Let’s get upside down: a multi-part series learning how to handstand

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Let's get upside down: a multi-part series learning how to handstand

There are typically two types of CrossFitters in this world: those that love being upside down, and those that hate it. In the first installment of this blog series, I want to break down some ways we can practice getting comfortable being upside down, and eventually working all the way up to handstand walks! Because a lot of the time, the reason athletes hate being upside down is because they’re afraid to be, not necessarily because they don’t possess the strength. 

But before getting into drills, we need to chat about the importance of keeping the weight stacked in a straight line over your wrists, no matter what stage of these drills you happen to be in. If your shoulders are too far forward, or if your hips are breaking the straight line, or whatever deviation about the midline might be happening, your balance will be thrown off and your shoulders will likely be working in overdrive. Don’t make more work for yourself! Try these drills to work on your midline stabilization and weight distribution:

Shifting vs Tapping

In the drills to follow, we start from the most accessible position, all the way into full fledged handstands. The point of shifting your weight from hand to hand is meant to get you comfortable sustaining a bit of motion, while also maintaining the same level of tension in whatever stage of these drills you happen to be. 

When shoulder tapping, you should be tapping the same shoulder of the hand that’s leaving the ground. This is a step up from shifting, and you will be sustaining even more motion, while still maintaining that tension throughout your entire body AND keeping the weight stacked over your shoulder as much as possible. 

Plank shifting: Get into a pushup position with your butt tight, core engaged, shoulders away from your ears and most importantly, hands directly under your shoulders. Keep that tension everywhere! Once you feel stable, still keeping everything tight, begin shifting your weight from hand to hand. 

Try this: 5 x 20 shifts. Focus on staying in a tight, straight line the whole time! 


Plank shoulder taps: When you’re comfortable shifting your weight from hand to hand, it’s time to lift those hands all the way off and touch your shoulders! Make sure you keep that plank position, staying tight in the hollow at all times. This means your hips should not be shifting side to side (or shooting to the ceiling), shoulders should remain over your wrist, and stay tight, tight, tight! 

Try this: 5 x 20 taps, alternating. Focus on staying in a straight line, keeping your butt and core as tight as possible. 


Box shifting: The next step is to do the previous drills, but elevated in a pike position on a box (or chair or bench or whatever you have available)! Place your back feet on the box so you are in an elevated plank position. Now walk those hands back towards the box while shooting your hips to the ceiling. Stop walking back when your hips, shoulders, and wrists are in one straight line — completely stacked.* Now, press your hands into the ground as hard as you can, pushing your shoulders towards your ears. From here, start shifting your weight from hand to hand. During this movement, the line from your wrist to your hips should be moving side to side. Try to prevent any major breaks in your shoulders or torso by letting your booty swing side to side independent from your core. 

*Some of you may not have the hamstring mobility to keep your legs perfectly straight while stacking your hips over shoulders — and that’s okay. Have a slight bend in your knee, or put your knees on the box and rotate your box to a higher position so more weight is shifting into your hands (versus into your knees). 

Try this: 5 x 10 shifts with a :10 second pike hold after the last shift. Focus on keeping your hips, shoulders, and wrists in one line. Don’t let your booty get out of line! 


Box taps: Now try touching those shoulders! Keep the same form, with weight stacked in a straight line from your hips to your wrists, trying not to let that booty sway back and forth. Stay as still as you can with just your hands moving from the ground. 

Try this: 5 x 10 taps, alternating, with a :10 second pike hold after the last tap. Focus again on keeping hips, shoulders, and wrists in one line. Stay tight, tight, tight! 


Around the Worlds: Now let’s add some movement! Starting in the same pike position, weight stacked over your wrists, start walking your hands around the box so you make a complete circle. Often, as we incorporate movement, slipping out of position is easy — so be careful not to let your hands walk so far away from the box that you’re now in just a really high weird pushup. If you feel your upper body getting out of that handstand position, pause, reset, and then keep moving. See how many times you can go around that box without breaking form! I would recommend doing a half circle one direction, and then head back to the starting point so you can work both sides equally. 

Try this: 2 half circles around a box (half circle and back to the start = 1). Focus on keeping everything in a straight line, not allowing your hands to walk away from the box. Keep as much of a handstand as possible from hips to hands!


Wall walk: Ah, wall walks. You never truly know how heavy your body feels until you start wall walking. Starting in a hollow plank position with your feet on the ground, place one foot up on the wall and while keeping the tension and hollow plank, take small steps to walk those feet up the wall while simultaneously walking your hands back toward the wall. For the more novice handstanders, you may only get halfway up the wall before you need to come back down. That’s okay! With more practice, eventually, you’ll walk your way to the finished position.

The finished position is a tight hollow with your “nose and toes” against the wall. Think about preeeesssssing your hands firmly on the ground, pushing away, activating those shoulders, stacking your heels, hips, shoulders, and wrists. If as you make your way up the wall you feel your hips sink and your shoulders shrug up to your ears, pause, re-engage, and keep movin’. After a few seconds of holding at the top, work your way back down to the hollow plank.

Try this: 3 x 1 Wall Walk with a :10 second hold as far up the wall as you can go. Focus on pressing hard into your hands, core and butt tight, and stacking your weight in one straight line.

Regardless of your current skill level on the handstand, all of these are beneficial! If you’re proficient, practice your tension through movement. If you’re a beginner, just get comfortable in each of these positions! Being upside down is nothing to be afraid of — it can even be really fun! 

Got more questions? Struggling in any of these? I’d love to help you! Shoot me an email anytime — [email protected]

Who wrote this post...

Mckenzie Souther

Mckenzie Souther

McKenzie is a North Carolina transplant (go Heels) who’s been coaching and attending Renew since 2016. Her favorite benchmark workout is Isabel, ‘cause quick power snatches are her jam. But as a former gymnast, she’ll also settle for any workout that requires her to be upside down. When she’s not coaching or working out, she just wants to be where her friends are -- preferably somewhere on the greenbelt with lots and lots of dogs!

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