A Strength Drill to Help You Rock Your Handstand Press

If you decide to embark upon the fun, fascinating, and sometimes frustrating journey of learning to press up into handstand, you’ll come across a lot of preps and tips along the way. Whether a particular prep, drill, or suggestion is useful to you or not will depend largely on your unique body proportions and structure and your individual strengths and challenges. We’re all put together differently, and thus, experience poses, movements, and transitions differently; some press drills come easier for people with mobile hips and flexible hamstrings, while others require less flexibility but more upper body strength.

In this article, I’m going to share a drill that I’ve found super useful for finessing pressing up (aka coming into handstand by pressing into your hands until your toes lift off the floor and you can float your legs up into position). In future articles and videos, I’ll offer other drills and approaches, so if this one isn’t your cup of tea, don’t sweat it—it’s just one of many options. That said, if pressing up is a goal of yours, I encourage you to give this drill a try—after adequately warming up your wrists, shoulders, and hamstrings, of course.

Tips, Key Actions, and How to Prepare

One reason I like this drill so much is that it requires focus on two actions that are important for pressing up: shifting weight into your fingertips and pressing your hands into the ground (“pushing the floor away,” as I like to think of it). Keep these actions in mind as you proceed, as they are key for getting your toes to lift away from the floor.

Also, this is one of those drills that tends to be easier for those with open hamstrings. That doesn’t mean you can’t try it if yours are on the tighter side—but go into it knowing that you may need to recruit more upper body strength than a person with more supple hamstrings would. Before you give it a go, you’ll really want to give your hamstrings some attention (perhaps with some favorite stretches or self-myofascial-release techniques like these). This drill, and pressing in general, may also come more readily for those with longer torsos and shorter limbs, because it’ll be easier to get the hips over the shoulders in order to transfer weight into the hands. For those with shorter torsos and longer limbs, and those with tight-feeling hamstrings, elevating the feet on yoga blocks (on their lowest setting) can be helpful.

This drill also asks a lot of your wrists: In order to float your toes off the floor, you need to shift your shoulders beyond your wrists, bringing more and more weight into your fingertips, which is a lot of wrist extension. Because this can be taxing, be sure to include some wrist-mobility exercises and stretches in your warm-up and cooldown. Standard sun salutations, lunges, and standing poses make good warm-ups, as do a few regular handstand variations—but not too many as you don’t want to wear out your upper body before you try the drill!

The Drill

Additional tips: If pressing into handstand seems a little scary—which it often does in the beginning—start by practicing in front of a wall. If you feel restricted by tight hamstrings, check out the bent knee plus block variations for each stage—you may find them more accessible!

Stage One

Press play to see a quick video demo of stage one.

1. Begin in a standing forward fold with your hands planted on the ground, roughly 12 inches in front of your toes. (Note: I have found, over time, that this prep is easier with less than 12 inches between my feet and hands, but I recommend starting with 12 inches and adjusting from there as needed.) Arrange your hands so that they’re shoulder distance apart with either your index or middle fingers pointing straight forward (depending on what feels best in your body). Aim the eyes of your elbows toward the space between your index fingers and thumbs. Your feet can be together, hip width apart, or a little wider than hip width—again, experiment and see what feels best for you. Gaze slightly forward, toward your thumbs or in whatever direction feels best for your neck.

2. From here, on an exhale, rise up onto your tiptoes, as high as you can, shifting your shoulders forward of your wrists and bringing more weight into your fingertips—so much that the heels of your hands begin to get “lighter” on the ground. Press into the floor as though you’re pushing it away from you. Initially, you might stop here at step two, working with these key actions for a few breaths, then lowering your heels to the floor, giving your wrists a little break, then repeating a few more times.

3. If you’re ready to move on, on an inhale, see if you can lift the toes of your right foot off the floor and bring them to touch your right wrist or forearm. The higher up your arm you can slide your toes, the easier the next step will be.

4. On an exhale, continue to push the floor away and to shift more and more weight into your fingertips—enough that maybe your left toes also float off the floor. (You might also find that pressing your right toes against your right forearm helps you do this.)

After floating up for a moment, your left foot may immediately return to the floor, which is fine. Over time, you may discover that by continuing to work the actions described above, you can keep your left toes hovering for a breath or two before lowering your left foot to the floor, followed by your right.

Repeat two more times, then switch sides.

Don’t worry if your toes don’t float off the floor right away. It takes time and practice. Working the actions of this drill—shifting your weight forward and pushing the floor away—are great ways to develop the strength necessary to eventually float your toes up.

Stage One With Bent Knees and a Block

You can start standing on blocks to get a little extra “lift” from the get-go. And if your hamstrings are tight, it might feel better to keep your knees bent.

Stage Two

Press play to see a quick video demo of stage two.

If stage one is going well for you, give this variation a try.

Repeat steps one to four as described above, and after lifting your left toes off the floor, then also bring your left foot to your left forearm. (I affectionately like to refer to this as a “forearm stand” because, I mean, you are technically standing on your forearms!)

You can (and may have to) come right down from there, or you can stay for a breath or so by, you guessed it, keeping weight in your fingertips and pushing your hands into the floor.

To exit, lower one foot at a time, or float both feet down together. Repeat a few more times, each time switching the foot that leaves the ground first.

Stage Two With Bent Knees and a Block

Taking It Into a Handstand

Press play to see a quick video demo of taking this drill into a handstand.

If both feet are already off the floor, you may as well give it a shot, right?

From stage two, with both feet touching your forearms, keep working the actions of the press: Shift weight into your fingertips and push the floor away. As you do so, reach your legs away from each other for a straddle press—bringing them out to the sides, away from your forearms, and up overhead, where they may meet in a straight up-and-down handstand.

Stay as long as you’d like (or can) and then come out of your handstand as you normally would, one foot at a time; or you can reverse your straddle, or perhaps lower both feet together in a “reverse pike press,” slowing your descent as much as possible by continuing to bear weight in your fingertips as you lower.

Stage Three With Bent Knees and a Block

If you come into a handstand from the bent-knee version of the drill, you may find that your legs naturally want to come into a baddha konasana position!

Some drills require a ton of reps to achieve their intended results. This is not one of them. Just three to five repetitions on each side is plenty.

If you found this one useful, try incorporating it into your practice regularly. It takes only a few minutes a day and has made a huge difference in my own pressing practice, helping me to lift my feet away from the floor with more confidence and ease each time. I hope it will do the same for you!

Photography: Andrea Killam

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Kat Heagberg

Kat Heagberg

Kat Heagberg is the editor of Yoga International and has been teaching yoga since 2005. Though she initially trained in alignment-based styles of yoga (which continue to inform her practice and... Read more>>  

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