The handstand is a really cool exercise that I’ve been doing at some level since I was a young child. As a youngster, I was exposed to many different skills in gymnastics, but I never progressed to the competitive level. Instead of pursuing gymnastics in full, I played baseball and dropped the former when I was 8 or 9 and it would have been appropriate to join the competitive team.
Because of my exposure to gymnastics at a young age, I have always been able to walk on my hands and turn a few flips. Looking back, this is a real blessing, because most people don’t have the opportunity to use their bodies in such creative ways growing up and throughout their lives. However, because I stopped before there was a heavy emphasis on correct form, I learned just enough about these movements to be able to do them poorly. It wasn’t until nearly 30 years later that I decided to really take my handstand training seriously and I began to understand them more fully and to recognize the benefits, especially for adults.
So, here are what I see as 5 of the most beneficial aspects of handstand training, for adults.
Achieving a clean line in a handstand necessitates a fair amount of mobility through the upper body, as well as through the hips and lower body. The ability to comfortably get your hands overhead will go a long way in making the handstand look nice and will make your holds more efficient. This efficiency will translate into longer holds as well as better overhead position if you also enjoy training with a barbell.
Better mobility through the lower body in the form of a strong straddle and ability to fold forward, or compress, is essential for smoothly entering a handstand and performing more advanced skills like presses to handstand. The training to build this lower body mobility is a great compliment to heavy weights as well as the high repetitions associated with endurance training. Beyond just being useful for handstands, having good strength in the hips through a larger ROM will help minimize low back pain and enhance recovery from all the other training that you do.
You can’t address mobility without also considering stability. A loose joint with no stability is mobile, but it is at risk of popping out of the socket. You absolutely need both, and handstands deliver this. The main pattern for the handstand is scapular elevation, which is the opposite of what happens on pull-ups where the scaps pull down and together with retractions and depression. The agonist/antagonist relationship of training the shoulders in both elevation as well as depression creates strong shoulders. This is the intention of the strict pull-up + handstand push-up combo, but because 99% of people end up in an arched position for the handstand push-up, the elevation never happens. Training the stationary handstand with the correct position is an excellent way to ensure you are stabilizing and strengthening the scaps.
The body learns what you ask it to do. If you ask it to be more and more controlled and demand a strict goal to work towards, you will become increasingly aware of your body and its movement. Most people don’t realize that in a handstand the body should be completely still and all of the work of balancing should come from the hands and forearms. Standing on your hands isn’t necessarily a “natural” thing to do - teaching your body to behave in this new way facilitates the development of new pathways in your brain, which can be used for other skills or further improved upon to learn more advanced techniques like the one arm handstand.
As I mentioned, the hands do it all. Most people don’t realize that their hands and wrists are stiff and weak until they attempt a proper handstand warm up. The most basic handstand warm up of ‘first knuckle’ and ‘wrist push-ups’ for a few sets takes only a few minutes to do extremely well, and will increase mobility and build strength in your hands that you never knew you were missing. Many people end up with debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome from so much time at a desk and being on their phone. Being active does not make you immune to this - take care of your hands now by doing something fun like handstands, and you’ll be pushing back preventable aging processes without even having to think about it.
Long and Short Term Progress
Hand balancing is a long game. You’ll notice that initially, you increase your mobility relatively quickly, and your body feels much more open and free than ever before. This is such a good feeling and it’s awesome that is so noticeable in the beginning. Depending how tight you are, you will likely enjoy this aspect of the training for years to come. Regardless of your mobility, simply learning a clean handstand can take years. Don’t view this as daunting - it is something you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Handstand training is low impact, and once your handstand is clean, there are so many other balances you can do with bent elbows, one arm, or movement between positions and shapes that keep the training fulfilling and engaging.
Bonus: Fun Party Tricks
As someone who really enjoys handstands and has put in the work as an adult to improve what I never did as a younger person, I have to say that it is fun to be able to do a handstand. Every time I add a new exercise or am able to make an existing skill look effortless, I feel exhilarated and accomplished. Make no mistake - true improvement takes very hard and consistent work. But this is why it is so satisfying! Holding your first 10s handstand is so cool! And a few years later, holding multiple 60s handstands with no wall is epic.
The more you learn, the more fun it is. The training is low impact and quality focused, so you can keep it up as your body ages. Furthermore, you can also continue your other training as you wish without wearing yourself down, as long as you can make time for it.
These are only a few reasons why you should be training handstands. It’s a great exercise that trains strength, mobility and stability throughout the entire body. You’ll have years of progression to experience building your coordination and control whether you’re brand new, or you’re coming back after some time off. Spend some time with them and get over the initial hump with your training and I guarantee you’ll start to recognize these benefits just as I have.