It may not be the first exercise that comes to mind when you think of CrossFit, but handstands are a key movement in the programming of all effective CrossFit training regimes.
Variations of the handstand in CrossFit typically use inverted movements - most commonly Handstand Walks, Handstand Push-Ups, Wall Walks, and Handstand Holds. These inverted movements are perfect for making workouts or accessory work more challenging for the athlete.
Despite their value, handstands in CrossFit can be a little daunting, especially for beginners. So, to help put your mind at rest, this guide will take an in-depth look at the basics of the movement, how to kick up into a wall handstand, and how to build strength using different variations.
Like all movements in gymnastics, it’s important to make sure your body is properly warmed up and primed to support your weight before attempting a handstand. Below are a couple of popular and effective handstand warm-up drills you should try.
- Four-position wrist stretch - all handstands place a significant amount of pressure on your wrists, so it’s vitally important to warm them up. Firstly, get on your hands and knees, with your hands - positioned directly underneath your shoulders - facing forward. Slightly shift your weight forwards, while keeping your elbows straight. This should produce a feeling of stretch in your wrists. Shift back and forth in this position for at least five repetitions.
For the second position in this warm-up drill, turn your hands to face out. Then, shift your weight slowly from side to side, maintaining straight elbows. Again, repeat at least five times. For position three, turn your hands to face as far back as possible.
Gently lean back and forth, repeating the movement with the same frequency as the previous two positions. Finally, for position four, put the top of your hands on the floor with your fingers facing your body. This stretch, also known as the “gorilla wrist stretch” is great for stretching out your forearm extensors. Shift your weight back and forth, repeating at least five times.
- Child’s pose off the wall - to start, find a suitable wall and sit in front of it - roughly an arm’s length away. Put your hands flat on the wall, while making sure you sit firmly back on your heels. Drive your head through your arms, hold for a few seconds, and then repeat. Note, it’s important to keep your elbows straight throughout the movement.
Perform this warm-up drill for 60 seconds at a time. If you wish to make it more challenging for yourself and deepen the stretch, you can walk your hands further up the wall as you go.
Key Points Of Performance
When performing a CrossFit handstand, either against a wall or free-standing, there are several key points of performance to follow. Listed below are some of the most important.
- Hands positioned just outside shoulders
- Fingers slightly spread on ground for added balance and grip
- Active shoulders throughout movement
- Neutral spine maintained
- Core muscles braced
Maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement is particularly important. This needs to begin before kicking up, and can be achieved by squeezing the abdominals and spinal erectors tightly to create added stability around the lower spine.
Kicking Up Into A Handstand
There are three main cues to keep in mind when kicking up into a handstand position against the wall in CrossFit.
1). Lock out your arms
With your arms overhead and your hands placed down in front of you ready to kick up, make sure that your arms are completely locked out. Often, athletes will attempt to kick up with their elbows either bent or soft. This usually results in them collapsing straight back to the floor.
To make this step easier, try to lock out your arms as soon as you start the movement. In other words, the second your hands make contact with the ground, your body should flip up. This is a similar feeling to holding weight over your head, a practice made significantly easier with your shoulders set and elbows locked out.
2). Look through your arms
Once you’re safely in the handstand position, it’s important to keep your head in a suitable position. This can be achieved by looking through your arms, not down at the floor. By looking forward, and keeping your head and neck neutral, you’ll put your body in a much stronger position to hold yourself up.
To further enhance this stability, it’s also useful to flex your glutes and quads, and press your heels against the wall in order to activate the posterior chain. Making these adjustments will keep your whole body stay rigid and secure in the movement.
3). Use some momentum
Momentum is an essential tool for an effective handstand, albeit, not quite to the extent of a full-blown run up, launching yourself into the wall. More like a couple of simple steps before planting your hands. Taking these steps will help to provide you with a “float” as you’re kicking up.
Without this momentum, many people try to donkey kick their way into a handstand. Not only does this look uncontrolled and awkward, it usually results in them not making it fully vertical, and then falling back down.
If you don’t possess the required strength to kick up and lock out against the wall in a handstand position, there’s no need to worry. There are a number of effective ways to build strength for handstands that you can easily implement into your training sessions. Explained below are five of the best handstand strength drills.
1). Wall walks
If you’re struggling with a CrossFit handstand, wall walks are a great way to develop both strength and confidence in the movement. Start by lying flat on your stomach and with your feet against the wall. Then, push with your hands into a press-up position (elbows locked out), and slowly bring your hands closer towards the wall. At the same time, allow your feet to move up the wall.
You can work as far up the wall as you feel comfortable. Bear in mind that a full, unscaled rep would have you in a fully vertical handstand position with your nose and toes to the wall. To work your way back down the wall to the starting position, simply walk your hands out and allow your feet to slowly drop down the wall.
2). Tick-tock kick up
For the starting position of this drill, you’ll need to stand with your arms overhead, biceps next to ears, and one foot in front of the other as if you’re performing a shallow lunge.
Once you’re set, lean forwards to put weight onto the front foot, and place your palms on the floor roughly shoulder-width apart. Then, kick your back leg off the floor to lift your hips over your shoulders. If possible, try to also kick your front leg up to meet the other.
As soon as your rear foot starts to fall, step back onto the floor and press off your hands to return to the upright starting position. This drill is best performed in a slow and controlled manner, kicking up higher each time to test your body.
3). Reverse hollow hold
This bodyweight exercise is great for improving strength in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings - many of the main muscle groups needed in a successful CrossFit handstand.
To perform the drill, simply lay face down with your forehead to the ground, hips pressed down, and your arms extended overhead. Lift your stomach off the ground and towards your spine, while keeping your hips and the tops of your feet firmly pressed into the ground. Hold this “scooped” position for 30 seconds at a time.
The reverse hollow hold movement isn’t only efficient for establishing muscular endurance and development, it’s equally valuable for improving core stability and isometric strength.
4). Seated kettlebell press
Since this exercise is performed in a seated position, with no assistance from the leg muscles, it allows you to fully focus on the upper body. Therefore, this drill is especially useful for improving the strength in your shoulders and core muscles.
Begin with a weight that allows you to do several reps, so you can push up and lock them out evenly overhead. Just like with handstands, locking out fully is essential in this exercise, so keep your elbows as straight as possible. Also make sure that the descent back down to your shoulders is slow and controlled.
A potential alternative to this drill is to try single arm kettlebell presses. This way you can perform each set with one arm at a time, allowing you to fully focus on executing the full range of motion and control.
5). Around the world
The final drill for building strength on this list is perhaps the easiest to set up, as all you’ll need is a box. To start, position your feet on the box, while keeping your hands planted on the ground. This should effectively create a right angle with your body.
Once settled in this position, and with your torso vertical, gradually start walking your hands to the side, allowing your body to pivot around the box. Note here, it’s fine if you need to bend your legs a little in order for your torso to be vertical. After you’ve completed a full rotation around the box with good upper body tension, switch and do the same in the opposite direction.
This drill is great for improving your confidence at being upside down, and also incredibly helpful for teaching you how to transfer weight from one hand to the other.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are handstands good for you?
Handstands provide a number of benefits for all types of athletes. Not only do they improve levels of strength in your upper body and core muscles, they also increase your balance.
Freestanding handstands, especially, require you to have full control over your muscles and to constantly make minor adjustments to avoid losing balance and falling.
Another notable health benefit of handstands is their ability to help with bone health, circulation, and breathing. Since they’re essentially a weight-bearing exercise, handstands can strengthen your bones, making you less prone to conditions such as osteoporosis.
The upside down nature of the movement also increases circulation to your upper body, while simultaneously relieving pressure on your legs and stretching your diaphragm. The latter of which helps to facilitate blood flow to the lungs.
Are handstands a full-body workout?
Handstands mainly work your core muscles, as well as targeting your delts, lats, traps, rhomboids, and arms. Many of the benefits associated with strength training exercises are similarly provided by handstands. These include increased lean muscle mass, higher bone density, and improved mood.
Be mindful that if you’re looking for an exercise to strengthen and build muscle in your legs, then the handstand probably isn’t the best option. However, on the whole, they’re an effective exercise for working multiple muscle groups.
Are handstand push-ups dangerous?
Yes, handstand push-ups can be somewhat dangerous if an athlete lacks the required strength and is unprepared physically to hold their own body weight. Losing tension and control during the descent of the movement can result in serious injury to the neck and spine.
Therefore, it’s important to practice and perfect similar movements first, such as the traditional handstand, before attempting the more challenging handstand push-up exercise.