Fixing Arched Back in Handstand

One of the most common problems in Handstand training is trainees having an arched back and  their ribs flaring. Inexperienced Coaches will automatically use the “ribs down” cue to try fix this, in my experience this is one of the worst cues for the situation as most beginner trainees in the handstand world actually do not have required scapular mobility to achieve the needed degree of shoulder flexion for a Handstand so rely on either arching the lower back or flaring the ribs to achieve it.

Attaining correct line will speed up your progress immensely in handstand and transfer to other skills. Initially when training with me some people will be devoting 80% of their training time in handstands to corrective exercises and only 20% to Handstand specific. I generally expect to have this issue fixed in 3 months with most people and then after that handstand progress is very rapid
The following collection of exercises is what I’d use as a standard approach to correcting this issue its not a be all and end all but will aid most in correcting this issue.

To know if this approach is for you I’ve come up with this easy to apply self test if you fail the test then this approach will more than likely help

First thing we need to do is remove any adhesions and restore tissue quality to the area. I thoroughly recommend everyone attend a qualified NMT or ART practitioner. As an adjunct I recommend using this foam roller technique

Next we need to introduce a daily mobility sequence. I’m not in the business of reinventing the wheel and recommend you look at this excellent video by Kit Laughlin. Also if you’re serious about fixing this area buy his “Master Shoulder Flexibility”  here

Next we need to strengthen the surrounding musculature in the scapula. I generally recommend 4 sets of 8 – 15 on this exercises done twice a week. And for some people they do a couple of sets as part of their warm up

Next the following stretches are done 2 – 3 times weekly on upper body day.

Remember folks knowledge is nice but applying it is better. Please let me know how you get on with this sequence.



8 thoughts on “Fixing Arched Back in Handstand

  1. Christian Webb says:

    As someone who has been working on handstands for months, and only recently realised that my shoulder mobility was limited (thanks to you), this is amazing :).

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge Emmet =D.


  2. Rachel says:

    Emmet, with thanks for your detailed blog post I do have a question. Why are almost all these exercises focused on scapular retraction, when scapular protraction is more desirable for a straight hollow-body handstand? All-around scap strength is great, but I’m confused on how these exercises will improve the line of a handstand.

    I think I need almost the opposite right now — serratus anterior strengtheners, scap protraction and maybe even some upper pec work.


    • What was presented above was a general case which would apply to a large section of people. In the people I encounter most of them are stuck in internal rotation and have weak scapular re-tractors and external rotators. Also some points to note the handbalance handstand is not the same as the gymnastics handstand and typically displays less elevation and protraction of the scapula.

      From what you describe seems like you’re lacking in basic shoulder stability which should be addressed before beginning handstand training for superior results. The basic check list of things to have achieved before free standing HS training would be, 90s front support, 15-20 reps scap ups, 90s dish, 4 x 60s chest to wall handstand, 4 x 50 reps wall runs.

      Edit: You can see the results of using the guide from above 1 month between photos


  3. Ciara says:

    Great blog. Felt pain in lower back whilst doing a half handstand at wall- my tutor then told me I had a banana spine- which explained the discomfort. I wasn’t offered any advice other than to bring my front ribs in! Your blog has guven me so much advice and a possible solution. Thank you. C x


  4. Euan says:

    In the first shoulder flexion mobility test, is it OK if we shrug our shoulders up like you would in a handstand to aid upward rotation?


    • They could be but part of the reason for the band pull aparts if you use the technique explained in the video it will target the weak segment of your posterior deltoids.


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