Have you ever watched a group of 10-year-olds in the backyard, full to the brim with some sort of demonic energy and performing gymnastic feats for which they have no training whatsoever? Cartwheels, handstands, and backflips… it’s enough to make one quite nauseous.
Back in the day, we were those 10-year-old kids and we did the handstands.
Why does the mere thought of performing a handstand make us want to lie down with a cold compress and, perhaps, a glass of wine?
Before you click away from this madness and return to the sanity that is Facebook scrolling or Instaflicking, we’d like to invite you to explore the, frankly, fascinating upside-down world of handstands. (And why you should absolutely be doing handstands every day of your life.)
Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash
What are the health benefits of handstands?
What? There are health benefits to being upside down? You bet, and a surprising number of amazing health benefits at that for your entire body.
Healthline tells us, “Handstands work your core and improve balance while giving you the benefits of increased circulation and lymph flow. You’ll engage your whole upper body strength while using your shoulders, arms, core, and back.”
There’s a whole lot of information there that we can unpack together.
Handstands and the benefits of increased circulation
What does poor circulation look like?
Put a mental check next to any of these symptoms which apply to you:
- inability to concentrate
- poor memory
- hair loss
- erectile dysfunction
- lack of energy.
Just like a yoga posture and other plyometric exercises (those in which you make use of your body weight) performing a handstand helps your circulatory system to get into all those dark corners and flush out toxins, freshen up oxygen and blood supply, and deliver much-needed nutrients and white blood cells to your muscles and organs.
The benefit of handstands on skin
Massage, acupuncture, and a selection of other treatments work on the premise that the more blood and oxygen to an organ, the better.
Therefore, logic dictates that a rush of blood to the head, improved oxygen levels to the face and neck, flushing out of toxins, and working up a sweat are all going to contribute to glowing, healthier skin.
“That extra boost of oxygen and nutrients can give skin a temporary, natural facelift by opposing the effects of gravity—and could help stimulate hair follicles, promoting growth” So says Desi Bartlett, certified personal trainer and yoga teacher in LA.
Handstands and the benefits to lymph flow
Without going all Doc Oz on you, here’s a little-known bit of info.
Our lymphatic system is an intricate network sitting just beneath our skin which pulls toxins from our muscles and organs and sends them off for excretion. The only problem is that this system doesn’t have its own pump, so it relies on the movement of muscles and gravity to push these beasties into the lymph nodes where they can be removed.
Can you see the problem here? Yep, when we’re sitting at a desk, in front of the telly, or in our cars, we simply don’t allow the lymph to – well – flow.
Heather Robertson, personal trainer extraordinaire, confirms this saying, “Poses such as headstands, handstands or simply extending both legs up a wall reverse the effects of gravity. This type of inversion helps to increase the flow and drain the lymph towards the heart, relieving congestion and encouraging its detoxification. Certain movements provide a twisting of the abdomen. During these twists the organs and muscles are “wrung out”, squeezing the lymph out of the tissues.”
Daily handstands for weight loss
Ah, this is the part you’ve been looking for, isn’t it?
How can handstands help me lose weight?
It’s beautifully simple.
Just as planking, yoga, Pilates, callisthenics, and other body-weight exercises work to strengthen our core and build muscle, the handstand does exactly the same thing.
It’s not just for kids and drunk people, rather it’s a legitimate way to get a stronger body, better balance, more muscle mass, and a boosted metabolism, all of which contribute to shedding those pounds.
One key benefit of practising headstands or handstands at home is that you don’t need any exercise equipment. Score!
The benefit of handstands for the brain
While not as thrilling as the idea of potential weight loss, there are some astonishing benefits to our brains. Consider this:
- Extra blood flow can invigorate the brain.
- Handstands can decrease cortisol levels in our brains, resulting in lower stress and anxiety levels. Benefitting mental health.
- Increased happy hormones (endorphins) are released during a handstand which offers a brief and natural high.
- Enhanced blood flow from being in a handstand position can relieve minor headaches.
- Body inversions bring a flood of blood to the thyroid glands, adrenal glands and the pituitary gland which help to regulate our metabolism.
- The concentration and mindfulness needed for a handstand can calm our minds and help us focus.
What’s not to love?
What muscles do handstands work?
While on the subject of health and beauty, we all want to know which muscles are most affected by handstands and how this helps to shape our silhouette.
There’s a ton of amazing info here so we’ll break it down into bite-sized chunks.
Upper body benefits
It seems a little odd that a static exercise such as a headstand or a handstand can do so much, don’t you think?
The secret is in maintaining your balance, and that’s where the tiny, controlled adjustments needed to keep you from falling over really shine.
Arms and shoulders
Being upside down, and staying there for a period of time, means that your arms and shoulders are doing the work that your legs do every day. Carrying the entire weight of your body is no mean feat and can be pretty tiring. But we know that when your muscles are shaking, they’re growing, and that’s how we know it’s working to develop a strong core.
To prevent you from falling on your head your core is going to be working overtime to stabilise you while you are in the handstand pose. That means engaging all the relevant players from your abs to your hip flexors, inner thighs and of course, your spinal muscles.
Full body benefits
It’s not just arm strength and shoulder strength that handstands develop, when we’re prepping to go into a handstand, we’ll have to kick up with our legs which takes. upper back strength as well as our thighs, calves and the old buttocks area.
Handstands for the win!
Better musculoskeletal health too?
Did you know that weight-bearing exercises work on both your muscles and your bones? It’s true.
Whether you’re actually lifting weights or you’re just using your body weight, your bones respond by becoming denser as your body produces more bone matter. (Great news for ageing women especially those who tend to suffer from bone degradation as they get older.)
Better balance, babe
It seems obvious that our bodies learn better balance as we spend a little time on our heads, but do you know why? It’s all because of a little something called proprioceptors. These are sensory receptors which help us to respond to position or movement.
For example, when you stretch your leg out a muscle spindle responds to the change in muscle length so you know when and how far you can stretch your leg. Essentially, these little receptors tell us where our bodies are in the space around us. Smart huh?
Being upside down tends to confuse these receptors which makes them work harder, all the while this additional homework increases our spacial awareness and benefits our muscle memory.
Is handstand practice safe?
Is it safe, sane, and healthy to do handstands?
Because let’s be honest here for a second, all of these positives aside, many of us aren’t as limber as we used to be. There is a good solid chance that we’re going to start hearing snap, crackle and pop if we try to lift ourselves into these wholly unnatural positions.
Perhaps the question you’re really asking is, “Is this safe for me?”
That’s a good question. We may lose the capacity to perform one-armed push-ups as we get older, but we are blessed with a little more caution.
Who should not be doing handstands?
If you have previously suffered from a brain injury, any spinal issue, or if you have high blood pressure then you may want to stick to something slightly less inverted.
People who have low blood pressure want to exercise a degree of caution too, as standing up quickly after a headstand may cause dizziness.
If you have weak wrists or suffer from joint pain, especially in the upper body, then it would be an idea to talk with a professional who can guide you on correct form, safe practice, and strength-building exercises.
(Also, if you’ve just eaten a big meal then you may want to avoid being head side down – for obvious reasons.)
How to do a perfect handstand
So, you’ve read all of this exhilarating information and you’re ready to start looking at the world from a different perspective.
What happens now?
If you’re just starting out, then it would be wise to make use of support such as a wall or a tree. Stand-alone handstands take time and strength to master and you may hurt yourself if you’re too enthusiastic at the outset.
Preparing your body for handstands
There are some simple exercises that you can practice for a little while before launching into your first handstand in 30 years.
For example, the Downward-Facing Dog pose common in yoga is a great place to start.
From this position lift each leg in turn up and backwards as high as you can while you press down firmly into both hands. With your right leg up and straight behind you, lift your left heel shifting your weight to the ball of your foot.
Another option may be to create an L-shape with your body, facing the wall with your palms flat on the floor and your feet against the wall, slowly walking your feet up the wall as you allow the weight of your body to press into your hands. Keep your neck down between your arms and hold this position as long as it’s comfortable.
How to do a handstand against the wall
So, you’re ready to get those legs up? Fabulous!
Facing away from the wall, lift your dominant foot up and as you bring it down to the floor, use the weight of your body and the kick of your other leg to flick your body up and against the wall. Try to keep your hands shoulder-width apart and your neck down as you focus on breathing slowly and evenly.
If you feel any pain you should stop, but if your muscles are just complaining a little then let them – it’ll be good for them in the long run.
Another option may be to start in a Downward-Facing Dog pose, facing away from the supporting wall, and lift your hips above you. If your core allows it, keep your thighs together and bring your legs up over your hips.
However, it may be that your arms are not quite ready to do what you’re asking of them, and that’s okay.
Get started with a headstand
A headstand offers many of the same benefits but is easier on the arms and shoulders. For many, it’s also easier to master as you have a firmer base to balance on.
Headstands for beginners
Women’s Health has a simple and thorough walk-through for headstands for the absolute beginner. They say,
“Begin by interlacing your fingers and placing your hands on the ground, with palms facing toward each other. Place the back of your head into your hands and position the top of your head on the floor. Your shoulder blades should be rotated out. Start with your legs in the dolphin pose, and check your alignment before proceeding—your head, shoulders, spine, and hips should be in one line. Take five breaths here.
Then, lift one foot up into the air, and using your core strength, lift the other to meet it. It should feel like your elbows are punching into the ground. Your core, thighs, and glutes are engaged. Keep your legs straight and the quads extended. Your body should feel like a solid, secure cylinder, with minimal weight in your head. Hold for three breaths, then slowly lower your legs back down.”
Always remember to be careful and listen to your body. Something new and different may well bring pain and discomfort to new and different parts of your body, but the benefits are so worth it.
So, there you have it folks, the ins, outs and upside downs of the benefits of handstands for men, women and of course, children.