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    Articles | beginner handstand

    Overhead Mobility For Handstands

    By David (Jacko) Jackson

    One of the biggest problems people have with their handstands is being able to create a good ‘overhead’ shape. In this blog, we give you a number of mobility exercises you can use to help improve your overhead position for your handstand.

    Reasoning and Rationale

    If you can’t create a good position with your shoulders at full flexion overhead and elbows extended then, your body has to compensate, usually resulting in arching your lower back to make up for the lack of range. Or you just can’t get into a ‘stacked position’ with hips, shoulders and wrists ‘stacked’ on top of each other.

    Enough Stability?

    That said, it’s not just about having the range of motion or flexibility to create the overhead position. We must also have enough stability around the glenohumeral joint (shoulder) particularly the scapula (shoulder blade) in that position. This is because just having the range of motion passively doesn’t mean you’ll be stable and strong enough in that position to hold your whole bodyweight up above your head.

    So if you lack stability around the joint, it will affect your ability to put force down and be strong in that shape which is why active mobility is more important than just having the range of motion – we need both. Otherwise, the brain will take you into a slumped position to protect you and your shoulders when going into a handstand which requires less overhead mobility and by nature is a more stable position. It’s also easier to balance in a slumped position when you are just starting out as you distribute weight either side of your point of contact on the floor (the hands) making the balance element easier… so you’re really fighting more than just a range of motion issue.

    Exercises to improve overhead mobility for handstands

    So let’s dive into some of the exercises we like to use to improve shoulder mobility for handstands, we also use this as part of the Movement Preparation phase of all our handstand training programmes. The following exercises and drills are not the only things you can do to improve overhead mobility they are some examples of useful tools that we use. If you have particular areas of restriction like in pecs and lats you might also want some specific release work on those areas too. (We have full programmes inside the Virtual Classroom to follow if you want more).

    Exercise One // Mobilise

    Taking your shoulders through their entire range of motion to actively mobilise the joints with full control. A healthy moving shoulder joint should have control through it’s entire range of motion.


    Exercise Two // Active End Range Strength

    After mobilising your shoulders, we now want to look at your ability to create some active isometric strength at the end range position we’re looking to be more stable in. This also allows you to think about your body alignment for handstands.


    Exercise Three // Strength Through Range Integrated into the Kinetic Chain

    This final exercise not only looks at more vertical pushing strength required (just like in a handstand) to get into the end range overhead shape you’re developing but also highlights the need to connect into the rest of the kinetic chain and test compensations through the trunk.


    We hope this gives you some ideas and help for not just how to improve your overhead mobility for handstand training but also the reason why and the issues behind why it can be a difficult area to progress in. Remember, there is a lot going on in your handstands other than just the range of motion you have. So be slow and progressive with your development, don’t rush the process, instead trust it.

    And most of all, remember it takes time to develop and refine your handstand – the struggle is worth it and the more frustrations you have along the way the greater the feeling of rewards.


    Ready to work towards your calisthenics goals? We have handstand specific training programmes online designed for you to be able to follow week-by-week.

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