Handstands for Health

This is an advice column written for www.stuff.co.nz published 28 November 2017

My Instagram feed is filled with fit people doing handstands. Some say they are good for blood flow, I have also read they make your brain work better and can even make you younger. Are people just trying to look cool, or are there some benefits? Should I be added handstand to my list of 2018 goals? And if so – how do I go about success?

Everyone seems to be doing handstands these days and aside from being fun, there’s lots of good reasons to do them.

Benefits include:

Stress reduction: increasing blood flow to the brain has a calming effect and can help relieve short term stress and depression

Increased strength: you need to be strong to hold yourself upside down. Practising handstands will increase upper body, core and wrist strength

Improved spatial awareness: you’ll get a new view of the world from a handstand, helping to develop your spatial awareness

Improved co-ordination, stability and balance: challenging your body by holding different positions forces new neural pathway formation encouraging co-ordination and control between different body parts to keep your balance, build strength and stability, especially through the shoulder complex

Endocrine system stimulation: inversions increase blood flow to the pituitary gland, thyroid and adrenal glands to stimulate function and influence metabolism and hormone production

Before you go throwing yourself upside down – a few words on safety. Ensure you have a safe place to practice, a landing spot where you won’t bump into anything and an experienced spotter to help or a wall to practice against.

Do not attempt handstands (or headstands) if you’re:

  • pregnant or menstruating,
  • have high blood pressure, heart conditions, glaucoma or ear infections
  • suffering from neck, shoulder back conditions, headaches or carpal tunnel syndrome
  • having difficulty raising your arms directly overhead without excessive extension in the lower back (in this case, a Registered Exercise Professional may be able to help you improve mobility and flexibility)

Getting good at handstands, like anything else takes practice. Don’t expect it to be a quick journey – this is a skill that needs consistent work and can take months or years.

It’s best to start with a wall-facing handstand.

  • Start with your back to the wall and place your hands on the floor about shoulder width apart. Walk your feet up the wall so you’re facing the wall upside down and hold your body straight. Walk your hands towards the wall (you’ll find a place that feels good for you)
  • Once you’re in position, spread your fingers out, ensuring your hands about shoulder width apart and fingers are pointed forwards. Press into the ground with your fingertips, lock your elbows and push through your arms. Your shoulders should be by your ears.  Squeeze your butt and legs, engage the abs (try not to let your lower back arch) and point your toes.
  • Breathe
  • Work up to a 1 minute hold then start moving your hands closer to the wall until you’re completely straight and can hold that for 1 minute
  • Ensure you leave enough strength to walk safely out from your handstand at the end
  • Progress to a handstand facing away from the wall and then to freestanding
  • Avoid going straight to walking handstands, these often encourage excessive lower back arch and doesn’t encourage core stability

Just as with any other new practice, take your time, ensure you get adequate recovery between sessions and don’t over do it.