Perfecting a handstand is a fantastic goal for so many reasons – it’s a great skill, is central to overall hand balancing and gymnastics practice, and makes for an excellent exercise unto itself. “Shoulder Weaving” is an incredibly effective way to improve your balance, control and strength for your handstand practice. So, I’m psyched to bring you this special guest post from Kálmán “Kiwee” Attila, a Hungarian bodyweight training enthusiast who writes the Backyard Brawn blog. As you probably know, here at GBT we’ve focusing a lot lately on the practice of hand balancing as we get ready to release our new Hand Balancing DVD. We hope Kiwee’s great instructions on shoulder weaving will help get you as excited as we are about the awesomeness of handstands!
– Mike Fitch
Shoulder Weaving for Exercise and Balance
(by Kálmán “Kiwee” Attila)
Shoulder weaving is a basic handstand exercise which helps you learn how to use your shoulders effectively. It not only provides a good amount of conscious shoulder control, but also strengthens the delts a great deal. And, while being an awesome exercise on its own, shoulder weaving as an overall concept can be used to improve and maintain your balance in a handstand.
When practicing shoulder weaving, all you need to be aware of are your wrists, shoulders and your toes. Nothing more! As you move the whole shoulder girdle forward and backward, you indirectly change the angle between your hands and forearms, which essentially means an involuntary wrist flexion/extension. The legs will counteract any leaning motion, so you will need to know where your toes are to keep them in control. Before you start practicing, warm up thoroughly. Your wrists, shoulders and lower back are prone to injuries, so do your arm circles and good mornings, and give them a good stretch before you strain anything!
Correcting Imbalances in Handstands and Balancing
Hand balancing work is mainly done by the wrists, but there can be certain cases when the imbalance is so grave that you have to use your shoulders to get back into proper position. And that’s when the ability of shoulder weaving comes in handy! The idea itself is pretty simple. If you are overbalanced (the balance is shifted toward your back), you need to push your shoulders forward, which sends your legs backward, setting a new balance. If you are underbalanced, the shoulders need to be pushed backward – the legs go forward, and you are again in the state of equilibrium.
Be careful though! Use shoulder weaving with caution, treating it as an emergency tool, or your last resort. You want your handstand to be strong on its own, without becoming dependent on shoulder weaving to stay up. Don’t forget that the wrists are maintaining your balance, not your shoulders.
Backward Shoulder Weave
This motion is also called a Backbend since you essentially bend your back here, as you can see in these pictures. If you’re totally new to this exercise, the back curve might not even be noticeable first, but I’m sure you will feel the tension in your lower back. With years of practice, you might even be able to arch your back so extremely that your glutes are lowered enough that you are essentially sitting on your own head. However, that requires a back flexibility so great that mere mortals can’t even dream of it.
So, let’s see how it’s done! From a normal handstand, slowly pull your head (and shoulders) backward. The head pulls the shoulder girdle with itself, and since you obviously know where your head is, it’s easier to focus on that instead of the shoulders. Try to pull the head behind the hands slowly, while pushing from the shoulders. Let your back bend while your legs go forward. Bend only from the back – the legs should be as extended as possible! Always start with your head, and slowly, inch by inch, balance it with your legs. I prefer to straddle my legs a bit so my hips are less stretched, and I can use a greater back curve – but it’s your choice.
When you feel that you can’t stretch it any more, stop. But don’t put your feet down just yet! Here comes the balance. Just stay there, in the fully extended position. The balance itself is very easy here. The underbalance is easily counteracted by the overhanging legs, and you can use your wrists very effectively – since they are extended – to counteract any bit of overbalance caused by the legs.
Unlike its forward-going counterpart, the Backbend is pretty easy on the wrists, even easier than the handstand. In fact, the more you arch, the less you stress the wrists. If you do an extreme arch, the wrists get in a very flexed position – well over 90 degrees – which doesn’t stress your wrists at all.
Bent Knee Variation
In this variation of the Backbend, the knees are bent. Bending the knees lifts a lot of stress off the lower back, so the move is more comfortable. If you train this enough, you’ll be able to put your feet under your neck – which is so awesome that only a couple of circus performers can do it well.
A good supplementary exercise – for all moves that require a big arch – is the bridge. It stretches your back and your shoulders which is very much needed for shoulder weaving. I recommend practicing it often to make your life easier!
Forward Shoulder Weave
The forward shoulder weave is the opposite of the backbend, and is also called the Leg Lowering from Handstand. It looks just like the aerial move that extreme bikers do in big jumps. Once again, we need to move the shoulders, but forward this time. Unlike the backbend, the body is not in a single curve, but it breaks at the shoulders. The torso and the legs must form a straight line – only the arms are at an angle.
Beware of Too Much Back Arch!
Your back must have a little arch in it. Not too much though, and don’t even think about rounding it. When doing this move, the lower back has to hold a lot of weight, and I’m sure you know that hollowing (straightening) your back activates the muscles there. Don’t use a big arch, because then you’re not keeping the body straight, and the result is something like what you see in the picture here. Even though you lean forward, the legs will always point to the sky. It’s easier this way, but it definitely won’t help you on the long run. (Looks cool, though!)
The wrists have to endure a lot of stress here. Unlike the Backbend, the wrist is in an extended position, meaning that the angle between your hands and forearms is less than 90 degrees. That can be very painful. To avoid unnecessary stress, rotate your hands outward so the fingers point to the side. If you can, rotate them all the way to the back, that’s even better. You need a very good wrist warmup – and that includes lots of stretching – prior to the training, regardless where your fingers point to.
Lowering Your Legs
Assume the handstand position, and breathe. Now turn your wrist slightly outward to grant a good range of motion. Start to push your head forward. Slowly! You’ll immediately feel that you’re falling forward, so you must quickly prevent it by moving the leg backward. All your core muscles are working hard by now, holding your legs up. As you lean more, the wrists take more pressure while the legs go even farther. The legs move not only backward, but also downward, and go quite a distance even though the head moves only a little.
The ultimate goal would be the Planche position – the head is as far forward as it can be, while the legs are almost touching the ground and the body is horizontal. My attempt, shown in the picture above, isn’t quite planche position (yet), but you can see that I’m getting closer with my body becoming horizontal!
Practice and More Practice!
Balancing the Leg Lowering is much harder than what you’ve experienced doing the Backbend. The legs are quite heavy, so if you push them backward too much, or if you just can’t hold it anymore, you quickly get into an underbalance. Provided you’ve already exhausted your shoulders trying to hold the position, your only option now is putting your feet on the ground and taking a rest. Of course, it you’re strong enough, you can maintain the balance by flexing the elbows and pushing yourself up again – but unless you’re doing a live circus performance, just putting the feet down won’t hurt much.
A great exercise which uses the Leg Lowering is the 90 degree pushup. You lower yourself to a position where you’re parallel to the ground, then you push back up. I believe this move is insane! Although it’s done by bending the elbow, it’s still pretty much close to impossible. If you can do it with straight arms, then I’ve nothing to teach you about shoulder weaving. Frankly, nobody has.
A good way to practice Shoulder Weaving is going forward and back, forward and back. Repeat 1000 times! No extra balance is needed – just hold yourself up on your hands during the motion. Practice it a lot, and you will achieve the great shoulder control necessary for advanced hand balancing moves.
MORE FROM GBT
Hi guys, it’s Mike here again. Thanks to Kiwee for providing us this great article! Feel free to post your comments or questions for him below.
And, if you are feeling inspired and are interested in checking out some of our GBT Hand Balancing video tutorials, you can start with this Playlist over on our YouTube Channel. Click below to watch them all, or click through to our channel to pick and choose which ones you want to see. This particular playlist includes:
Static Frog With Back Extension; Advanced Frog Stands; Traveling and Static Frog Combination; Negative, Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups; Turtle Freezes; and Parallel Bars Hand Balance Variations. There’s sure to be something you like in there!
And keep on the lookout for the full-length GBT Hand Balancing DVD to be released in early 2013 – we’ll take you through gymanstics, breakdancing, parallettes, and parallel bars, from beginner to advanced and on to planches!