“I can’t open my shoulders” is the number 1 reason that I hear when asking why someone gave up on handstands. I get it. Not getting the shoulders all the way into a straight line can be frustrating and discouraging but it is no reason to give up.
Stiff shoulders are often stronger and more resisting so you get your own advantages when fighting for the handstand. Believe me when I tell you. No one’s handstand journey is easy. Everybody fights their own battles. Opening the shoulders will be yours and that is completely fine.
Instagram and social media has taught us over the past years that the most important thing about the handstand is a perfectly straight line! Nothing matters but to throw the shoulders open until you are ready to take pics for insta at the beach.
Well. While this is a nice trend that makes people stretch their shoulders it doesn’t really help with upside down control, stability or health. The main goal in the handstand is not just to blindly open the shoulders but to elevate the scapula. By pushing tall from the shoulders you are creating stability and health. When your scapula rotates it places your shoulder joint in a much healthier position protecting you from injuries and unnecessary soreness that won’t make you stronger.
There are plenty of high level gymnasts and professional hand balancers who do not have a perfectly straight shoulder line yet are able to do all kinds of 1 arm handstand variations you can think of. It is completely ok to sacrifice a bit of shoulder line in order to push out taller.
At the same time it is really no secret that not being able to open the shoulders at all does come with problems. If your shoulders are closed they create an angle and the back arches naturally to make up for said angle. The more that you will straighten out your shoulders the straighter your back will get as well! (engaging your abs won’t fix this banana!!)
If you always just focus on opening the shoulders as much as possible you will end up opening them too far. I see this all the time with new clients who have been self training for a year or so. Most get obsessed with the idea of opening the shoulders all the way without knowing why they are even doing that. You end up with a handstand where the shoulders are standing in front of the wrists and even though your shoulders are what seems perfectly open your handstand is fragile and arching.
Compare this person with someone who is not stretching their shoulders as much but working on active drills. The handstand will be much taller and much more controlled.
If you are struggling with tight shoulders you are gonna have to get to work. You are gonna have to work consistently and hard but I can promise you one thing: you will see results and you will see them rather quickly. I’ve been through this with plenty of clients: You are going to train 3 times a week for 10 weeks. Nothing will change much. You will get frustrated and I will push you to just keep going a little bit longer. Eventually at week ten there will be a click and your shoulders will open more. All of a sudden you will be able to push out taller and you will be able to see where this journey is going to take you.
Focus about 75%-80% of your scapula training in active drills such as shoulder shrugs to build awareness, coordination and specific strength while you will use 20%-25% of your time and energy towards stratic, passive stretches.
The passive stretches will increase your mobility over time. For an adult it can take up to 6-12 month to actually see any changes in your shoulder flexibility. We are in handstands for the long game. So 2 years of progress is something we should definitely sign up for and take.
At the same time we got the active drills. Those are the ones that will make a big and rather fast difference. They will actively help you in your handstands and give you a huge advantage over everybody else.
Check out the workout linked below and give them a try. Do these drills 3 times a week for 10 weeks. I promise to you. If you focus and work hard you will surprise yourself what you can achieve in such a short period of time!
A lack of scapular mobility should not hold you back from handstand training yet it should also not be ignored. Working on your scapula elevation is a daily, long term project that will significantly improve your handstands. For best results focus on active elevation drills mixed with some passive stretches. Keep pushing, keep dreaming and keep working towards your goals one set at the time. You will get there!