3 Shoulder Opening Stretches for Handstand (Free class inside!)
Updated: May 10, 2019
Anyone who’s ever attended a handstand workshop or regularly practices flipping upside down has experienced the day-after shoulder tension, especially if there isn't enough emphasis on shoulder opening stretches. To hold a steady, stable handstand, it’s important to build strong, stable shoulders. Without the support of strong shoulders, we would melt to the ground as we flip upside down. This is why there is such an emphasis on building shoulder strength and stability in handstand workshops and tutorials. I, myself, spent years building up my own shoulder muscles so that I would have enough strength to support balancing my entire body weight upside down. While my newfound shoulder definition looks epic on Instagram and has allowed me to hilariously Hulk-out of a few shirts, it comes with a downside…
Lack of shoulder flexibility and joint mobility.
That’s right after years of strengthening my shoulders and flipping upside down daily I found myself with really sweet looking shoulder muscles that could barely extend my arms up over my head. Yikes. All of the strengthening exercises lead to toned, tiiight muscles with a severe lack of mobility. And, really, what good is a muscle if you can’t fully activate and access it?!
In body-building, Crossfit, and other weight-lifting based activities muscle mass is of supreme importance. However, in yoga, we need to be able to harness muscle mass to move us in and out of postures while accessing muscle and tissue flexibility to allow us to luxuriate in holding each posture. We need both strength and flexibility.
In fact, even in handstand, strength can only get us so far. Without open, flexible shoulders it becomes impossible to find comfortable, appropriate alignment. Tight shoulders tend to constrict our upper body, keeping us from being able to access a straight-up handstand. Instead, we find ourselves in a banana curve or awkward diagonal because we are unable to line our hips up over our shoulders without arching the spine or working waaayyyy too hard to hold a diagonal shape due to the shoulder joint being locked up.
The shoulder tightness that results from a regular handstand practice also lingers into the rest of our yoga postures, hindering our ability to access postures that require open shoulder joints, like full wheel, and postures with overhead arm extensions, like warrior one. I can attest to this personally. I always thought that I didn’t have a very bendy back because I struggled intensely with backbends - especially full wheel. However, as I began practicing shoulder opening stretches, I realized my backbends were crappy because I had little to no shoulder mobility and extremely tight chest muscles from, you guessed it, so many handstands!
While my backbends aren’t the most breathtaking backbends on the ‘gram, they are surprisingly better than they once were. And, my inversion practice is stronger and more accessible than ever!
Today, I’m bringing you my favorite, short & sweet, go-to routine for daily shoulder opening. It takes 5-10 minutes max. I use a strap for all three exercises, but you could use a belt, ribbon, or old long-sleeve tee. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can do it while you’re binge-watching your favorite Netflix show (Stranger Things Season 3 where are you?! Update: July 4th!), chatting with your bestie, or add it to your daily home yoga practice. It may be short and simple, but it will revolutionize your handstand practice!
3 Easy Shoulder Opening Stretches for Handstand
1. Cow-Facing Arms
Lie the strap over the top of your right palm and close your hand into a fist. Draw the right arm up overhead, bent at the elbow, with the elbow pointing up to the sky and the strap falling down towards the floor. Bring the left arm behind your back, also bent at the elbow, and reach up to grab the strap. From there walk your hands as close to one another as you comfortably can. Use the left hand to pull down on the strap while trying to keep the right elbow drawing up towards the sky. To deepen the stretch, try to press the right upper arm and elbow towards the wall behind you. I even like to gently press my head into my right arm to increase the stretch over time. Hold for 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
2. Overhead Extension
Hold the strap in both hands, making fists, with about 12 to 18 inches of strap held tautly between each hand. Slowly begin to raise arms up over head until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulder. Hold and breathe until tensions loosens. Once tension loosens, stretch arms further overhead, perhaps even behind your head. Hold and breathe for 10 breaths. Repeat 3 times.
3. Backward Chest Extension
Repeat steps for overhead extension stretch, if shoulders allow begin to roll the shoulder joint in its socket until arms are positioned behind the body. You can also access this position by bending one arm at a time while walking the strap behind the back. Hold for 10 breaths. Repeat 3 times. Note - This is a different stretch than placing the strap in one hand behind the back and then reaching around the back for it with the other hand, the inside of the elbow facing inwards. That would be a similar stretch and pressure to bow and camel pose, which activate the top of the shoulder and upper back. What we’re looking for here is to activate and lengthen the chest and inner shoulder.
Dive deeper into your shoulder opening practices with my complete Upper Body Flow class.
In it we dive deeper into the many ways to gain shoulder flexibility, especially as you prepare for back bends. It's a multi-level yoga flow class that's great for yogis of all levels. Go ahead, girl, stretch those shoulders out! Practice my full-length Upper Body Flow class here!
*Disclaimer: Brandy Oswald is not a medical practitioner and Do it Naturally is not a medical entity. This information is not to be interpreted as medical advice. You should always consult your medical practitioners prior to adopting new diet, supplement, or lifestyle changes. When following the information provided above you are doing so at your own risk and release Brandy Oswald and Do it Naturally of all intended and unintended outcomes.