If you have been doing CrossFit for any amount of time you can understand the need and benefits of being strong overhead. And when I say ‘strong’ I am talking about having stability in the joint, mobility to move well in various positions and then lastly the actual load you are able to move.
When we talk about functional movements we need the ability to press weight over head and we also need to do so in good positions. When it comes to pressing with a barbell (press, jerk, etc) we want to not only move the load, but be able to keep our torso in a good position (not overextension of our low back) and we want full range of motion (shoulder flexion) at the shoulder joint. When you first started CrossFit you may have struggled with this due to our modern day society where we spend more time sitting and behind a computer than actually moving.
Additionally if you take something more complex like an overhead squat you will notice how much mobility and shoulder stability come into play. Being able to stabilize overhead and have the flexibility to relax into a good position. While I know there may not be many movements in real life that mimic an overhead squat; it’s functionality comes from the blend of strength, mobility and stability required to improve this movement efficiently
And when we get more specific with overhead movements like a push or split jerk where there is movement and coordination required to receive the bar we want to make sure we have the stabilization in our shoulder to receive the barbell safely.
How to Improve Shoulder Strength & Stability
I’m sure by now you’re bought into the need for overhead strength & stability to improve your fitness. So now I want to tell you HOW we can improve that, in a way that may seem unconventional. Which leads us to a couple overhead movements we have not talked about yet: handstand push ups, holds and handstand walking.
Ironically even though this is a bodyweight movement it tends to be more challenging for most than the barbell movements. Obviously being inverted takes some getting used to, but it actually goes deeper than that. The strength, stability and mobility to perform a single rep of these movements is impressive.
Which is why I’m going to share how getting upside down will help you lift more weight, increase stability & mobility and keep you healthy for the long term!
You see a key factor in all of this is balance. When a barbell is overhead we don’t have to worry as much about balance, which is why getting inverted can increase stability with smaller muscles to keep your joints healthy.
Additionally it requires the utmost mobility. With a barbell you can get away with compensations, but there is nowhere to hide a flexibility issue when it comes to getting upside down. By working through progressions you can increase mobility in your back, shoulders, and wrist. Which will only enhance all your barbell movements.
As we progress from handstand holds against the wall to handstand push ups or walking it will continue to require strength in these tough positions as well as stability as you start walking and need the ability to absorb the load of your body as you walk.
Lastly, once you have the mobility to get in these positions this won’t take as much of a toll on your shoulders as heavy loads (higher than your bodyweight) so it’s a great way to train without beating yourself up.
How to get started
When it comes to getting inverted it really depends on your training background and sport history. To get started it can be as simple as starting with a plank on your hands and progressing the angle of your body by putting knees or feet on a box. Once you can hold this comfortably for at least 30 seconds at a time we can progress to a wall walk: lay face down on the ground and walk your feet up the wall using your hands as high as you feel comfortable. The long term goal is getting your stomach as close to the wall as possible and holding the position.
From here you can start kicking up to the wall and practice handstand holds completely inverted with feet against the wall. A great goal is to be able to hold for one full minute at a time. Once you build this capacity you can get into handstand push up or handstand walking drills.
If you want some help with these progressions or coaching to get better upside down send us a message!