Tips for Teaching a Handstand
posted on 07/20/2011

A handstand, "the act of supporting the body in a stable, inverted vertical position by balancing on the hands (Wikipedia)," is one of the most basic positions in gymnastics. Not only does a handstand help the gymnast develop strength, balance, and spatial awareness, a proper handstand position is a basic progression for numerous skills on all of the gymnastics apparatuses and in all of the disciplines. Everything from a cartwheel to a giant with a full pirouette on uneven bars to a front handspring vault and many, many skills in between require competent performance of the handstand position.

Let's take this opportunity to focus on a few key points of the handstand, beginning with the prerequisites necessary to perform a good handstand.

  • Upper body strength - the gymnast must be able to support his or her weight in an inverted position, balancing on the hands. Lead-up skills and drills to develop upper body strength include: front, back and side supports on the floor; tuck and pike supports where the gymnast lifts their body off the floor and is supported by hands; and walking up the wall.
  • Core strength and control - the gymnast must be able to kick up to the handstand position and control the body's core (midsection containing the stomach and back) to maintain a stable position. Lead-up skills and drills for developing core strength and control include: lunges; vertical balances on feet - such as standing tight and still on tip toes, arabesque or scale; lever; and plank holds.
  • Spatial awareness - the gymnast must understand were the vertical position is and how to step down or roll out from the handstand. Lead-up skills and drills to aid in developing spatial awareness include: rolls - forward, backward, and log rolls; tripod stands; headstands; and ¾ handstands (may add a switch of legs at the peak of the handstand).

Now that we understand the prerequisite skills that are important to performing a handstand, let's discuss proper technique and teaching tips.

  • Hands should be shoulder width apart on the floor, with arms straight and fingers facing away from the body.
  • Head should be in a neutral position, not tucked (chin to chest) too far or lifted outward.
  • Shoulders should be fully extended; eliminating any angle in the shoulders will help the gymnast reach a straighter handstand position.
  • The body should form a straight line from hands through the arms, shoulders, torso and legs. Squeezing the core muscles in the stomach and back can help prevent arching or piking.
  • For a basic handstand position, legs should be straight and together.
  • Coaches should spot this skill initially to be sure the gymnast has the strength necessary to support his/her body weight in the inverted position and to help him/her understand or "feel" the proper position. Help the athlete achieve the vertical position by lifting at his/her hips. To steady the gymnast in the vertical position, coaches should hold at the knee or calf area on the leg (instead of on the ankles).

Learning a proper handstand position should be a fundamental part of all gymnastics classes. And once the handstand is mastered, practice can become part of a warm-up program, so the proper position and technique is consistently reinforced.