best way to build up the time you can maintain a handstand pose is by holding for five seconds, and adding 5 second increments.
It’s important to be aware this isn’t something that will happen overnight and will require regular practice over time.
Challenging Calisthenics Handstand Variations
Once you’ve mastered the basic handstand, it can get a little boring after a while, so many calisthenics regulars choose to make the move a little more exciting, especially if it’s incorporated into a freestyle routine.
Adapting a handstand can also help work on different muscle groups and can take strength building further than it might using the basic move alone.
Below are just some of the more challenging styles of handstand that you can try once you have the upper body strength and control to add in more complex movement.
1. Diamond Handstands
These are regular handstands that use a different hand position to help work other muscle groups in the upper body.
To perform a diamond handstand, you need to get into a basic handstand position and move and turn your hands inwards and together, so the thumbs and index fingers are almost touching to form a diamond shape.
Maintain hold for as long as you feel comfortable and then release.
2. Wide Arm Handstand
Wide arm handstands are another variation that activates different muscle sets in the arms and shoulders.
To perform this handstand, you’ll need to get into a regular handstand position and walk the hands outwards and further than the normal shoulder width.
Maintain hold for as long as you feel comfortable to get maximum effect.
This move and the diamond handstand are also good to try for variation if you still use the wall as support.
3. Split Handstand
The split or straddle handstand helps take things to the next level by engaging more muscles in the legs and core.
Performing this move requires stability and control to stay in position without falling down due to the change in the center of gravity.
To do this, you’ll need to get into a regular handstand position with hands shoulder width apart and then slowly open the legs to each side as far as you feel comfortable.
You can also try a split in the opposite direction so one leg is in front of you and one is behind, however this is much more challenging.
4. Bent Knee or Tuck Handstand
The bent knee or tuck handstand is another challenging move, but if you can master it, it’s an excellent way to increase the stretch in the core and lower back.
To perform this kind of handstand, you’ll need to get into a basic handstand position and then bend your knees as far as they can go.
Maintain hold and then raise the legs back up again to drop down from the handstand.
5. Push-Up Handstand
Push-Up Handstands are an excellent way to incorporate more strength building into a handstand, but they’re not easy and take a lot of practice.
This is done by getting into a regular handstand position and bending the elbows down to enable you to slowly push back up into position.
6. One-Handed Handstand
The One-Handed Handstand is probably the most challenging move and also the most impressive.
To perform the move, you need enough upper body strength to maintain hold using one arm and you also need a lot of control to stay up because the center of gravity is naturally pushed to the side of the arm that is still on the ground.
This might seem like a lot of information to take in if you’re just starting out with handstands, but by keeping things simple at the beginning, you can build your way up to something a little more challenging in time.
The key thing to remember is to build up the strength and control to take things further, and most of all, to have fun getting there.
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