Introducing the press handstand - among the most impressive movements one can do - a beautiful harmony of strength, flexibility and technique that appears to defy gravity.
I'm Theo Necker, and I'm an advanced handstand practitioner and movement enthusiast. I've always been mesmerised by the press handstand. Nowadays, my press handstand is proficient and a strong part of my practice, but it hasn't always been that way. I've worked hard for years to achieve it - doing the wrong thing as often as the right.
When I started to learn the press handstand I simply couldn't begin to work out how to bring my legs up without jumping. How would it ever be possible that my legs could effortlessly float up? I knew it would take a lot of hard work, but the press handstand is as much about understanding both the physics and the mechanics of the movement as it is the blood, sweat and tears.
Once I unlocked this skill, I realised it was so much more valuable than a cool party trick. Pressing into a handstand is not only a full-body workout, but the only truly safe and secure way to enter a handstand. If you want to perform a handstand on Instagram worthy (and often dangerous) platforms such as tables, rocks, handstand canes or any other object that warrants an inversion, pressing is the only dependable way.
But showboating and safety aren't the only benefits of the press handstand. You'll be opening yourself up to a whole new world of movements, skills and transitions that simply aren't accessible until you have unlocked the press. Floating became one of my all-time favourite moves to use as a transition whilst balancing on my hands - be it for yoga, Capoeira, acrobatics or play.
Without further ado, here are my top 10 tips and tricks to master the press handstand.
1. Breakdown The Movement
You won't be able to master the press handstand without understanding how it works. There are five checkpoints you should pay attention to when trying to press.
Fold - Lean - Float - L-Handstand - Handstand
When you work on your press handstand make sure to focus on these five steps, take it slow, and think about quality over quantity.
2. Forget The Wall, Find A Teacher
Although many trainers rate the wall as a useful tool, I'm personally not a fan of wall-assisted exercises. If you find a teacher you can train with in person, it's much more effective to get support from them or working on more impactful and beneficial exercises. The wall is a stationary object and doesn't allow your body to move in the way it should during a press handstand. I used to place my neck and back of my head against the wall and push against it to generate the force to raise my legs. If you were to do that without a wall you would at best stay still, and at worst fall over. You need to do the opposite - pulling your neck and head in to maintain balance. Although a wall is recommended often, it's something that can mess up your practice and cause you to develop bad habits. Find a teacher who knows the mechanics of the press handstand and can assist you. If this isn't possible, forget the wall and instead focus on the following exercises and advice...
3. Hone The Pike & Pancake
Stretch! It's that simple. The more your stretch your legs, in particular your hamstrings and glutes, the easier it will be for you to bend forward and keep your upper and lower body close together - otherwise know as compression. I recommended loaded stretching in a pancake position. Pike position can be practiced in both a sitting and standing position. I prefer the standing version as this is the first position of the press handstand and there is no better way than to practice as close to the actual exercise as you can. Here you can get a feel of how far off you are from the required flexibility - you should be able to comfortably place your palms on the floor a few inches in front of your feet.
4. Open Your Shoulders
Upon the first impression, it may not look like you need substantial shoulder mobility for the press handstand - after all, it's not a Mexican handstand or hollowback. But don't be deceived, shoulders are one of the most common components that hold people back. No amount of hamstring flexibility will compensate for tight shoulders. Insane amounts of strength might, but your press would end up looking more like a planche and using brute force, rather than the effortless float we are looking for.
If your shoulders aren't open, you can't pull them in far enough and you will struggle to stack your wrists, elbows, hips and shoulders, which is essential for an accomplished press handstand. The weight of your legs will be too heavy. You need to create counterbalance - as your lower back, hips and butt move over your wrists, your legs lift.
My favourite exercise to open the shoulders are shoulder dislocations using a resistance band. Take the band in front of your slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Raise the band above your head, then bring your arms behind you until the band touches the back of your hips. Then repeat in the opposite direction. Focus on keeping your back straight and your pelvis tucked - don't compensate for lack of shoulder flexibility by arching your lower back. If this is too difficult, use a wider grip.
5. Leg Raise & L-Sits
The press handstand requires flexibility, technique and strength in equal measure. Although it might look like it's all arm strength (which it barely is), trust me when I say your core needs to be bulletproof. Do tons of l-sits and leg raises in a sitting position. Practice with closed legs, straddle or one leg at a time. This will also drastically improve your ability to compress in pike and pancake as your hip flexors become stronger.
6. Floating Means To Balance, Not To Push
Welcome to the world of technique. Floating and even the press itself is much more about balance than it is strength or power. You certainly need a degree of core and shoulder strength, but you don't need to pump heavy iron like Mr Schwarzenegger to get there. Lean forward, shift your weight and stack your wrists, elbows, shoulders and hips until your legs have nothing else to do but lift. Don't jump or force your way up - float!
Don't get me wrong, it's far from that simple - the press is an advanced movement - but it's integral you constantly remind yourself of this as you are training. If you feel like you are giving it absolutely everything you've got and nothings happening, 9/10 it will be mobility or technique that is holding you back, not strength.
7. Get Negative
Negatives are one of the best tools in your belt when it comes to developing an active strength skill. If you're not strong enough to get up, get down instead. Slow and controlled negatives not only build the required strength but allow your body to get used to the movement in its true form - its structure, flow and appearance. It's also the perfect drill to identify weakness in your execution which you can then focus on. For example, if your legs drop suddenly halfway down, you know this is a weak area for you and something that you must take time to focus on.
8. Lay Down
Your shoulders and wrists take the brunt of the pressure when training toward a press handstand, and will need adequate rest and recovery to avoid injury. But fear not, there's an incredibly useful exercise you can work on during downtime. Performing or imitating a press handstand when laying down on your back will increase your understanding of how the movement works. I did this exercise regularly when my shoulders and wrists were sore and I couldn't practice on my hands. This isn't an exercise you will commonly find recommended, but it's highly underrated.
It doesn't look impressive and is as exhausting as it is boring - which is probably why it's unpopular. But I assure you that it will bring you one step closer to your goal, especially when your shoulders and wrists are out of order.
9. Stack It Up
If I could give one piece of advice toward achieving the press handstand, it would be to keep the wrists, shoulders and hips stacked and in line. Most people fall forward when pressing - the shoulders move forward past the wrists and the hips move backwards - ending up in a planche position rather than floating up. Leaning forwards means to place your hips above your wrists and pull your shoulders back. Try to keep them in a single line with the wrists and hips.
10. Do The Groundwork
You must be patient and trust in the process. Of course, it's fun to jump right in and see if the press handstand is possible, but don't waste your time and energy by forcing the issue, ignoring technique and making sloppy attempts. Instead, focus on the exercises that cumulate toward the end goal. Stretch, work hard and focus on technique.
The press handstand is an advanced movement that takes lots of knowledge, time and patience. Your body needs to adjust to the stresses you place upon it slowly, especially when it comes to flexibility and connective tissues. So, take care of your wrists and stay savvy to overuse injuries - leaning forward works them hard! Rest days are your friend. If you must train daily, work on the exercises that don't require you to be on your hands.
These tips and tricks helped me achieve the press handstand, but they were just a small part of a detailed training plan, exercise library and knowledge base. If you want to go deep and learn all there is to know about the press handstand, then you're in luck!
Together with So We Flow... we have put together a comprehensive 32-page press handstand guide, which includes high-quality video and image resources, a 6-week training program, and effective and thoroughly explained exercises. The guide is optimised for mobile, so you can take it with you, wherever you practice.
With this guide, we can confidently say you will have all the tools you need (along with time and patience) to achieve the press handstand. The rest is up to you.
About The Author
Our Press Handstand guide is written by So We Flow... Fellow, Theo Necker - an incredible and inspiring mover, thinker and handstand expert. Theo teaches movement in his hometown in Germany. Catch Theo on Instagram: @mindsetoftheo or his website: mindsetoftheo.com