Handstands are one of the more impressive poses that you can have in your arsenal, however, they can be difficult to pull off. This is a pose that you need to work up to, building the muscles needed and mastering variations of the pose before tackling an unaided handstand.
There are lots of ways you can prepare to master the handstand, but they mostly come down to strengthening your core and arm muscles, as well as improving your general strength and flexibility with regular yoga practice.
Here are some of the key poses and exercises you can do to help you ace your handstands.
Plank is a great way to strengthen your core and arms, in preparation for nailing your handstands. They’re actually one of the most effective exercises you can do to improve your core strength, by engaging all of your major core muscle groups. You also will benefit from developing your biceps, neck, and shoulder muscles which will help you to hold your body up in a handstand position. With planks, try to build up how long you can hold the pose at a time by starting off by holding for 10 seconds and working your way up.
You can take your plank to the next level by adding leg raises (or leg lifts). This will help to activate more of your abdominal muscles as well as more lower-body muscles such as glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Simply lift one of your legs in plank, and try to hold it, building up how long you can hold at a time. You can also increase the core work by tapping your toes out to the side, keeping the rest of your body still.
Another variation of this position is to bring your knee from your lifted position in towards your elbow, and extend the leg back out. Repeat this 5-10 times on each side. This will intensify your core work further, as well as strengthening your hip flexor muscles.
Finally, Side plank really helps to strengthen your oblique muscles, as well as your arms and wrists. Side plank is also really important for you to improve and explore your sense of balance, and make you aware of any differences between your two sides - balance is a key part of a handstand!
Boat pose works out, you guessed it, the core. It can also strengthen your hip muscles, which allows more control while you are in your handstand. Start seated with bent knees, your feet flat on the floor, with your hands beside your hips. Next, lean back slightly with a straight spine, lifting your feet. Keeping your chest lifted and lengthened, lift your arms forward with palms facing. Eventually, straighten your legs so your body is in a ‘v’ shape.
Walkouts are another excellent exercise to strengthen your core muscles, as well as your arms and shoulders. This is slightly more advanced than a plank and will help you on your journey to a handstand.
Start in a Downward Facing Dog, and walk your feet forward to meet your hands, keeping your hips upwards and keeping your strength in your arms. Walk your feet backwards into plank, then lift your hips to Downward Facing Dog and start over again. Keep your core engaged, and move slowly to keep your form.
Walkouts will also get you used to being inverted in a more accessible way. Try to observe your alignment while doing this exercise. When your feet are near your hands, try to imagine your hips over your shoulders, shoulders over your wrists. You can even imagine lifting your legs up, to mentally prepare.
Warrior 2 is a great way to strengthen your legs, and also increase your sense of balance. It also brings awareness to your hips, which we know are a key point of alignment in a handstand. You can increase the intensity of your Warrior 2 pose by turning your palms and inner elbows in to face the ceiling, drawing your shoulder blades down your back, and then turning your palms to face the floor again.
Standing Splits are a great pose to practice as a precursor to your handstand. This pose will warm up both your lower body and your arms, and mentally gets you prepared to have one of your legs balanced in the air. You can also use this pose to explore your balance on both sides and notice inconsistencies, as well as finding a comfortable way to launch into your handstand.
Start in Warrior 2, cartwheeling your left arm up and over your head, then twist your torso to the right, lifting your left heel off the ground. Next, leaning forwards, rest your torso on your right thigh, setting your hands on either side of your right foot. Shift your weight onto this foot, then lift your left leg parallel to the floor.
Similar to Standing Splits, but instead of stretching your leg up, stretch it outwards, so your body forms the letter ‘L’. With one leg extended out, you can gently hop up and down and see what it feels like to have both feet away from the ground. This movement will build up your core and arm strength while allowing you to explore the starting movements of a handstand.
By Amy Cavill
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