By Dave Werner
In part 2 of the handstand series we focused on developing a very tight, hollow body position. Trying to hand balance without a stable midline is just a waste of time. With that developed though, you are ready to take the next step. Your next priority is to develop a really stable set of shoulders.
Stable shoulders means not allowing your scapula to move around unless you want them to move. What in the world am I talking about? The truth is that we generally never think about what our shoulder blades are doing, and most people can’t feel their shoulder blades moving around even if they try. Many strength coaches aren’t thinking about this either. The standard thinking goes like this; learn to military press or bench press more weight and your shoulders get stronger. How hard is that to understand? This is a case, however, when the simple, old school approach can be improved upon. You will see better results in yourself and in any athletes you train if you take the time to develop straight arm shoulder strength.
Straight arm shoulder strength involves controlling your shoulder position while maintaining rigidly straight elbows. Your shoulders are capable of a huge range of motion. Therefore, you should develop straight arm strength by loading the shoulder in many different positions. There are many ways to accomplish this, but here is a short list of positions and movements that specifically help develop your handstand.
Down dog shoulder shrug. Keep your arms in line with trunk. Slide your shoulders toward hips then ears. Try to open your shoulders fully. This means that your arms form a straight line with your trunk.
Pike box handstand shoulder shrug. Maintain a tight hollow body hold and again, keep your shoulders open.
Pike wall handstand shoulder shrug. Your trunk should stay vertical during the entire movement. Shrug your body up until your shoulders touch your ears, then down as far as possible.
Dip support shoulder shrug. Practice on parallel bars or fixed handles first. Work up to rings supports, which are much harder. Keep your shoulders active with no internal rotation – don’t let your shoulders dump forward.
Hanging support shoulder shrug. Hang from a bar or rings. Pull your body straight up. Your shoulders should not move backwards at all. Then push your body down until your shoulders touch your ears.
There are many other good shoulder stability development exercises. What they all have in common is that your arms are held straight. Eliminating elbow movement while aggressively pushing the arm straight allows movement to be isolated to the shoulder joint and movement of the scapula. Controlling the movement of your shoulder blade while simultaneously controlling your movement within the shoulder joint itself is already very difficult. If our goal is developing scapular stability, allowing elbow movement makes achieving the goal much less likely.
The next article in the series will go into detail about how to combine the hollow body position and proper shoulder engagement. Finally we will work on the handstand!
Dave Werner is the founder and co-owner of the world’s first CrossFit affiliate gym, Level 4 CrossFit Seattle, and is founder and co-owner of the fitness website moveSKILL.com. After working as a Navy SEAL for 12 years, Dave worked as an engineer and then became a strength and conditioning coach in 2002.