How to Walk On Your Hands: The Sink or Swim Approach

I am not a gymnast. I do not train gymnasts. My specialties are training people in strength, conditioning, and speed and agility. I do have some “gymnastics” experience through CrossFit, but it was all self-taught a long time ago.

I went from falling on my ass every attempt, to terrible form, to freestanding handstand push-ups and walking 50 yards on my hands. I did it very quickly and taught myself. You can do the same.

Three Basic Principles

Hands and Shoulders

  • Put you hands on the ground slightly wider than a normal position for a push up. Make sure your fingers are spread apart. When you attempt the handstand you will notice putting the weight towards your fingers will make it easier to balance. Shoulders need to be intentional. You are not doing military press and you are not trying to widen your lats in attempt to “muscle” the handstand. Your shoulders should be pushed upward. Exactly how a full range of motion overhead lift would look.

Head position

  • This is a very tough aspect of the handstand and handstand walk. In the stationary handstand you want to develop the skill of keeping your head and spine perfectly straight. BUT if you are walking you are going to want to see where you are going. So my tips are…when stationary try practicing looking straight ahead. When walking look where you are going but do not bend or contort the neck too much, it will really throw you off-balance.

The Legs

  • I bet you want that perfect looking handstand…. We are not ready for that yet. You can practice keeping the legs straight when stationary, just like the head and spine, but when you are walking you can actually use your legs to help keep your momentum going.

Check out Chris Spealler use his legs like a mad man. Skip to 4:55 in the video.

Are You Strong Enough?

The answer. Most likely you are. We are not doing handstand push ups, just holding ourselves up. However, it does take some strength especially in the core. If you haven’t realized how important the core is…you gotta learn. I wrote some simple tips on training the core a few weeks ago. Of course training the arms and shoulders will be helpful too.

3 Tips for Building That CrossFit Core Strength

Training the Handstand and Handstand Walk

Ok I gave a few tips that may help you get started, but do you think I knew any of this stuff when I first started trying?? NO!! I just set aside 10 min a day after my workouts to try handstands. I recommend the same.

The Wall

  • Some people say use the wall to practice. I agree to a point. But only use it to learn how to throw your legs up into the handstand position. After you learn that. STOP using the wall. It will cripple you in the long run.

Grass or Mats, bust your ass

  • I practiced in a wrestling room that had mats. I would throw myself up too hard and it would look like I tried a front hand spring and land straight on my back. It only take a few of those to learn how to control your body. That is where the sink or swim approach comes into play. I think the best way to learn is continual practice with gravity acting as a self corrector.

The Training Program

  • 10 minutes a day at the end of every workout
  • Throw your body around till you learn
  • Apply some basice principles listed above

Don’t hurt yourslef, but go learn, which may involve some pain. Isn’t fitness so easy. Good luck!!

  • Paulb

    Great article! How do you suggest you get into the initial hand stand position? Do you start from the wall and walk away on your hands? Or set up somehow in open space?

    • Jerred

      Hey Paul,

      I would recommend getting on the wall and just seeing how it feels, but don’t walk your way up the wall. Practice throwing your legs up against the wall. It may be a little hard a first but you will soon learn how to get into that position naturally.

      Then after you are comfortable with the setup I would recommend using an open space. Walking away from the wall will cause for a different balance than if you were to just throw yourself into walking on your hands.

      Good luck! Let me know if you have anymore questions.

  • Benjamin dumbrell

    That’s a stupid way to go about it, I have taught 17 people to walk on their hands and I did it through smart progressions. Telling people to just do it is not helping anyone, that’s why they get a trainer, to teach them! When one of your clients falls and hits their head or dislocates a shoulder that’s on you!

    • Jerred

      Come on, Mr. Serious, there’s obviously a right way to train people but you are reading an article that says, “The Sink or Swim Apporach”…lighten up, you’ll live longer.

      • Benjamin dumbrell

        Maybe I was a little harsh, but still in stand by it, a handstand is a very skillful move and yea they need to practice on their own, but it’s our responsibility to know how to go about it safely. Sorry, I just don’t want someone getting injured and not wanting to train anymore.

        • Darrin

          We are all going to take something different away from posts/articles as individuals. You just have to be smart about what you decide to take and use in your training. This post helped me bring focus onto my head position. I was looking waaaay too far forward, which was not only giving me a burning sensation in my cervical area, but also throwing me off balance. By keeping my head more neutral I was instantly able to tell a difference in my balance and add distance. Thanks for the tip.