There is more than one way to handstand.
Most of the time people think of a straight handstand when they hear the name, but there are a whole load of variations and shapes you could make.
There are simple and complex variations of the handstand that will test you and challenge you in different ways. Each one puts a different kind of stress on your body and helps you to develop your strength and stability in its own unique way.
In this page I am going to show you most of these different variations and how they will challenge you, so you can leave inspired by the different shapes and positions you could train in the inversion.
Today I am going to show you how to really train the handstand.
Why Do Variations?
Once you have managed to do a handstand you have gone through the progressions and really trained the technique and stability elements of hand balancing, then it is really time to move on to more interesting and complex shapes.
This is not only going to challenge you but it will help you to progress to even more advanced handstand skills like Handstand Push Ups and One arm Handstands.
We are going to start simple, and move on to more complex variations further down the page.
Before we get started get your hands on my free guide to fix that banana back - even if you can't handstand yet! And as a bonus I will share my best handstand tips with you via email.
Simple Handstand Variations - Shapes
The most simple variations are different shapes, although they can become quite complex very quickly, we will start with the most basic and move up.
When you first start training handstand variations, there are 3 shapes that you really want to master which will help you learn different elements of stability.
The simplest and most common variation of handstand is the straddle.
A straddle is simply when you separate your legs laterally (side to side) getting your legs as wide as you can.
When you start with this variation it is best to go from a straight handstand and move out slowly because the slight change in hip position will make it harder to just kick up into.
As you start to separate your legs you will need to stick your bum out slightly to help your hips counterbalance your legs.
Otherwise you will find your legs start to stretch over your head and will pull you over onto your back.
Front Split Handstand
The front split is the next most common variation, one I often see girls using more than a straight - especially when they aren't particularly strong, but are mobile.
The front split is similar to the straddle except your legs split front to back, one leg goes forward, extending over your head, and the other comes back down towards the ground
My front split is pretty terrible compared to the pole girls and gymnastics I coach because the front split itself isn't something I pursue.
I personally am more interested in one arm and more strength building variations and transitions in the handstand such as handstand push ups and the planche press.
The tuck handstand is the most difficult of these three because it forces you to work your thoracic mobility and your shoulder mobility (which are closely tied together).
Unlike the straddle and front split you will go straight into a tuck and not transition from straight.
This is because there are a lot of moving parts in the transition and you will need a lot of practice to get it right, kicking straight up into tuck is much easier.
Getting into the tuck we will use an exercise called a bunny hop, this involves us starting squatted down on the floor and then hopping straight up into the tuck handstand.
To get into a hold you are going to have to imagine sticking your bum out over your head, to counterbalance your knees, and going into a fully extended shoulder position.
Single Leg Handstand
Single leg handstands are simple and fun but are generally a little harder than they look. To hold a single leg you need to counterbalance one whole leg which creates a bit of a challenge for your straight vertical handstand position.
To do this you are going to need to load your shoulders a little and lean your head slightly past your hands, this is a similar position to what is required for a pike handstand (which we will get to further down the page).
Kick up with one leg as normal but try to keep the other leg as close to the ground as possible. This is going to create a solid 90 degree shape that will for the single leg handstand position.
Hold on tight when you do this and focus on keeping your body and vertical leg as straight as possible so they don't bend over into a front slit.
This is going to test your body tension more than a front split and straddle, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a great drill to warm up in the handstand and presents some interesting opportunities for transitions and more dynamic handstand movements.
The Diamond Handstand is a weird one. It looks simple enough but the positioning in your hips makes it feel a lot different to the other variations above.
You can start in a tuck or a straddle for this variation.
Starting in a tuck, spread your knees as wide as possible, keeping your feet together.
Starting in a straddle, slowly bring your feet together, actively pushing your hips wide - you need to do this because it takes a slight rotation in your hips too so be focused!
Complex Handstand Variations - Complex Shapes
Now you have mastered the basics, it is time to step it up to more complex shapes and variations.
These are likely going to be too difficult if you cant already do the other simpler variations above. I would recommend training and mastering them first.
but assuming you can manage a few seconds in the other shapes, let's dive in to the more difficult complex variations.
Complex variations require more movement and control than the simpler variations, mostly in the shoulders and spine. however there are also more strength based variations in here too which will challenge your strength as well as stability.
The stag is a bit of a classic handstand variation within the hand balancing scene, it is a demonstration of mobility and control of the handstand and looks pretty interesting too.
It is difficult, though, because you need to hollow your back to maintain balance and not slip into a scorpion, which we will get to shortly.
To get into a stag, start straight. Place one foot on the opposite knee creating a triangle with one leg.
From this position you are going to start leaning your straight leg over your head and at the same time opening your shoulders and bending your back.
To do this you need to imagine pushing your chest back to counterbalance the leg leaning over your head.
Double Stag Handstand
The Double Stag is similar to the Stag above, except both of your legs are bent.
You can start in a tuck, or straight and move into a stag first.
From a tuck, split your legs to put one foot on the opposite knee. From a stag simply bend your straight leg so that both legs are bent.
When you get here you will need to open your shoulders and bend your back just like a stag, but with this variation what you want to do is imagine trying to scratch your head with your foot.
The scorpion can be done both tucked and straight legged - it can even be done straddled!
The scorpion refers to your legs bending over your head together, but this is slightly different to another variation of handstand - the hollow back - which I will get to next.
With a scorpion you are going to start straight, then slowly create that infamous banana back as you close your shoulder angle and bend your legs over your head.
This is different to a stag because you are not focusing on opening your shoulders but closing the angle instead.
You do this by looking forwards in front of your fingers and letting your shoulder angle close until they are almost inline with your chest.
As with a double stag, you are going to imagine trying to touch your head with your toes in this shape.
Hollow Tuck Handstand
The hollow tuck is similar to a tuck handstand, except you are going to push the limits of your shoulder and back mobility.
The hollow refers to your back creating an arch to bend your lower body over your head.
To do a Hollow Tuck, start in a tuck handstand. Now keeping your hips closed in the 90 degree position, and your heels as tight to your bum as possible, start leaning over, opening your shoulders and bending your back, similarly to a stag.
The difference between this and a stag is you do not allow your hips to open up, instead you keep them closed and focus entirely on your back and shoulders.
Hollow Back Handstand
The hollow back is the full variation of a hollow tuck. This is essentially the same, except your legs are straight.
This hollow back handstand is also called a Mexican Handstand.
Start straight, then start opening your shoulders and allowing your legs to slowly come over your head.
The target with this position is really to hit about 90 degrees, you can see I’m not quite there because this is also a variation I am not too interested in, although it is something I could start pursuing.
I have seen BBoys and other handstand-ers almost getting to the floor!
The Pike handstand is a simple enough variation, although it takes a lot of strength and pretty decent core compression.
If a hollow back is bending over the wrong way to get to 90 degrees, the pike handstand is the opposite.
Start in a straight handstand, then, keeping your legs straight, slowly bring your feet down towards the floor.
You are going to stop moving at 90 degrees and hold this pike position for time.
To counterbalance your legs in this shape, you need to lean slightly over your hands, so your upper body counterbalances your lower body.
One Arm Handstand
The One Arm Handstand is easily one of the most iconic handstand variations, although it is well beyond the reach of most people.
The one arm handstand is attainable when you have decent stability and strength, but it will take a lot of training to develop the required control needed to actually hold longer than a second.
Starting in a straddle is the best way to train the one arm, it helps distribute your weight so you can move to one arm slowly.
Gently tilt your hips to one side until you feel most of your weight shift over to one hand.
Move the opposite hand out slightly to commit to balancing on your arm, then slowly lift your fingers off, 4, 3, 2, 1, and finally turn your hand up slightly to enter the one arm handstand.
Which Variation Is Your Favorite?
How many of these variations can you do? This is by no means a complete list of handstand variations, there are plenty of others, more complex or creative than above, but these are the main shapes and variations you will come across.
Each of these positions will help push you to new levels of strength and control in your handstand and eventually you will be happily transitioning between them in sequences as you master the handstand and take it far beyond what you can currently imagine.
The truth is it won't take long if you pay attention to your body and put the work in mastering each of these positions.
Let me know which of these is your favorite on Instagram, and tag me @morethanlifting so I can see your skills!
Struggling To Master The Handstand?
Get your hands on my guide to the Ultimate Handstand Drill - a simple 4 step drill that will fix your banana back and get your handstand perfectly straight, even if you can’t do a freestanding handstand yet!