It’s an age old discussion: is a handstand a strength exercise or a balance exercise? Or both?!
The handstand is such a fundamental & foundational skill that it’s sought after worldwide. Because it literally turns the world upside down, it can be an intimidating prospect for the complete novice. One of my most asked questions this year is: ‘am I strong enough to do a handstand?’ OR, ‘how much strength do you need for a handstand?’
First things first, the handstand is, in my opinion, a balance based exercise. A key ingredient for solid balance is the next fundamental portion of a good handstand, and that is alignment. The better something is aligned the easier it will be to balance. A ‘perfectly aligned’ handstand has all key joints in the body stacked………
Having all these nicely aligned allows you to keep your center-of-mass over your base-of-support. Which is exactly what happens when you stand on your feet – assuming you have good posture.
‘Banana’ vs straight handstand. On the left you can see the center of mass (hips) are BEHIND the base of support (hands). This is inefficient long term and will hinder your progress in the hand-balancing world.
Should the center of mass fall outside of the base of support, then standing (and handstanding) would become far harder. Even a slight shift would make it notably harder. Imagine standing with your hips slightly flexed vs with the hips nicely stacked over all other joints……..which one would tire you out more?
This fact explains how much strength you could need for a handstand and why some find it easier than others. Shoulder mobility is absolutely paramount for handstand ease. If you cannot achieve 180 degrees of shoulder flexion then you can’t get all the major joints we covered earlier stacked. So it stands to reason that muscles, as opposed to joints, will be bearing the load.
This is why it’s always a wise idea to address mobility deficits as soon as possible when working towards proficiency with the handstand. Doing so allows you to focus less on strain and more on balance – balance is a skill.
With that said, how much strength does a handstand need then?
The worse your mobility, the more strength. The better your mobility, the less strength. Assuming you have the necessary mobility, a handstand requires about as much strength as a plank hold of 30-60 seconds and a few push ups. For clarification, I’m talking about a 5-10 second wall facing hold, not a 60 second freestanding handstand!
If you find the fully vertical handstand is in fact too strenuous, you still have many options:
1) 45 Degree Handstand – Use a more horizontal body angle as opposed to vertical (like a half handstand, half plank)
2) A ‘Pike stand’ – essentially an L stand where the feet are elevated around hip height and the shoulders are stacked over the hands. Building up to 30 second holds with the arms locked and shoulders elevated will get you to wall facing standard in no time!
(Note my shoulders sitting in front of the hands and hips. This is due to deficits in overhead flexibility.)
So now you know it’s not so much a physical strength issue as it is a mental strength issue. The biggest obstacle I see is limiting self beliefs when it comes to handstand success. But as you’ve seen here, you really don’t need to have superhuman strength to start working on your handstand…….you’ve more than likely got enough already and all you need to do now is GET STARTED.
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