Create Balance In A Freestanding Handstand | COMPLETE HANDSTAND GUIDE pt. 4

This is the 4th part of the Complete Handstand Guide for Beginners post series. Head back to the previous post in the series by clicking the button below.

It took me a long time to go from the point in my handstand practice where I was practicing handstands by the wall to the point where I was “ready” to leave the wall behind and practice the freestanding handstand.

The more I practiced by the wall the more I taught myself to become dependent on it. Instead of learning how to bail out of a handstand I was teaching myself that there would always be a wall behind me I could tap my feet on, in case I moved a little too far toward my back side.

Instead of learning how to kick up precisely I taught myself that if I kicked with too much force, I’d just land with my legs on the wall and then find a free handstand from there. Needless to say, those are not the things you want to teach your body to do if your goal is to eventually do a freestanding handstand.


Moving your handstand practice off the wall

As soon as you’re able to balance a handstand by the wall for just a few seconds without using the wall for support, it’s time to start adding some freestanding handstand exercises to your practice. This way you won’t come to rely on the wall so much that it keeps you stuck at the same stage of your handstand practice.

It can seem both terrifying and impossible to move your handstand practice away from the wall. Because what’s gonna happen if you fall? Some parts of the fear of falling out of a handstand are rational, others are entirely irrational.

So let’s start by addressing and overcoming the rational fear of falling when you practice the freestanding handstand.

Camilla doing a stag legs handstand with legs split and knees bent.

Bailing out of a handstand

It’s entirely rational to fear falling out of a handstand, if you don’t know how to safely do so yet!

This is where bail out methods come in. Bailing out of a handstand means to be able to control your exit out of a handstand when you feel the weight moving too far in one direction to be able to stay balanced.

There are a few different methods to safely exit a handstand:

  • Scissor bail – this one is probably obvious. If you’re falling toward your belly side, split your legs and land on one foot at a time. Exactly the reverse of what you do when you do a scissor kick entry to handstand. Landing on one leg at a time means you can land more lightly on your feet keeping you from thumping both feet into the floor as you come back down.
  • Cartwheel bail – I mentioned this one in the previous post in this blog series too. It’s my go-to way to fall safely out of a handstand when I’m falling towards my back side. I twist my hips, step one hand forwards (and rotate it by turning the fingertips in). Then I split my legs so I land back on my feet one foot at a time (see detailed step-by-step tutorial here).
  • Wheel bail – This bail out method is only viable if you feel quite comfortable in wheel pose. I definitely don’t recommend it as your go-to bail out method. If you fall out of a handstand more than 5 times when you practice, it can eventually become very straining in the low back to fall out into a deep backbend with momentum and force, if you’re not at a place in your practice where you can do this exit slow and controlled, yet.
  • Tuck + roll bail – Tuck your head, bend your arms and roll like you were doing a somersault. This one is risky for the neck, so if you feel like you’re going to collapse and face plant as soon as you bend your arms slightly in a handstand, avoid this one at all costs. It is a classic gymnastics movement though and with the right technique it can be used as a handstand bail out too.

The bail out method of your choice is something you want to repeat 1000+ times until it’s completely saved in your muscle memory. Having a spotter help you the first many times until you feel comfortable and in control when you bail out on your own is super helpful.

Bailing out with a spotter

Have a spotter stand close behind you in a stable, bent knee stance with their hands grabbing the outside of your hips.

First let the spotter pull you a tiny bit too far to your backside and then have them twist your hips out to one side and land your feet onto the ground. When that feels safe the spotter can start to pull you a little further off balance before they guide your hips to twist out.

Eventually the spotter stops leading the movement and you let yourself fall toward your back side and twist your hips out to the side with minimal help from your spotter.

When falling becomes second nature

Once you’ve bailed out over and over and it should feel like second nature to do so when you’re falling towards your back side. Your fear of freestanding handstands at this stage will be much smaller, because your body knows you’re capable of safely falling out of a handstand.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the fear of practicing handstands will completely disappear. The fear of falling might be something you have to deal with throughout your entire handstand journey. It gets better the more you practice.

If you’re still dealing with fear of handstanding, I’ve found that these self-reflection questions can help a lot:

  • What is holding me back from practicing handstands? (fear of falling or failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of success, self-limiting beliefs, procrastination, etc.)
  • I’m scared of … (make it very specific)
  • I tell myself … (self-limiting beliefs)
  • I can reduce the chance of something bad happening by … (having a spotter, crash-pad, strengthening the foundations, etc.)
  • One step that I will take this week to reduce my fear is … 

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Freestanding handstand shapes

As soon as you’re able to balance in a freestanding handstand for a few seconds it can be loads of fun to start playing with different shapes. You might even find that doing so will improve your overall balance and control in handstand!

When practicing freestanding handstands you no longer have the wall nearby to catch you or to help you become aware of your alignment when you handstand.

At this stage of the handstand journey there’s still lots of body awareness and handstand proprioception to build in order to achieve longer holds in balance.

The first shape I’m sharing is so so great for building that spacial awareness of our alignment upside down:

Stag leg handstand

The stag leg handstand is my absolute favourite beginner friendly handstand. It’s taught me so much about my own alignment in handstand and reminded me where to engage to find even more stability on my hands.

Camilla doing a straight, freestanding stag leg handstand

There are a couple of reasons why this is a great handstand shape when you’re first starting out practicing freestanding handstands:

  • The center of gravity is lower compared to a straight line handstand making it easier to balance.
  • Having the knee tucked actively in toward the chest ensures that the core is engaged and that the pelvis tucked (posterior pelvic tilt). Both of these things help preventing you from arching your back.
  • This shape is a lot easier to control because the tucked knee automatically keeps you in good alignment even though you may not have a great awareness of our alignment upside down yet.
  • It’s easier to kick up into the stag leg handstand because you need less momentum compared to when kicking into a straight line handstand. This means you’ll enter with more control and your success rate of kicking up and staying in balance will probably improve as a result.

How to enter the stag leg handstand

Come into a plank position. Stack the shoulders directly on top of your hands and keep your elbows straight.

Then lift one leg and step it forward so it’s about halfway (or a little closer) to your hands. Draw your ribs and navel in so the back is slightly rounded and your core is engaged. 

Bend the front leg deeply like a coiled spring. When you’re ready to set off, straighten the leg as you jump with the front foot off the floor. At the same time, use your back leg to gain momentum by actively bending the knee and tucking it in to your chest. You want to keep your core engaged (hollow body position) throughout the entire movement.

This is the alignment we’re avoiding by keeping the knee tucked in super tight:

Camilla doing a stag leg banana back handstand with bow and arrow shaped legs arching her back

I teach beginners to avoid this shape because there’s a lot less stability and control when the ribs are flaring out and the back is arched. The hollowbody shape we’re aiming for is a more integrated, stacked, and controllable shape. Even though backbendy handstand shapes like the one above are super fun to play with once you feel stable in your freestanding handstand!

Let’s dive into other handstand shapes for you to practice but first, I just want to remind you to always listen to your own needs in your handstand practice. If you would benefit from taking any of the exercises I share to the wall, a spotter, or skip them entirely for now – by all means do!

Here are a couple of handstand shapes I like to play with in my practice:

Straight handstand

How to do a straight line handstand:
Push into the entire palm of your hands especially the back of your index finger knuckles and your fingertips. Keep your elbows straight and elevate your shoulder blades so that your shoulder is moving towards your ears. Squeeze the arms toward each other to active along the insides of your arms.

Hollow out your torso by knitting your ribs in and engaging your core. Keep your spine elongated, especially the low back. Straighten your legs completely and tuck your pelvis (posterior pelvic tilt) as much as you can without bending your knees (you should feel your glutes activate a lot if you’re doing it right). Squeeze your inner thighs together and point your ankles and your toes

Camilla doing a straight line freestanding handstand

Preparatory exercises: prone and supine hollowbody holds for 20-60 seconds, stag leg handstand for 5+ seconds.

Split + split stag legs handstands

How to do a split handstand:
The upper body is doing exactly the same as in a straight line handstand. Split your legs and send one leg back behind you and one leg out in front. To have your legs parallel to the ground in full splits requires that you untuck your pelvis slightly and allow a slight arch of your back. The knees can be straight or bent into a stag.

Camilla doing a stag legs handstand with legs split and knees bent.

Preparatory exercises: front splits (hanumanasana), hand-to-big-toe pose, crescent lunge, stag leg handstand for 5+ seconds.

Straddle handstand

How to do a straddle handstand:
Open your legs up to the sides. Straddle handstands have two variations; open straddle and piked straddle. In the open straddle keep your hip extended and in line with your torso. For a piked straddle bend at the hip, bring the hips slightly back to counter the legs moving down in front.

Piked straddle handstand:

Open straddle handstand:

Preparatory exercises: frog pose, seated wide legged forward fold (pancake), seated wide legged leg lifts, stag leg handstand for 5+ seconds.

Tuck handstand

How to do a tuck handstand:
Tuck you knees in towards your chest keeping the thighs as close to your belly as possible. Arch from your middle back to bring the hips slightly back (this counters the weight of your legs in the tuck shape).

Camilla doing a tuck shaped handstand with the knees tucked in to the chest.

Preparatory exercises: active puppy pose (or any other shoulder opener), crane pose, supine crow pose core exercise, lolasana, stag leg handstand for 10+ seconds.

Pike handstand

How to do a tuck handstand:
A pike handstand is very similar to a tuck but more challenging. Since the legs are (ideally) parallel to the ground the hips have to move more back in space in order to stay balanced. It requires a lot of shoulder and middle back mobility and strength.

Camilla showing a pike jump entry into handstand step-by-step

Preparatory exercises: active puppy pose (or any other shoulder opener), L-sit, stag leg handstand for 10+ seconds, tuck handstand for 5+ seconds.

We didn’t even scratch the surface yet..

There are so many other handstand variations out there. Lotus handstand, bow and arrow handstand, scorpion handstand, hollowback/mexican handstand, one-armed handstands. The possibilities are endless… but that just means that your handstand journey can become a life-long practice that’s going to give you challenges but oh so much empowerment and self-confidence along the way too!

Another way to grow in your handstand practice is to start practicing new ways to enter into your handstands. The scissor kick is definitely my go to entry because it’s the easiest but other entries have helped increase my strength and body awareness in my handstands. I find it super valuable to practice these different entries to handstand and I think you might too:

Advanced entries to handstand

The scissor kick entry to handstand is the first entry most people learn because it requires the least amount of jump to get us upside down. We simply have to swing our leg hard enough to get the momentum to get up into handstand.

The more advanced entries to a freestanding handstand require both technique and jump strength. You’ll need to jump lots more since you’ll now be jumping off both feet at the same time and don’t have a leg to swing you up any longer. This also requires more technique since getting in to an optimal position before we jump is essential to suceed.

Enough talking, let’s jump in (pun intended 😉 )!

Tuck jump to handstand

How to tuck jump to handstand:
Place your palms on the ground and place your feet about 1 meter behind your hands hip width distance. Stack your shoulders above the center of your palms, round your back slightly, hollow out your chest, and straighten your legs to bring your hips up high.

Then bend your knees, jump, and push into your hands. Imaging a rolling like movement through the spine to send your hips up and over your shoulders whilst tucking your knees in to your chest.

Straddle jump to handstand

How to straddle jump to handstand:
Place your palms on the ground and place your feet about 1 meter behind your hands hip width distance. Stack your shoulders above the center of your palms, round your back slightly, hollow out your chest, and straighten your legs to bring your hips up high.

Then bend your knees, jump off the ground, and push hard into your hands. Imaging a rolling like movement going through the spine to bring your hips up and over your shoulders. Straighten your legs as you jump and open them out to the sides whilst keeping the thighs close to the belly (piked hip position).

If you open the hip up (i.e. thighs moving away from belly) to soon before your hips are over your shoulders, then you’ll fall back down. So remember to ‘pike for life’ as a handstand coach once told me and you’ll get there!

Pike jump to handstand

How to pike jump to handstand:
Place your palms on the ground and place your feet about 1 meter behind your hands hip width distance. Stack your shoulders above the center of your palms, round your back slightly, hollow out your chest, and straighten your legs to bring your hips up high.

Then bend your knees, jump off the ground, and push hard into your hands. Imaging a rolling like movement going through the spine to bring your hips up and over your shoulders. Straighten your legs as you finish your jump and squeeze your inner thighs together and your thighs in close to your belly (piked hip position). Your hips will have to travel past your shoulders to your back side in order to counter the weight of your straightened legs in front of your chest.

Same thing here, remember to ‘pike for life’ and keep the pike until the hips are in position. Then you can lift the legs and open up your hips to find a straight freestanding handstand (or any other shape).

Press into to handstand

Pressing into handstand requires a different type of strength to simply holding a handstand. There’s a lot to dive into when it comes to handstand presses such as the puppy press, straddle press, pike press, and stalder press handstands and they deserve a whole in-depth blog post on their own. Let me know in the comments below if you want me to dive more into handstand presses and I’ll do a blog post tutorial on them in the future 🙂

How did it all go? Did you try out some of the freestanding handstand exercises? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Thank you very much for giving this lots of information, I didn’t found anywhere.
    I will follow your guidance, now I am good at Crow pose(holding 1 minute), my dreat is straight handstand.