The founding fathers of American weightlifting still occupy a somewhat mystical status in the community. Men like Jack Lalanne, who swam from Alcatraz to the mainland while handcuffed, and John Grimek, who competed for the United States at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany were training before the days of weightlifting machines. And many of their feats stand unsurpassed even decades later.
Most old school lifters trained outdoors, both for the spectacle and because gyms didn’t really exist. They incorporated tons of bodyweight movements into their routines. A favorite was the handstand – famously utilized by lifters like Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton, Joe Gold, and Steve Reeves. It provided the mechanical foundation for phenomenal feats like overhead dumbbell presses.
Handstands don’t just increase strength in the muscles surrounding the shoulders. The increase the bodies’ ability to create stability through the core, and translate that stability through the shoulder. In a way, a handstand is like an extreme version of the plank. Any gymnast will tell you that one of the first mistakes when novices try a handstand is they leave their core lax and arch through the back. A great way to progress up to a handstand is to walk your feet up a wall. This will give your core something extra to brace off of and help build comfort with inversion.
Of course, muscles need progressive resistance to really grow, but in this age of barbells and machine circuits, stability work like handstands can be a phenomenal new stimulus to any muscle group. Eventually, handstand pushups can be performed. Of course it’s important to make sure one has proper shoulder mobility before such a movement to ensure proper mechanics and reduce risk of injury. Remember, increasing overhead range will improve overall shoulder health and function.
Plus, regardless of what one thinks about crossfit. Many of their athletes have phenomenal traps and shoulders, and handstands are a huge part of their regimen. It may not be the most inconspicuous movement to do at the gym, but is especially convenient for home or vacation training.