If you missed the Space Within Handstand Challenge for All Abilities, GOOD NEWS – our 10-day handstand prep sequence is all here, in this handy blog! Whether you work through each ‘day’ as though you were doing the challenge, adding a little extra to your practice sequence step by step, or start practising the entire sequence on a regular basis, you’ll soon be on your way to safe and strong handstands.
DAY 1: STRONG FOUNDATIONS
Today’s handstand prep is all about creating strong foundations and pelvic stability by applying a ‘lower abdominal lock’. A whaaaat??? Watch the video and note the following, before having a go yourself:
The breath slowly moves through the nostrils and into the belly
As the inhale continues, the breath moves from the belly into the chest
The exhale is slow and at the end, the lower abdomen contracts
For the second inhale, the lower abdomen is still contracted (it’s ‘locked’) – this makes the rib cage expand and the chest lift, but not the belly
Try to get used to breathing with the lower abdomen ‘locked’, first as shown in the video, and then whenever you’re doing your handstand exercises. Keep the breath smooth and steady. If you’re familiar with ujjayi breathing (the ‘darth vader’ breath!), it can be helpful to use it in conjunction with a lower abdominal lock.
Now let’s look at how the ‘pelvic stability’ you’ve established fits into the overall alignment of a handstand. You can add the following two exercises to your daily handstand prep practice.
1 – DEVELOPING ALIGNMENT. Lie on your back with your feet flexed and take your arms overhead, so you’re pressing them against the wall, like in the photo. Engage your core by ‘locking’ the lower abdomen like we did yesterday – this helps to align your feet, hips and shoulders. Now close your eyes and imagine yourself upside down – this is what a stable handstand feels like!
2 – OPENING THE SHOULDERS. Now roll up and come into a comfortable sitting position. Put your arms in ‘cow-face pose’, either linking the hands behind your back, or if they don’t touch, holding the top elbow with the opposite hand and gently drawing the elbow back and down. Take several long breaths here, then switch sides. This exercise will help to open your shoulders so you can develop the correct alignment for your handstand practice.
DAY 3: CORE STRENGTH
The focus here is on core strength – something which is described very neatly by the Collins English Dictionary as, “the strength of the underlying muscles of the torso, which help determine posture”. A strong core is essential for a well-executed handstand, too.
We can strengthen our core in many ways, including the following two exercises:
1 – NAVASANA – this posture, also referred to as ‘boat pose’ is a yoga classic and a great core strengthener. Start with the version in which the knees are bent, then try it without holding the back of your knees. Only straighten your legs if you can maintain the shape of your upper body at the same time (ie. If you slump, go back to the easier version). Repeat 3 – 5 times, holding each one for 5 long breaths.
2 – SUPINE LEG LIFTS – not strictly a yoga pose, but definitely a good exercise for strengthening the core, along with the muscles which will eventually help you to lift into handstand with straight legs! Start with the easier version – lie down on your mat and slowly lift and lower one leg at a time – and only progress to both legs if you can lift and lower smoothly and without holding your breath! Repeat x 10.
DAY 4: CORE & ARM STRENGTH
Now it’s time to build on yesterday’s core strength exercises with a classic core strength posture: PLANK – and its sister pose, SIDE PLANK.
1 – PLANK: Whether you have your knees on the floor (half plank) or not, make sure your knees, hips and upper back are aligned – no sagging down or lifting your bottom too high! And be sure to stack your shoulders over your wrists, to minimise the stress on the joints. Press into your hands and lift the space between your shoulder blades, whilst simultaneously drawing the chest forward. Now push back through your heals and feel your core engage! Hold for up to 30 smooth breaths, then come into child’s pose and rest.
2 – SIDE PLANK: Starting in plank, as above, bring your feet together then roll onto one side. Again, aim to maintain a straight line through the torso – ask someone to tell you, or practice in front of a mirror. And as before, stack your shoulders over the supporting wrist. Finally, gaze up to the top hand. If this is too hard to hold, you can put your top foot on the floor (knee bent), behind your bottom leg.
DAY 5: SUN SALUTATIONS
Time to add some dynamic movement to your handstand prep! If you’re already familiar with this sun salutation, then feel free to do the Chaturanga > Upward Facing Dog version. Otherwise, follow the video, applying everything we’ve covered so far, which includes:
Before starting, apply a lower abdominal lock (and use the ujjayi breath if you know how)
Avoid letting your shoulders come up to your ears when lifting your arms, when in downward dog, and when in cobra
Keep a straight line from your knees to the crown of your head as you lower from half plank, and keep your elbows tucked in
Align the shoulders and wrists, and the feet and hips in downward dog, to reduce the stress on the joints
One last, very important, point: if you’ve got tight hamstrings, BEND YOUR KNEES when you’re folding forward and in Downward Facing Dog, so you can maintain a straight spine.
Practice the sun salutation a few times, without focusing too much on when you breathe, then, once you’ve got the hang of the sequence, inhale and exhale as indicated in the film. Repeat 5 x every day, after you’ve done the previous day’s exercises.
There’s no such thing as a safe and steady handstand without shoulder strength and stability. So how do we create it? Well, it’s all about conscious positioning and the activation of the muscles which support the entire shoulder area.
When we lift our arms, the shoulders want to rise up too. In downward dog, we often compensate for a lack of strength by rolling the shoulders inward. And when we move into cobra, it’s common to slump into the shoulders, letting them snuggle up to our ears. All this might feel easier – but keep it up, and nothing will feel easy, just really tense.
Today, practice the following postures, taking your lead from the film below, and you’ll build the strength to maintain a safe and stable shoulder position in these postures and, importantly, in handstands:
1 – Consciously draw your shoulders away from your ears by sliding your shoulder blades back and down in WARRIOR 1, and outwardly rotating the upper arms.
2 – Replicate that action in Downward Facing Dog – outwardly rotate the upper arms, but this time, simultaneously pushing through the forefingers and thumbs too (creating a slight inward rotation of the lower arms).
3 – And when you rise into cobra, maintain the space around your neck by sliding the shoulder blades down.
DAY 7: GETTING STRONGER!
Even if you don’t have time to do all of last week’s handstand prep exercises first, be sure to do yesterday’s drills. Becoming familiar with a stable shoulder position is crucial to a strong and safe handstand – as you’ll see when you apply those same techniques to today’s exercise:
Plank gives us an opportunity to practice bearing weight, in preparation for a full handstand, and by transitioning to downward dog in between, we remind ourselves to maintain a healthy shoulder position.
If you’re unable to hold full plank without either lifting your bottom up or sagging down, do half plank instead – it’ll be way more effective (it’s basically the same posture, but with a some support from the knees – straight line between head and knees if doing half plank, or head and heels if full).
Try to hold your plank position for up to 20 seconds, before moving into downward dog for 10 seconds. Afterwards, come into child’s pose and rest for a minute or so, before slowly coming up to a kneeling position.
DAY 8: UPSIDE DOWN!
Throughout the Space Within Handstand Challenge for All Abilities, we’ve been working on our strength, flexibility and alignment. Now, it’s time to start practising being upside down!
This exercise will also continue to build on those three essential elements of strength, flexibility an alignment, so be sure to add it to your handstand prep routine (ie. All the daily exercises we’ve covered so far!).
Find the right spot for your hands by sitting with your back straight against the wall and noting where your heels are. Now get up and place the heels of your hands there instead.
With your hands firmly planted on the ground, ‘walk’ your feet up the wall until you come into an upside down ‘L’ shape – ask someone to check that your feet are level with your hips and your hips are aligned with your shoulders (mine is, in fact, a little wide – told you I’m still learning, too!)
Now you’re in the posture, press firmly into both of your hands and both of your feet as you lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Hold for around 30 second to begin with, working up 90 seconds to two minutes.
DAY 9: PREPARING FOR LIFT-OFF!
Now you’re familiar with being upside down, and have built the strength for holding yourself up, it’s time to hone your technique for getting there without walking your feet up a wall! And the perfect exercise for this is the ‘L-hop’…
Come into standing splits (doesn’t have to be perfect!!), with your hands about 40-50cm in front of your standing foot
Now lower the top leg so that it’s at a right angle with your standing leg (ie. Parallel with the floor)
Bend the knee of the standing leg and start doing some gentle hops – nothing too dramatic, just enough to get a feel for the amount of effort required for coming all the way up
Be sure to try on the other side, too – you’ll soon get tired of using the same leg, and who knows, the other side might be easier!
Practising L-hops is a great way to continue developing arm and core strength, whilst also working towards lifting into a handstand.
DAY 10: FINDING BALANCE
The final piece of the jigsaw, when it comes to handstands, is balancing and for that, we need to find our CENTRE OF GRAVITY!
To start with, it’s best to practice against a wall (as I am in the video below) and from there, it’s possible to explore how and where to distribute your weight.
That’s not all there is to think about, however – we’re also putting into practice all the lessons we’ve learnt so far – after all, these are the very things that will help us to remain balanced, once we’ve found our centre of gravity.
Establish a strong core – engage the lower abdominal muscles
Take long, smooth inhales and exhales
Align the wrists, shoulders, hips and ankles – as in the floor version we started practising on Day 2
Activate the shoulders muscles – outwardly rotate the upper arms, to protract the shoulderblades
Press into the hands and lift your hips towards the ceiling
When you come down, take a moment in child’s pose to let your blood pressure come back to normal, before attempting another handstand.
After practising for a while, you’ll be able to hop up into a handstand (see Day 9) and find the same point of balance. But for now, it’s worth working against a wall or with a partner.
If you’ve been following this handstand prep plan and know someone who’d enjoy it just as much, or if you want to send it to a friend and work through the steps together, use the social media share buttons below! And let us know how you’re progressing – tag @spacewithin_ on your Instagram photos, or post your pics and videos on our Facebook page!