Head Over Heels: Head Positioning For Handstands

Sep 09, 2019

What is the correct head position for a handstand? It is certainly easier to balance when your head is sticking out and you are able to focus on the floor between your hands. But, to have a perfect line your neck must be relaxed and your head must be neutral. However, in this position the lack of focal point makes balancing very challenging. So which is right?

I teach an approach which is a combination of the two positions. Keep your head in line with your arms in order to maintain your straight line. But tilt your head slightly and peek over your eyebrows in order to focus on a spot on the floor between your hands. While I find this is the best position for most of my students, it isn't the best position for all my students.

To be honest, the more I teach handstands the less I believe that there is one right technique or positioning that works for everyone. The same is true for head position. There are certain benefits and trade-offs for different positions. Some make it easier to balance. Some make it easier to progress to more advanced movements. Some feel better for you.

In this short post I am going to highlight the pros and cons of different head positions and help you to figure out the best head position for you.

Head Out Handstand

This is the position that people typically use when first trying to kick up to handstand. You can see your hands and it feels safe. Having your head up can help prevent you from falling over. However, it will also prevent you from getting into a straight handstand line. It will be harder (not impossible) to get into full shoulder flexion and with your neck in extension your back will naturally arch. The "head out" handstand is usually a banana handstand. As I've said before this is not wrong or bad, it will just be harder to progress to move advanced skills. If your goal is simply to be able to balance upside down then this position may be good enough.

Another downside of this position is that many students have a harder time with core stability when their neck is in this position. If you are loose in the mid-section you are going to struggle to balance. As an aside, telling your wife she is loose in the mid-section is almost always a bad idea.

The final reason that you may not want to use this position is that spending a lot of time with your neck extended may lead to soreness in the area.

Head In Handstand

This is the position that people often use when they do a chest facing the wall handstand. The head in position makes it easier to get into a nice straight line. It's easier to get into full shoulder flexion and easier to straighten spine and tuck butt in.

At the wall you can look straight ahead to the wall, push and focus on your line.

However, away from the wall balance becomes more of a challenge. Without that focal point on the floor it is easy to become disoriented and it is much harder to balance. When you look at your hands you focus on using your hands.

Because this position is harder to balance in, it makes sense that it is harder to progress to more advanced skills such as a one arm handstand and a press to handstand.

One nice thing about this position is that with a neutral head position it is easier to create core stability. I have a few students who find it much easier to stop their legs at vertical when their head is more neutral than when they are doing the peeking strategy that I recommend.

Peeking Handstand

The technique that I teach (but do not insist upon) is this one. Keeping your head in line with your ears, slightly lift your chin and then peek over your eyebrow at the floor. I aim to look between my thumbs which represents my balance point and I feel that works well for me.

This position has many of the benefits of the head in handstand from a perspective of body position and many of the benefits of the head out handstand from a perspective of balance.

The only real trade-off is that at first it can feel a bit awkward. Overtime though it will start to feel more comfortable and natural.

If you want to learn this approach start doing it in your chest to wall handstands. Once you can feel the position there then you can start adjusting your position freestanding. If you already have good balance with your head out start there. Find your balance and then make a very small adjustment while maintaining balance. Continue to make these small changes in head position until your head is fully in line with your arms.

Where can you Learn More?

In my workshops and online program I go into head positioning and how to figure out what is right for you in much more detail. Check out my calendar for upcoming events or email me (kirsty@garagegymgirl.com) to schedule something in your area.

If you want ongoing coaching, programming, accountability and support my Master the Handstand coaching group covers everything that you need to get upside down and away from the wall. My groups start in September, January and April. Check out the details here and sign up to save your spot for my next coaching group.