Is Shoulder Range Of Motion Restricting My Handstands And Arm Balances?

Transcript of: Is shoulder range of motion restricting my handstands and arm balances?

Hey everybody! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. This month’s question is about the relationship between shoulder range of motion and handstands. It comes from Jeff Bacher. He actually asked two questions, which is a little sneaky. Of course, remember, if you want to ask your own question, just go to You may also want to read our Comprehensive Guide to the Shoulder in Yoga.

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The Question:

So, Jeff’s question is:
“Shoulder rotation (or shoulder range of motion) seems to be limiting my ability to do handstands and forearm stands. I am 66 and have been doing yoga for about eight years and my shoulder rotation has improved, but is still not to the point that allows me to do handstands without really arching my back to compensate for lack of shoulder rotation. I am beginning to wonder if this is just my anatomy. What poses can I do to increase shoulder rotation and how do I know when it is just bone structure that will never allow me full rotation? [David: This is kind of the second question that’s related.] Also, in forearm stand I find it very difficult to keep my forearms parallel. My hands move in closer together and my base is more of a V, instead of being parallel. [David: which is, of course, very common.] Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.”

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The Answer:

So, the first thing I need to point out is, Jeff, when you use shoulder rotation, there’s the shoulder rotating sort of internally and externally. But because you’re talking about handstands, I get the feeling that you’re really talking about rotation going this way. That’s what you mean by rotation, which is really flexion. This way. Unless you mean up here and then rotating. It’s not totally clear. But I think I understand your question enough based on what you said. So, to figure out first of all if it’s anatomical, there are two things you can do to find out how much mobility (shoulder range of motion) you have in your shoulder joint itself.

Checking for shoulder range of motion

So what you can do is, you can place one hand on top of the shoulder. And then if you try to flex it, you see mine gets to about 90 degrees. Or if I do it out to the side, it’s about 90 degrees. In other words, it’s a straight line. So, if you go to do that and you get only to here, well then, yes, you might have restriction in your shoulder joint.  That could be based on the type of scapula that you have (of which there are three types). So there could be an anatomical component to it. Which, if that is true, would mean that you do have to compensate for shoulder range of motion in some other way. In your case, you do that by letting your back arch more.

There’s an underlying assumption there that the spine must be straight. You need to be careful with that because it is what it is. You can only work with what you’ve got. And remember that postures kind of go progressively. They change over time as you change, as your technique changes, and as your body changes. So it’s okay to be arching your back for some period of time. You try to straighten it, you know, over the course of more time.

How to know if it’s not anatomical

The other thing you can do to test, coming back, is if it’s more of this direction. You know, if you’re not weight-bearing, can you raise your arm and keep your spine straight? If the answer is yes, then it’s not anatomical. But, what it could be then, is that you’re using, let’s say for lack of a better word, the wrong muscles at the wrong time. And that’s creating sort of a blocking here, in the shoulder range of motion, which I see often in forearm balance.

So it might be connected there, where this space doesn’t open enough. The distance, the space from the back of your arm to your torso isn’t open enough in forearm balance, or possibly in handstand. That’s because you might be engaging all of this not quite in the right way. That would be very subtle and we’d need to get together and look at that, you know, a little more specifically for you. But that could be the problem there.

Connecting to the whole forearm

And I’ll just add on one more thing to forearm balance. One, you’re going to check this and make sure this space is staying open. But what is implied for everybody who tries arm balance and their hands squeeze together like this is, it means you’re not putting enough weight or pressure through your entire forearm. The weight is sitting back into the elbow, so the hand is getting light. As a result of that, or your shoulders are too wide, and what happens is this happens over time, so there’s not enough weight here. So, you kind of have to push through all of this in forearm balance and use that to help open this. That connection, if you can find that connection, I have a feeling it’s going to help you out a lot Jeff.

Alright, that finishes up this question of the month. Anybody else, if you’ve got a question:

See you on the next one!

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