Dabbing into Chest Stands

A month and a half ago I was introduced to chest stands in a contortion workshop hosted by Samantha Hall. I never done them before, not really. It was my first time doing a free standing chest stand after I learned the proper technique and safe entrances into the pose. This workshop unlocked a completely new way to work on my back flexibility, free of mental blocks, utilizing my strength and accessing parts of my back I never did before.

Chest Stand is an advanced pose. I strongly advise against attempting it or any of the drills I describe here on your own without proper experience and training. If you freak out, lose control and bail out wrongly, you may sustain serious back and neck injuries.

When I first attempted chest stands at home, I didn’t know what I was doing. My attempts back them felt nothing like the chest stands I did at the workshop. I didn’t know what to engage, I didn’t know I needed to engage at all, heck I didn’t know what’s the proper arm placement.

First freestanding #cheststand!

A post shared by Mary Nightingale (@nightingalemary) on


The arms should be close to the body and very engaged. They need push into the floor just like tricep pushup arms do when the body is close to the ground. My upper back and neck flexibility didn’t allow me to rest my chest on the ground, but even if it did, my arms would still need to push off and allow the core to engage and support the back.

The hands shouldn’t be right under the shoulders. Ideally the shoulders are two of three points of contact with the floor. The neck is the third point of contact. For inflexible folks like me, the points of contact are the chin and hands instead.

There were 3 chest stand drills which we did during the workshop and as homework.

Chest Stand off the Couch

The closer the forearms are to the couch, the easier it is to lift. At the beginning the forearms can be right by the couch.

Start lifting legs up and bend them, body still resting on the couch. After reaching the highest point, engage arms, core and glutes to lift the hips off the couch. Continue lifting the hips up and shifting them forward until you reach your limit.

Note that there is no swinging or kicking. Everything should happen through strength alone.

Chest Stand towards the Couch

After getting a solid comfortable chest stand off the couch, you can start practicing entering the Chest Stand from the floor with a couch spotting you from rolling over.

Face the couch, on your knees, bring chest, neck and arms into a chest stand position just like you do when entering off the couch. Straighten the knees, engage the arms and core and bring one leg up and over the head.

If you are bendy enough then that leg will go far enough for you to counter-balance the grounded leg so that you can just take it off the ground without kicking off. If you are more like me, you’ll need a small kick to get the other leg up.

The couch is there only for spotting, you should not actually rest your feet on it. If it’s too high, use a lower surface for spotting or practice straight leg chest stands.

Chest Stand Toe Lifts against the wall

After getting comfortable with the two above, use this drill to understand the mechanics of lifting the hips and bringing them over your head.

Start facing the wall, and being as close to it as possible (or in Samantha’s words -“really eat the wall!”). Get up into a chest stand, just like you did toward the couch, but keep the legs straight. Put the toes on the wall and try to lift them up while keeping the shoulders fairly stationary. Relax down, and repeat a couple of times.

It was a little weird for me at first, but after a few times it somewhat clicked. I like to pretend I’m trying to sit my butt on the wall above my head, which makes me lift more with the hips than the chest. After doing this one, I find that I can get into a deeper chest stand off the couch and see my toes.

After 6 weeks of classes and home practices, I’m able to enter a chest stand off the ground, with minimum kicking, without any spotting of any kind. I’m feeling very comfortable in it and I can even breath (something we can’t take for granted in back bends!). Despite such a short period of time, I made noticeable progress.

Can’t wait to see where will this new skill get me!




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