Pilates Exercise Progressions: Use Handstands To Develop Strong Arms & Shoulders
The upper body strength benefits of incorporating handstands into your weekly workouts are huge. In daily life we don’t typically spend much time upside down on our hands. But, being upside-down is great for developing balance, body awareness and control, and improving arm and shoulder strength. Plus being in a handstand position has some great benefits for a healthy spine. In a handstand, you’re countering the effects of gravity to lengthening the spine in a completely different way!
I’ve not taught handstands to many of my Pilates clients over the past twenty years, because for most of my clients there hasn’t been a logical daily life need, to justify having handstands on their goal list. But for a select few, learning how to do a handstand has been life-changing!
Just because you’re not a gymnast, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include handstands in your training program. If you don’t have any wrist or shoulder problems that would prohibit you from trying… you might want to think about adding handstands to your weekly workouts. They can be a very valuable strength and conditioning exercise to develop strong arms and shoulders.
Did you know that in a typical Pilates workout, we’re actually developing the strength and functional support needed to execute a handstand, even if you never actually take it all the way upside down. By the time you’re at a strong intermediate level as a Pilates student, you should not only have the strength, but the body awareness to safely be upside down and enjoy the experience!
If you’re Pilates teacher hasn’t taught you a handstand yet, and you’d like to try – ask if you’re ready. Then see how many of the exercises on the list below you’re strong and confident with. Executing these Pilates exercises well is the first step and will be heading you in the right direction to do a handstand.
So what can you do to prepare your body for handstands?
Here’s a quick list of Pilates exercises that are prepping your arms & shoulders to practice handstands:
- Reformer: Elephant, Up Stretch, Arabesques, Tendon Stretch, Swakate Series
- Chair: Pike, Side Pike, Tendon Stretch, Push-Ups
- Matwork: Leg Pull Front, Leg Pull Back, Twist I, Push-Ups, 1-Leg Push-Ups into Arabesque
- Cadillac: Arm Springs (lying and standing), Pull-Ups, Reverse Pull-Ups
If you’re familiar with the Fletcher Towelwork® – the towel exercises are also excellent for getting good arm and shoulder strength in an overhead position while maintaining good body posture without actually standing on your hands.
Looking for an easy at-home exercise you can practice to get comfortable standing on your hands without having your feet over your head? Try Bear Crawls. This exercise requires zero equipment and you can practice in your living room or down a hallway. Walk on your hands and feet with your hips in a piked position. Doing Bear Crawls can get you comfortable with having weight on your arms and wrists, with your hips over your head, but you’ve still got your feet on the floor. Practice walking both forwards and backwards in the Bear Crawl position.
When you’re ready to “go for it.” Handstands on the Pilates Ladder Barrel can be the best place to start. Having the hands on the rails helps take some of the stress off your wrists, laying on the barrel gets you ½ way up to start, and a spotter is a must to help guide you and keep you balanced until you’re confident with your handstand skills.
Once you’ve got a good handstand, you can practice kicking up on your own against a wall. Remember “tighter is lighter.” To stay up you have to lift your body up away from your arms, keep your core strong, Glutes and leg muscles energized.
Looking for a little more of a Handstand challenge…to work those arm and shoulder muscles? Try Wall Walks. Get in the Bear Crawl position and instead of walking across the room, walk your feet up the wall! (This means while you’re feet are going UP, your hands are walking IN towards the wall, so your belly will be on the wall instead of your back.)
And when your Handstand is super-easy, it’s time to start doing Handstand Push-Ups!
Handstands can be a FUN and empowering way to develop balance, body control, and strong arms and shoulders. Use these recommended exercises and start adding some variation of a handstand to your weekly workouts.
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