I previously discussed the importance of the handstand in skill development, and I mentioned that a very common problem with handstands is a shoulder angle and arched back caused by a lack of shoulder flexibility. In this issue, we’ll look at two exercises you can do at home to improve functional shoulder flexibility for handstands.
The first is the cat stretch. The gymnast should kneel in front of a raised surface (the seat of a chair works great) and put her hands on it. The knees should be together, the arms should be straight, and the hands should be shoulder width. From here, she should push her armpits towards the floor. It is important to keep the arms straight and the lower belly tight to ensure the shoulders will get the full benefit of the stretch. This should be held for twenty to thirty seconds.
The second is the arm-lift. The gymnast should lie on her belly on the floor with the legs straight, the toes pointed, and the heels together. The arms should be held straight and parallel, extended past the ears, and the chin or forehead should rest on the floor. From this position, the gymnast should, without bending or widening the arms, lift them up as high as she can off the floor. The gymnast should hold this position for fifteen to thirty seconds (depending on her muscular endurance – it should only be held as long as the gymnast can do it with correct form). This, in my opinion, is the more important of the two exercises (though maximum effect can be achieved if both are done together).
Done regularly at home, these exercises will improve functional flexibility in the gymnast’s shoulders, which will allow the gymnast to learn stronger, straighter handstands.