Handstands require strength and stability, primarily through the shoulders, elbows and wrists, as well as core strength. It is therefore important to appropriately condition and prepare these joints for overhead weight bearing to reduce risk of overuse pain or injury.
Handstanding is a specific and difficult skill, so loading is not only important in protecting the body, but ensuring you are able to execute the skill well. This then lays a good foundation to build further skills on, such as handstand push ups in Crossfit, or tumbling in gymnastics or cheerleading.
Overhead mobility is an important component of being able to perform a handstand. Exercises focusing on overhead mobility can include overhead presses with a barbell, or overhead lowers using dumbells. Passive overhead stretching for lats and shoulders can also assist in gaining and maintaining overhead range.
Stability through the shoulders in the overhead position is also a key component in controlling handstands. Overhead kettlebell or dumbbell presses, and handstand or planks hold variations are all great exercises to target overhead control.
Your wrists are taking most of the load during overhead weight bearing, and being relatively small joints in comparison to your body weight this leaves them vulnerable to overload.
Progressing through handstand-specific drills and controlling reps and sets throughout the training week can help control loads through the wrist.
The use of devices such as wrist straps or strapping tape can also help support the wrist joint while you work on building strength.
A combination of targeted shoulder and wrist exercises, as well as handstand specific progressions over a 12-week timeframe, is the basis of a good handstand program. Recording reps and resistance will ensure staying on top of load management. An increase in resistance or intensity by no more than 10% a week, and 2-3 recovery days a week will allow for appropriate loading.
Listen to your body, if you notice aching after exercise that lasts longer than a few hours, or is limiting your daily function – regress your exercises, take days off for recovery and seek professional advice.
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