The balance is slowly coming along, and many of the regular gymnastics students are seeing the gradual improvement in their handstand line and shoulder muscle endurance. Handstands are not as simple as they sound and it takes a dedicated person to make solid progress. I’m not going to lie, the handstand is a good two-year journey to build the strength, mobility, and balance to perfect a handstand, and this is why it is going to stay in the program for the months ahead. Those of you who come to the gym to train, learn and get better will appreciate the journey.
A very common mistake in the handstand is arching the back and not opening the shoulders. It takes a good eye to notice the difference, but as we move into this next phase, your eye is going to be tested in the partner assisted handstand. Can you see the difference:
This new phase is also going to include some bent arm strength (BAS) training to help keep other aspects of your gymnastics training progressing. In a perfect world, everyone should be working on both shoulder flexion and shoulder extensions, it’s important that you know the difference, especially in gymnastics.
Shoulder flexion: If you place you arm down by your side and brace you midline, squeeze your butt and pull your bottom rib down just slightly. Slowly start to raise one arm up in front of the body, how high can you lift this arm without arching your lower back? Can you get a full 180* of shoulder flexion? Those who took part in the first month of handstand training will recall the shoulder mobility testing we did (if not, go back and check it out).
Questions: If you don’t have the full 180* of shoulder flexion do you think you should you be doing a handstand, pushing weight overhead, performing snatches, or doing pull-ups? Think about it, if you are unable to lift your arm overhead without arching your lower back, do you think adding weight is a smart idea? Far too often the caveman approach to training (“I like to pick up heavy thinks and put them back down”) can soon lead to lower back pain. Be smart about your overhead position as a limited shoulder flexibility should not be ignored if you are planning to put heavy objects overhead.
Shoulder Extension: If you place your arm down by your side and brace you midline, squeeze your butt and pull your bottom rib down just slightly. Slowly start to raise one arm back behind the body, how high can you lift this arm without rotating or flexing your spine? This position is shoulder extensions, and this is often a very fragile position for most people. How do you train this area? How do you make shoulder extension stronger? There are very few exercises that can correctly target shoulder extension and help improve the strength in this position. It’s a tricky one to target. One of the more well-known exercises that require shoulder extension is the muscle-up.
Questions: When you first start training in the gym did you start out by putting your bodyweight on the barbell and perform deadlifts, squats, bench press, cleans and the like? No…? Do you think it’s a good idea to start training shoulder extension with your full body weight hanging off the shoulder in this weak position? Even worse, do you think it’s a smart idea to throw yourself over the rings (i.e. kipping) and catch your body weight plus the downward force of gravity in shoulder extension? I hope your smart enough to answer this one with a HELL NO.
Those of you who come to the gym to train and improve will be wise to focus on shoulder joint health, the range of motion and building strength in the end ranges. It can be a very long slow journey for most, but well worth it to those who wish to take care of their body and not break their back or shoulder. Be smart about your training, if you can not do controlled strict muscle-ups or pull-ups then take the time to master them first.
Improving shoulder flexion in the handstand?
Warm-up: Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) 2 full circles on each –
Shoulder Glenohumeral Joint, left and right
All of this should be homework; everyone can benefit from performing these movements every single day to help improve shoulder integrity, health, and range of motion.
A1. Handstand Shoulder Openers
Wall Facing Handstand Shoulder Opener
Your challenge is to stretch your shoulders with hands as far away from the wall as possible.
Walk your feet up onto the wall and find a handstand. Maintain feet, hips, and torso on the wall and stretch your chest forward until you make contact with the wall.
Hint: A good starting point is to place your hands 1 foot away from the wall. If you find that your shoulders are still too tight, bring them in closer to the wall.
Handstand Arch Spine:
Start by kicking into a handstand, about a foot away from the wall. Slowly, push your shoulders to open by bringing them away from the wall. At the same time arch your back by bringing your hips onto the wall. Make sure to maintain straight legs during this movement.
Hold the stretch for :10-:20 seconds.
This is a great handstand drill to increase shoulder mobility while opening your chest. When training our handstand, we practice many of the strength elements by spreading the shoulder blades apart (also called protraction). To bring balance to this movement, we also want to practice pinching the shoulder blades together (also called retraction).
Hint: If you feel discomfort or pain in this stretch you can move the hands closer to the wall
A2. Seated Pike Lift offs
Your challenge is to lift your legs as high as possible while compressing your torso forward.
Hint: Leaning forward with a straight spine will make the exercise more effective.
Sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front of you, bring your torso forward and place your hands past your knees. Lift your legs off the ground while keeping your knees straight, feet together, and toes pointed. Hold for 30 seconds.
SCALE: Can you lift one leg at a time? If you sit on an elevated surface can you lift the legs? Front and back gymnastics scales are also a great option for those lacking in strength:
1. Straight body handstand – hold this position for :30sec.- kick up to handstand with a partner to spot you. Once you have stability, your partner will help align all of your joints into a straight line (wrists, elbows, shoulder, hips, knees and ankles). From here, you will take your chin to your chest and try to look up at the ceiling
2. Part I. Hollow body to Tuck – Move in and out slowly for 5reps – Start in a hollow body tuck position with your hands overhead and your chin close to your chest. Keeping the lower back on the floor and your knees and feet together, slowly start to extend the legs with the aim of reaching a full hollow body position.
Part II. Handstand to Tuck Handstand – (3 reps of, 5sec hold in straight handstand + 5 sec hold in a tuck) – kick up to handstand with a partner to spot you. Once you have stability your partner will help align all of your joints into a straight line (wrists, elbows, shoulder, hips, knees and ankles) you will tuck your chin to your chest. Keeping your feet and knees together, you will then slowly try to lower into a tuck handstand. Your spotter will place their knee into the back of your shoulders and their hands on either side of your hip bones. As you lower into the tuck, you need to anteriorly rotate the pelvis and compress your abdominals. You are not bracing your abs, but drawing the stomach inward to hollow the body. Hold the tuck for 5sec and then reverse the movement to get back to the handstand.
Hint: The rotation of the pelvis is very important, do not brace you abs, focus on hollowing the stomach.
3. Part I. Isometric Middle Split, Hold + 10kg dumbells, held in front rack position -:30sec holds – This position has to start at a ‘horse stance’ (see phase 3) and with the feet facing forward you widen more and more until legs are straight and you are as low as possible. At the lowest position hold for the duration prescribed while squeezing the floor with the feet using your adductors. There will be an arch in the back, and your body has to be upright. Pelvis will be rotated anteriorly.
video to come.
Part II. Handstand to Straddle Handstand – (3 reps of, 5sec hold in straight handstand + 5 sec hold in a straddle) kick up to handstand with a partner to spot you. Once you have stability your partner will help align all of your joints into a straight line (wrists, elbows, shoulder, hips, knees and ankles) you will tuck your chin to your chest. Slowly open the legs to the side before starting to rotate the pelvis and compress the core. Your spotter will place their knee into the back of your shoulders and their hands on either side of your hip bones. As you lower into the straddle, you need to anteriorly rotate the pelvis and compress your abdominals. You are not bracing your abs, but drawing the stomach inward to hollow the body. Hold the straddle for 5sec and then reverse the movement to get back to the handstand.
Hint: The rotation of the pelvis is very important, do not brace you abs, focus on hollowing the stomach.
Bent Arm Strength (muscle-up prep)
I know everyone wants the amazing muscle-up, but this one movement is not a simple task. It all starts with a strong pull-up and a strong dip, and those who are not yet capable of the strict chest to bar pull-ups or deep dips have a lot of work to do before even considering a muscle-up. So this is where we are going to begin, bent arm pushing and pulling strength.
Warm-up Shoulder Extension position:
Table Top Rocks 10eps + 10sec hold
Standing Shoulder Extension (only add weight if you can perform the exercise with a shoulder width grip) 10eps + 10sec hold
Prontated German Hang on the Rings :20-:30sec full hang
3-4 Rounds of:
A1. Isometric Chest to Bar Holds [:15-:30sec], rest:30sec – with a pronated grip you need to get your chest as close to the bar as possible. Aim to retreat the shoulder blades as hard as possible and pull the elbows behind your back. The spine needs to be in extension to allow the back muscles to contract maximally.
Hint: If you struggle to get you chest to the bar have a spotter give you a little assistance. The spotter will only apply for as much assistance as needed to help you stay close to the bar
A2. Weighted Feet Elevated Horizontal Ring Rows, 31×2, [5-6] + Shoulder Retractions, 11×3, [5-6] rest:90 – the higher you elevate your feet the hard these exercises will become. THE MOST IMPORTANT PART is being able to complete a full range of motion ring row (i.e., your chest must touch the rings at the top of the row). The tight body line is critical, and the spine should remain slightly extended in for the entire movement. Pay attention to the TEMPO as this is the secret sauce that will make you stronger. We can weight this movement by resting a weight plate on the chest.
Complete 5-6 horizontal ring rows and then immediately perform shoulder retractions with a 3sec pause at the top of the movement. Our aim is to strengthen your back muscles to help you improve you pulling abilities.
SCALE: For those who are not yet strong enough to do the movement weight, remove the weight. For those who are not yet strong enough to do the movement with the feet elevated, place the feet on the floor. THE RANGE OF MOTION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DIFFICULTY OF THE EXERCISE, check you ego people.
HINT: Push the chest up and hard as you can to help increase the shoulder retraction, try to keep the shoulder down and away from the ears. If you start to feel the muscle in your neck, I recommend you push your tongue into the roof of your mouth to help support the head. Remember to breathe!!
A3. Ring Support, RTO [:15-:30sec] + Bottom of Dip Hold [:10-:20sec], rest:30 – for those who have control on the rings we will perform a :30sec ring support before lowering into the deep dip position and holding for another:10-:20sec. Those who struggle with the ring support can use a band for assistance at the top and bottom position.
A4. Pseudo Planche Push-ups [5-6], 30×1 + Scapular Push-ups [5-6], 1013, rest:90 – the aim is to keep the body line as tight as possible and only move through the arms. The p-bars allow for greater depth and will increase the difficulty of this movement. Pay attention to the TEMPO as this is the secret sauce that will make you stronger.
SCALE: There are a number of scaling option here, and we want to make sure everyone if working to the correct level of strength. Here are the goals to achieve along the way:
1. 45* Incline Push-up with a barbell in rack [15reps] + Scapular push-ups on the floor – these need to be perfect repetitions with the full lockout at the top and chest touching the bar at the bottom.
2. 30* Incline Push-up with a barbell in rack [15reps] + Scapular push-ups on the floor – these need to be perfect repetitions with the full lockout at the top and chest touching the bar at the bottom.
3. P-Bar Push-up with a barbell in rack [10-12reps] + Scapular push-ups on the floor – these need to be perfect repetitions with the full lockout at the top and chest touching the bar at the bottom.
4. Push-ups on the floor [10-12reps] – these need to be perfect repetitions with the full lockout at the top and chest touching the floor at the bottom.
5. Reverse Grip Push-ups [8-10] – fingers facing backward forces you into the correct push-up position
6. Pseudo Planche Push-up on the floor [5-6] – these require the body line to stay hollow and hence only your nose will touch the floor. These are easier than the p-bar version because the depth of the push-up is less.
7. P-bar Pseudo Planche Push-up
HINT: Point the toes and think about pushing your heel together to help contract the glutes and maintain a hollow body position. Think about the body moving around the ankles as you lower up and down in the press.
Core and Grip – essential part of a healthy gymnastics session
5 V-ups + 10sec hollow hold
Straight Leg Lowers [10 + 10sec hollow hold]
Active hang from pull-up bar or 1-arm hang from pull-up bar
Accumulate :90sec in L-Sit position (as many sets as required)
Partner Stick Battles for forearm strength – play nicely
You coach will find some fun and challenge ways to make your abs burn and test your grip strength.