Better Weightlifting Through Handstands

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 9.12.26 AM

Gymnastics and Olympic Weightlifting are very similar sports that go hand in hand.

In both sports, the athlete has to be fundamentally strong and explosive, and movement has to be efficient and precise. In my experience, years and years of pushing the body to move faster and more efficiently through large ranges of motion is partly why gymnasts make such great weightlifters.

Another similarity is that they both require a vast amount of body awareness. Learning to “feel” exactly what your body is doing when and how to make corrections is a huge part of the journey to becoming a successful, or just better, weightlifter.

I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years, until a string of ankle surgeries and a hip fracture forced me to retire. Although I still love to coach, I put all of my training time and passion into the barbell now.

I love it.

My strongest movement is the jerk. My technique is not perfect, I’m still got a lot of work and catching up to do. But I am extremely explosive from rack to lockout overhead. I would say 90% of the time, If I can clean a weight, then I know I can put it overhead.


You might think I press a lot too, but my arms are pretty weak. I attribute my strong jerk to the countless hours spent on my hands in gymnastics. You can press all day long, but if you cannot catch the weight in a strong lockout position, you will never have an impressive jerk. This must become a primary training focus. If jerk lockout is one of your weaknesses, try programming some of these handstand drills. I promise if you can get good at this stuff it WILL transfer into improved weightlifting performance. 4 Flavors of Handstand

    • Handstand With Shoulder Shrugs: The biggie! These are similar to scapular push-ups, but upside down. You want to kick up into a handstand against the wall with shoulders in their naturally relaxed position. When steady, shrug your shoulders to your ears, through the entire range of motion, and then back to the relaxed state. I recommend doing 3×5 to start out with and gradually increasing to 3×10.


    • Handstand With Leg Touch: This particular handstand will also be performed against the wall and will need a leg separation for counter balance. When steady upside down, shift your weight on to one arm and touch your leg with the other arm. The challenge is to stay tight in your core and keep the arm straight. If this is too difficult to start out, touch the shoulders instead. I recommend doing 3×8 (4 on each side) and working up to 3×16.




  • Handstand Walks: The new move in all of the major CrossFit competitions! It’s also super useful for weightlifting. The tighter you are in your core and legs the easier you will find it is to walk for distance. I recommend practicing these for about 5-7 minutes. Try not to get frustrated, even if you only walk a few steps before you crash and burn, you’re still building a strong lockout position.
  • Handstand Pirouettes: Only try these if you have mastered the previous moves, as these are expert level for handstand drills. If you have mastery over your balance and shoulder lockout strength, then take a shot. Kick up into a standing handstand. Shift your weight to one arm, focusing on keeping vertical by flexing your core and ass. Rotate around your hand, shifting the weight back to the freehand. Repeat and turn until you get comfortable with this change in direction. If you get there it will be great for your weightlifting.

Now you have some tools to build your jerk lockout without having to beat up your body. Handstand drills take patience and time to master, but you will see the payoff in your technique if you can get strong and confident in that position.  I suggest adding these into your program once or twice a week, preferably at the end of a workout because they will fatigue your shoulders very quickly.

Go get upside down,



For more

5 Responses to “Better Weightlifting Through Handstands”

  1. A no bullsh*t guide to warming-up - Barbell DAILY

    […] For proper mobility/stability progression let’s consider the really common example of a tight thoracic spine with limited shoulder flexion. I like to start with thoracic extensions while laying across a rumble roller. Next, we’ll do some shoulder distraction exercises with a band to loosen the shoulders up and promote range of motion. After we work on mobility for a while I like to address shoulder stability with kettlebell windmills and arm-bars, also plenty of handstand walks and holds. […]

  2. James

    What if your main issue with jerks is that you don’t get low enough? My movement is very slow, and I find I’m pressing up at the end of jerks, not because my arms can’t lock out, but because my body doesn’t get low enough under the bar to let them lockout. I need drills that will help me “get down” quicker.

    • Chris

      You have to dip rapidly and shallow, reverse the bar explosively, then drop underneath the barbell. It’s probably moving up, but you’re likely not pushing yourself down under the barbell. Best advice, get to a seminar or find a coach to watch you lift and help you drill. On your own it’s hard get a feel for it.


Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS