Practicing hanging exercises and handstands can be a valuable part of your Pilates (and Fitness) workouts. We typically spend a lot of time developing strength for the arms and shoulders. Are we really making progress with this goal? We may have nicely toned arms, but do we have good functional movement and an upper body we can depend on for a healthy, active life?
· If you were being chased by a bear in the woods, do you think you have enough upper body strength to climb up a tree?
· Do you have the hand and grip strength to hold on to a tree branch and dangle in mid-air?
I realize that for most of us we've got a pretty low probability of running into a bear in the woods, but does that mean we should skip out on the important training benefits of hanging? And for the arm and shoulder strength that hanging exercises develop right-side up, handstands help develop upside down.
I didn't realize how much upper body flexibility and strength I'd lost until on a whim I decided to attempt a swing across the monkey bars on the playground at a local park. The moment I let go with one hand to swing forward and grab the next rung I felt a strange ripping and tearing sensation in my arm and shoulder alerting me that an additional thirty pounds of body weight and a 30 year hiatus from swinging on the bars was a tad too long for my body to have retained the muscle memory, strength and flexibility to execute this move safely!
I thought since I'd retired as a gymnast and HAD experience with both hanging and handstands that with my many years of Pilates training and weight lifting experience I was strong, fit and flexible and it would be no big deal to hang from my arms, but even a plain and simple full hanging position was more than my arms and shoulders could handle getting started.
What do you do when you have realizations for things you're doing (or have stopped doing...) in life? Do you cry, whine and wish you’d taken better care of yourself? Or do you commit to take on the challenge to start figuring out what you can do about it?
Personally, I look at these "Oh crap, I can't do THAT anymore..." moments as wake up calls for body awareness. It's a blessing and opportunity for me to ask key questions and make a decision... How important is it? Am I willing to put the effort in to work on it and get results? If the answer is YES, then it’s time to fine-tune my workout program and figure out the baby-steps I need to take to be able to safely and successfully execute and achieve whatever the goal might be.
*Note to Self - Important Training Principle: Sport-specific training is required to improve athletic conditioning and performance. If all you do is walk 2 miles, 3 days a week, it would be unwise to attempt running a marathon! If you want to improve your golf game, playing ping-pong probably isn't going to help. The body only gets stronger and more flexible in the range of motion that we're training in. If there is a specific task or movement you want to improve, at some point you have to DO IT to improve it!
Parkour Training and "obstacle course" races are hot events in the big cities these days. They both look like a ton of fun and a heck of a workout. There is scrambling up brick walls, leaping or flipping between buildings, jumping over or crawling under fences, pushing and challenging your body to reach new levels of fitness. But it’s not wise to sign up for a race and expect to rope climb over a wall if you haven’t been practicing.
Participating in these types of programs may not be in your future, but wouldn't you like to have the upper body strength, stamina and body control to do it if you wanted to? Hanging exercises and handstands can give you options for exciting new activities in your weekly workouts!
For improving upper body strength for BOTH hanging and handstands, what better place to "hang out" and practice than your favorite Pilates Studio!
I've helped numerous clients over the past twenty years recover from a variety of shoulder issues, from frozen shoulders to fully "shredded" rotator cuffs. One of my favorite moments was getting a phone message from a client whose orthopedic surgeon told her he'd never seen such a severely injured shoulder! (But she declined surgery... Allowed it to heal, and then started her “get my arm and shoulder healthy” Pilates program). We BOTH new she was back to health when I received this message, "Hi Aliesa, just wanted to call and say Thank You! I'm in Alaska and spent the day ice-pick climbing… and my arm and shoulder feels great!"
And another client who due to health limitations missed out on the fun of somersaults, handstands and cartwheels as a child, but got to experience handstands and backbends to be upside down as a young adult through Pilates! How powerful is the life-change for self-confidence when you’re able to achieve things you had never dreamed possible!
If I can help my clients get from zero arm mobility, to ice pick climbing, to swing dancing, to doing handstands when they've never been upside down a day in their life, I know how capable the body is to be upside down, and right-side up, to enjoy the benefits of a healthy full range of movement. It's all in the training plan and progressions...
We just have to start where we are today, and pick the best (and safest) exercises for our current level of fitness in our training program. Plus, having an idea of the next couple of progressions to keep moving things forward to that ultimate goal - hanging out on the playground, doing a handstand, quickly climbing up a tree to avoid an angry bear, or whatever the task may be that requires a healthy, strong, fit and flexible upper body.
Are hanging and handstand exercises something you’d like to eventually add to your workouts? I’m planting the seeds of possibility.
Stay tuned for my next article with Pilates tips to progress to hanging with ease. And in the near future, I'll also share with you my tried and tested tips to help you tackle handstands.
Remember, baby steps...slow and steady progress with your ultimate goal in mind. Wanna play? Start thinking about what sports, recreational and daily life activities might be easier for you with stronger more flexible arms and shoulders because you’re incorporating hanging exercises into your weekly workouts.