Two weeks ago I wrote an article about 5 postures to strengthen your legs, and in the comments I was asked if I would share a post on poses to strengthen your arms, in order to achieve handstand. First off, I love reader requests! If there is ever anything you want to see from me, just let me know and I will get on it.
Second, handstand requires more than arm strength. Handstand is one of those awesome, full-body engagement postures, so I am going to give you 5 poses to work that will strengthen your arms, your core, your deep core (pelvic floor muscles that are essential for balance and stamina), your bottom and your legs -- because you need all of them for handstand. So lets get started!
Here are 5 poses to help get you into handstand:
1. Dolphin Pose
I am obsessed with dolphins. They are amazing for strengthening your core, your shoulders, your chest, your upper arms and your legs, so I feel my obsession is well founded.
If you are working up to handstand, I recommend you practice your dolphins this way: Start in Downward Facing Dog, then lower yourself onto your forearms. Interlace your fingers, keeping elbows shoulder-distance apart.
Draw your lower belly in and up, and then slowly lower your chin to brush against your finger knuckles, then push yourself back up again. Do this 10-15 times. Aim to slip these into your practice as close to daily as you can, and watch your strength skyrocket!
In my opinion, a Vinyasa that is performed well, with proper alignment and attention to detail, is one of the single best things you can do for your body when it comes to building strength and focus.
Draw your mind to your hands during your Vinyasa, and make sure that you are really spreading your fingers, pressing down into the forefinger and thumb mound of your palm, and creating a slight lift in the center of your palm. This will not only help you to prevent injury during your practice in general, but it will also help you to practice a strong foundation for handstand.
The slow lowering from Downward Dog into Chaturunga, and then the push back up into Upward Dog will strengthen your core and chest muscles, again prepping you to get upside down.
3. Plank ‘Belly Ups’
This is my favourite exercise to help get you used to the feeling of drawing your deep core muscles in, as well as drawing your legs together in a way that will facilitate handstand.
In your plank, make sure your shoulders are stacked directly on top of your elbows. Adjust your hands so that they are placed the way we talked about in the Vinyasa paragraph above. Broaden across your collarbones, while creating a slight lift of the chest, drawing the shoulder blades down the back. You want a balance between an open chest and an open back.
Place your feet together for this variation, and point your tailbone directly between your heels. From here, draw your big toes, ankles, calves, thighs (and even your hips) in towards the midline of your body. This is part muscular and part energetic. Imagine that there is a thin piece of paper between your legs that you want to hold onto.
Now, engage your lower belly as you would if you were trying to stop the flow of urine. Those are your deep core muscles that need to be engaged in order to keep you upside down and balanced. Hold this position for 10-15 breaths if you can, working up from 5.
4. Tree Pose
The full translation of handstand is actually inverted tree posture, which is why I think it is a great pose to practice when you are building up to handstand. Finding your balance on one leg, with your arms extended over head is very similar to finding your balance in this position, just on your hands instead of your feet!
In your Tree pose, really focus on drawing the foot tightly into your leg (calf or thigh, never the knee) and equally drawing your leg into your foot. This will help you to find that sensation of drawing everything in towards the midline to help you balance in handstand.
Also if you can imagine that you are rooting deep down into the ground with your foot, like it is buried 10 feet into the earth, you may have an easier time balancing. You can then do this with your hands and arms in handstand!
5. Downward Facing Dog Walk Ins
My last posture recommendation for building up your handstand strength are Downward Dog walk-ins. For this exercise, start in Downward Facing Dog and really press into your hands, as though you are trying to press your mat away from you.
You want to feel like you are pushing your weight back into your legs and feet. Draw your lower belly in and up, and use your quads to draw your kneecaps in and up. Spread across your collarbones and gently move your shoulders away from your ears.
From here, begin to slowly walk your feet up towards your hands, tipping your shoulders above your wrists, and working to get your hips up above your shoulders.
Go slowly, and keep your core engaged as you go. Then when you have reached your max, walk back out to Downward Dog. You may find your range of motion is limited if you have stronger hamstrings, and in that case you can rise up onto your tip toes to give you more space. Practice this 10-15 times.
So there you go! What are your go-to poses to help you build overall strength? Let me know if you give these exercises a try!