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In last weeks post I mentioned to you that to be able to do overhead work, like a handstand or anything that would involve you being in a handstand position, you require a prerequisite range of motion, strength and coordination in the areas that would be involved.

In the case of a handstand, that required strength, range of motion and coordination is required at the wrist, elbow, shoulder complex and upper thoracic spine (mid back).
For the purposes of this series of posts our attention is on the shoulder girdle, or rather the shoulder complex. I say the shoulder complex because movement at the shoulder requires functionality at 3 different joints and the pseudo-joint that is your shoulder blades movement and all the muscles that would coordinate that.
This is the best place to start in my mind because there is the most degree of adaptability at this joint/complex thus greatest change can be accomplished. And it may play the most vital role when performing anything overhead.

So what prerequisite range of motion do you need? Simple, be able to have your arms raised overhead passively, such that they are pointing straight up with no compensatory motion in low back, neck, elbow or upper back. Try being seated against a wall and have someone raise both arms overhead so that the back of your hand is against the wall. Does your lower back arch? Does the back of your head come off the wall? Do your elbows bend? Do you feel excessive tension somewhere around your shoulder girdle?
If any of these things happen then you don’t have the passive flexibility in the tissues to have the range of motion to do overhead work or handstands and handstand related activities without compensatory actions.
Passive flexibility is important, we need adequate tissue resilience and hydration in a passive way, otherwise we can’t move our body through that range, even if we are super strong!!

In gymnastics often times the flexibility activities done to improve this passive range of motion ends up putting ‘stretch’ on the wrong tissues. The joint capsule ends up being what is ‘stretched’ and strained. I have written posts in the past and probably will again in the future on the negative consequences of this.
The tissues that provide the primary resistance to have the passive range of motion for gymnasts, and for most people for that matter, are the lats (back muscle) and teres major. These are muscles that are utilized and whose connective tissue build tension within them.
In the picture below I have shown a way to stretch these tissues, and only these tissues to improve passive range of motion. This is just one and there are a number of others that you can do. Hanging from parallel bars or a pull up bar and twisting your lower body from side to side will also allow some dynamic work to improve the passive range of motion. When you twist hold your lower body to one side and feel the stretch in the opposite side of your back/shoulder.

Without the passive range of motion you can’t quite accomplish the next two important pieces.
Those pieces being strength and coordination, so get to work on that. Once you have accomplished the passive range of motion needed then you can begin to improve strength and coordination through that range. If you already have that range, which a lot of gymnasts do, you can jump right to improving the needed strength and coordination at the end range of your shoulder girdle.

It doesn’t matter how flexible you are, without the ability to move through the range of motion you have actively, you don’t have access to it. That is right, you can stretch until the cows come home and have passive flexibility, however without your muscles being strong enough to move through that range you might as well not even have that range.
Injuries happen during active activities, thus you need strength and ability for active range of motion.

As you can see in the pic below, this elite gymnast has tons of passive flexibility, however has no access to most of that range of motion due to lack of strength and coordination. And as far as handstands and overhead work is concerned, the most important range he doesn’t have access to.
It is only through strengthening through the full range of motion and developing muscle coordination will you have use of the passive flexibility you may have.

In next weeks post we will discuss the specific exercises you need to do to develop the active strength in the end ranges of the movement required at your shoulder girdle to do a handstand. However, start working on your passive range of motion. If there was a formula to follow it would be:
Gain the passive range of motion THEN strengthen through the full range of motion THEN incorporate dynamic exercises to improve motor/muscle coordination.

Through the series of posts we will go through all these steps and you will be guided through the specific exercises you need to do. But don’t forget that if you don’t have the prerequisite ability to move through a range of motion passively, you won’t be able to do handstand work without causing harm.
Your body is smart and it will compensate and get you up there, but that won’t be without compensation which will eventually lead to injury.

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