Jul 05

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Overhead Strength Development

Range of motion is extremely important in overhead strength development with any level of fitness or sport as well as throughout life .  Let me start by drawing an analogy. If we are unable to move our center of mass fully into a “squat”, we will also be unable to stand up safely and correctly from a couch or chair, or pick something up from the floor. For many athletes, practicing full range of motion is essential to proper training; we would never ask someone complete a half pull up, half squat, or half shoulder press. So why are we doing half a handstand pushs up as a scaled version? When an athlete is unable to touch his or her chest to the ground in a pushup from the toes, we require our athletes to drop to the knees. This gives the individual a safe opportunity to work on the full range of motion with full extension at the top of the push up and the chest touching the ground in-between every repetition. If we are not allowing our athletes to practice this type of training, strength improvements will not be made in the last few inches of the pushup, thus as coaches, we are altering their potential growth as an athlete.  Now to the handstand pushup, where the same concept applies! I see athletes all the time raising abmats off the ground in order to complete this movement without reaching full range of motion. How are we going to get stronger in the last few inches of the HSPU (handstand pushup) if we never practice going down the entire depth? If I am trying to increase my bench press, I would not accomplish this goal by loading the bar with an unmanageable weight and completing half reps. Just like there are more efficient ways to increase my bench press load, there are also more efficient ways to scale the HSPU. This will help our athletes advance faster and eventually gain the strength needed to complete a full HSPU without scaling. These scales are as follows:


In the above picture, our athlete is using a tall box to help relieve some of the body’s weight in order to reach full range of motion, while still having the ability to push out of the bottom. This allows the member to work on gaining strength through the entire movement, especially at the bottom. Have the athlete put his toes or knees onto the box making sure his torso is vertical to imitate the handstand push up’s positioning against a wall.

Another option to help increase strength through this entire movement would be to complete negatives in replace of the handstand push up. In this drill, the athlete will kick up against a wall into the handstand position (arms locked out at the top, looking forward) and SLOWLY lower his body until his head touches the ground. The most important part of this movement drill is the last few inches to the ground, make sure the athlete does not release tension and quickly drop his head to the ground at this point or the strength in the bottom will not be gained. This exercise should be difficult, giving the athlete at least 5 seconds of downward movement until the head reaches the floor. Once the head reaches the floor, the athlete repeats the entire movement, releasing the feet from the wall, standing up, and kicking back up into the handstand position.

Why negatives? Negatives allow an individual to gain strength in the eccentric phase of the movement, where the primary muscle contractions involve an active lengthening of muscle fibers, such as when you descend into a full squat. Lowering a heavy weight (in this case our bodies) is responsible for more damage to the muscle fibers than raising it. This is important because the body responds by upgrading muscle protein production. The damaged muscle fiber is not only repaired but thickened to accommodate the increased stress that was placed upon it. This muscle thickness is also accompanied by an increase in strength. Making negatives an extremely important aspect of strength training in any movement. So ditch the abmats in the handstand pushups and partial range of motion exercises in replace of negatives or scales that involve the practice of the entire full range of motion.

-Amanda Martin

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