Strength Training, Shoulders: Delts, Pecs (minor & major), Triceps


Handstands: Start out facing the wall, progress to “away from the wall”

Ok folks, as promised, in the next few posts I will be talking in detail about my strength training routines, beginning here with shoulders. The methods & protocols I employ are based on the book, “Body by Science” by Doug McGuff & John Little which I have reviewed here. I aim to do one muscle group per day, in a top down manner, starting with the shoulders. 

Shoulders are arguably the most difficult to train with when using body weight training for the simple reason that you have do this upside down. If, like me, you’ve never been able to do handstands before, you also have to acquire this skill set. However, fear not! It’s nowhere near as daunting as you might think and, with just a small amount of training, you should easily be able to do handstands against a wall if not completely unsupported.

Getting Started

The trick here is to start out facing away from the wall. With your back to the wall, place your hands on the floor, shoulder width apart & about one meter from the wall. Raise one leg against the wall for support followed by the other. Then slowly “walk” both legs up the wall until you reach full stretch. Once at full stretch, gently walk your arms in closer to the wall so that your centre of gravity is right over your shoulders. Hold this position for as long as you can, making sure to breathe regularly & freely. As you start to tire, walk your arms out away from the wall again & walk your legs back down the wall to complete the rep. Rest for no more than 90 seconds before starting your second rep. Aim for 2-4 reps when starting out. The trick here is to take the muscles to failure (exhaustion) but complete the exercise just before you collapse completely! I suggest you just try out the “skill” first with a few quick ups & downs before you aim for complete muscle failure so that you are comfortable with the complete movement itself. For obvious reasons, try to do this on a grass or sandy surface to begin with.

Progressing to “Away From Wall” Handstands

Once you are comfortable with the above, the next step is to do handstands facing away from the wall. This is the more natural way since you don’t have to walk your hands into position and you are better placed for the full “shoulder press” movement that comes later, see below. For this you will need a partner who will support your leg as you flick it up against the wall.

Facing the wall, place your hands on the ground, shoulder width apart, about one foot away from the wall. Place your feet in the “get set” position that sprint runners adopt at the start of a race. With your partner to one side, facing the stretched-out leg, make sure your arms & elbows are fully locked and straightened before kicking off on the bent leg and at the same time swinging the stretched-out leg up and into position against the wall.  As your stretched leg swings past the 45° position to the vertical, your partner should be ready to support it and help out with the final movement into & against the wall. The other leg will naturally follow this one into position. If you simply can’t swing your leg up and beyond this 45° position then it’s likely your partner won’t be able to support your full body weight into position against the wall. It requires practice and a strong core (abs) to get this right.

Shoulder Presses

Finally, once you are comfortable with the above, you can progress to the “shoulder press” or a vertical press-up movement. This is where you start to really develop shoulder strength. Don’t worry at all about doing these if you are just starting out. You will get plenty of shoulder strength development from just standing on your hands without any press movements at all!

My Progress

When I first started these this last summer, I could barely do 4 sets. Now I’m doing 10-12 almost unassisted and I am just starting out with vertical shoulder presses. Progress was rapid: within 2-3 weeks I was strong enough to do 12 sets on just 15 mins/ week training! The trick is to take the muscles to failure (or as close a possible without collapsing and injuring yourself!) and then allowing for adequate rest & recovery in between exercises i.e. at least a week. If you’re getting everything right, the end result should look something like this:

Good luck!

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