Learn to do a handstand with this expert-approved four week progression plan

Learn to do a handstand with this expert-approved four week progression plan

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Learn to do a handstand in as little as four weeks with this progression plan set out by an ex-circus performer. 

With the year coming to an end and New Year’s resolutions looming, you might be looking for a way to shake up your fitness goals. And, with gyms having been forced to close for much of the south of England, this could be the perfect opportunity for you to learn a new skill that is both physically challenging and completely different, all from the comfort of your own home.

An ideal option? A handstand. “People might not realise the heavy psychological impact learning to handstand can have,” says Gabby Parker, ex-circus performer and co-creator of How To Handstand. “Because it’s such a hard skill and does take a lot of time to practice there’s a serious feeling of achievement when you actually do. It’s really good for self-confidence, focus, dedication, discipline, satisfaction and fulfilment.” 

As well as that, a handstand is great for physical training – particularly right now. Not only do they strengthen your shoulders, core and back using just your body weight, “you don’t need space or equipment to practice,” reminds Gabby.

Think you’ll never be able to do it? It does take time, but you’ll get there. “With the proper instruction, you’re looking at anywhere from three months to two years before you’re able to hold a handstand away from the wall,” Gabby says. So while you might not walk out of this lockdown on your hands, you can definitely start making progress towards your goal.  

Gabby demonstrating how it's done

Handstand progressions

Gabby believes in the seven pillars of handstands. These are: 

Specific strength

“Strength is relative. If you’re great at squats, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be good at handstands – it’s a whole different set of muscles. We need to build the specific areas that will keep you safe and stop you from falling on your face,” Gabby says. 


You need to be flexible enough to kick up into a handstand and maintain the posture through the shoulders. 


“Learning to make the correct shape will give you the most optimal chance of being able to balance,” says Gabby. “It’s physics!”


A tricky combination of the first three pillars, balancing requires perfect alignment as well as the strength to hold it all in place.


As with everything, practice makes perfect.


Learning to stay in the handstand for as long as possible will make adaptations easier. 


“This is a bit more advanced and is about moving through different shapes in your handstand once you’ve nailed the traditional form,” Gabby says.  

These are steps that should be followed in linear order, meaning that you shouldn’t be thinking about balancing until you’ve got the strength section sorted. For newbies, that might make the journey feel more manageable: you won’t be turning upside down straight off the bat. 

“Simply kicking up against a wall over again is not a good way to get towards your goal. You need to give yourself the best tools to succeed,” explains Gabby.

For the first four weeks, you probably want to be focusing on the first three pillars of handstands. That’s strength, flexibility and alignment. You can do these by focusing on some certain drills for each step. How To Handstand offer a free programme you can follow, or you can sign up to handstand coaching. 

Handstand drills

For strength

Hollow body hold 

Lying on your back, lift the shoulder blades and legs off the floor with your arms by your sides. Squeeze your abdominal muscles so that your lower spine is still imprinted onto the floor – there shouldn’t be an arch through your back. The lower your feet are to the floor, the harder it is. You can also lift your arms up overhead for an extra challenge. If that’s too difficult, bend the knees so that your legs are in a table top position.  

Pike press

Sit on the floor with your back to a wall, legs out in front of you. Take note of how far your heels are away from the wall – you need to place your hands here as we send the legs behind us up the wall. Your feet should come to hip level, with your knees tucked. From there, push the weight forward over your hands so that your legs are at a right angle to your body. Push back to the starting position. Repeat that up to 10 times to really work the shoulders. 

We'll get there one day…

For flexibility: 

Savvy shoulder stretch

This is a great stretch to work through the back of the shoulders. Find a flat surface that is roughly waist height. Place your hands on it and walk backwards, bending the hips to 90º. Relax into the position to feel the stretch at the back of your shoulders. 


Floor alignment drill

Think of this as handstanding without the balance. Lying on your stomach, reach your hands above your head, arms shoulder-width apart. Flex the wrists as you push through your shoulders – do this with your hands resting on a wall if it’s easier for you to actually push into something. Your chin should be on the floor but your head should be up so you can look between your hands. 

Golden alignment drill  

This one requires going upside down, so it’s not for total beginners. But, when you feel confidently strong, it’s a great way to practice. Stand with your back against the wall and bring your hands to the floor, stepping your feet back up against the wall. This is the opposite direction to how you usually do a wall handstand, but it allows you to keep proper alignment, rather than arching through the spine. Walk as close to the wall as possible, making sure to keep proper form (pointed toes, ribs tucked in). We’d highly recommend checking out How To Handstand’s programme before trying this one out! 

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Images: Getty, Gabby Parker

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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