How To Handstand Part 2: Shoulders

How to Handstand Shoulders Cover Photo

Kyle Weiger
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If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to Handstand properly, this Blog series is the place to be. The Handstand tips and drills in these articles will lead you to the strongest Handstand practice you’ve ever had. With that said, let’s get started!

Ok. Let me just start by saying that learning how to Handstand demands a conversation around the shoulder. It can do so much and move in so many directions that many consider it to be the most complex joint of the human body. Internal rotation. External rotation. Flexion. Extension. Elevation. Depression. Abduction. Adduction. Protraction. Retraction…

Dude. Settle down.

Sorry about that. Got a little carried away there….With that said, I’m going to keep this article deliberately focused on the aspects of the shoulder that affect you when learning how to Handstand.

How To Handstand: Shoulder Flexion Range Of Motion

So this is definitely the first and foremost obstacle to work through when talking about your shoulders in Handstand. Now, unless you’re a seasoned Handstand practitioner, there aren’t many other sports that focus on shoulder flexion with the same intensity as our craft.

So what exactly is shoulder flexion?

To put it in the simplest terms, please refer to Dr. Google PhD for the layman’s understanding: A shoulder flexion is when you move your arms anywhere from a resting position by your sides to straight above your head. I like this definition a lot.

Start with your arms at your side, and lift them straight ahead of you until your wrists are even with your shoulders. Keep going until your wrists are over your shoulders and your biceps are approaching your ears. Now, these last few degrees of movement are the difference between a handstand with “open shoulders” vs. “closed shoulders”

How to handstand closed shoudlers
How to handstand open shoulders
How to handstand before after

Now the obvious difference between the two pictures is the overall shape….banana back vs straight line. And yes, your back plays a role in your Handstand, but it is not responsible for the massive difference in these two Handstand shapes.

The real culprit here is lack of Shoulder Flexion….aka “closed shoulders”. Because the shoulders aren’t open, the rest of the body has to compensate to maintain balance. Thus, my center of gravity (my hips) are trying like to make their way over my shoulders to and get balanced. When you’re in the early stages of your Handstand practice, the obsession is on the balancing act rather than than overall efficiency of your shape. Unfortunately, this is the Handstand shape I see all too often in Yoga students and Crossfitters.

How To Handstand: Shoulder Flexion Exercises

If you want to learn how to Handstand faster, get focused on opening your shoulders right now! It’s the guaranteed path to a stronger Handstand practice. I promise.

So. Many. Options.

One exercise I like to start with is a good old fashioned yoga stretch in which I come into Child’s Pose and rest my elbows on a couple of yoga blocks. This is a super easy passive stretch to warm up your shoulders.

how to handstand elbows to blocks

If you feel good after the blocks drill, try playing with the next posture: Anahatasana. Again, another traditional Yoga pose we can blend into our Gymnastics practice of Handstand. This one involves you placing your hips over your knees and crawling your chest forward until it comes close to the floor. The important piece to remember here is that you want to crawl your hands as far forward as you can, and let your chest sink down to the ground. Again, a nice passive stretch.

how to handstand anahatasana

The final exercise I’ll include as part of your shoulder opening work is much more active than the previous two. It incorporates the action of the arm bone coming past the ear, and simultaneously asks you to press downward into your surface, in this case a chair. Once again, the goal here is shoulder flexion, and now we’re introducing the concept of activating other Handstand muscles, yours Lats 🙂

How to handstand chair variation

Ok. So now you’re a pro in shoulder flexion exercises, so it’s time to move on to the second part of this article….drum roll please….

How To Handstand: Shoulder Mobility and Press Action

The other major piece that comes into the equation when talking about shoulder movements in Handstand is the ability to press…and no, I don’t mean “pike pressing a Handstand” like you think, although I will eventually cover that in later articles/video courses.

What I’m talking about here is, quite literally, pressing down into the ground through muscular action in the shoulder. Your ability to press down has a direct impact on your ability to kick up or lift up into a Handstand.

Another term that is used for this is the “Shrug”. My students hear me say it all the time.

Shrug like hell and get taller through your trapezius!

Let’s take a look at some shrug drills that you can do just about anywhere:

Scapular Push-ups: Protraction vs Retraction

Ok, so the simple way to think about this is:

PRotraction = PRessing away

REtraction = REleasing pressure

Now, while this is not the most technically accurate description of what’s actually happening anatomically, it’s a good mnemonic device for remembering what does what.

how to handstand protracted scapula
How to handstand retracted scapula

Wall Shrugs: Elevation vs Depression

These are an all-time favorite of mine personally. While Scapular Push-ups are a great warm-up drill, I find that I can really only use them for just that…warm up. Whereas Wall Shrugs are a great form of conditioning for all levels of student learning how to Handstand.

That said, what I’d like to keep from the last drill is the press action. The only difference is that the press action now goes upward (or downward if you’re inverted), and they are now referred to as Elevation or Depression of the Scapula.

how to handstand elevated scaps 1
How to handstand depressed scaps2

These simple shoulder exercises, when performed regularly and with intention, will help you develop mobile and strong shoulders faster than you think! Remember, learning how to Handstand requires you to 1) Make up your mind to do it and 2) Train smart using the proper drills and techniques.

You got this.

Easy.

UP NEXT: How to Do Handstand Part 3: Hollow Body