How to Maintain Shoulder Strength and Stability While Increasing Longevity for Volleyball

By Laura Hendrickson, June 29, 2018
Contributors: Michael VanGilder, Physical Therapist and Wellness Expert

For volleyball players, gaining and stabilizing muscle and strength provides two HUGELY important benefits:

  1. It helps prevent injuries.
  2. It aids in recovery from them.

In this post, I walk you step by step through three essential exercises that strengthen, stretch and stabilize the shoulder muscles. Exercising this large muscle group makes it easier for you to do two things:

  1. Play volleyball better.
  2. Play volleyball longer (YEARS longer).

“Handstands amp up all of your other exercise endeavors,
making you stronger, more stable, and better overall.”
         – Mike Fitch, Progressive Calisthenics

These movements are stepping stones to performing freestanding handstands. Over my 40+ years of playing volleyball, freestanding handstands have helped me maintain healthy, injury-free shoulders:

  • Downward-facing dog yoga pose
  • Pushups with elbows close to your sides

Watch and Learn the Downward-Facing Dog Yoga Pose:

Shoulder Stabilizing and Chest Building Yoga Push Up:

How to Build Up to a Handstand

Once you’ve worked on your downward-facing dog pose and performed a few pushups with your elbows close to your body, it’s time to practice the half handstand. Find a wall with plenty of room.

handstand, best shoulder exercise for volleyball

First, reach your hands up in front of the wall with your feet on the ground. Reach up as high as you can. Make sure there are no picture frames or other things mounted on the wall that you can kick or break when doing your handstands. Ideally, you will sit at the bottom of the wall with your legs out straight, feet flexed, and you will make a note or mark where your feet are.

Step one: Face away from the wall and place your hands about the length of your legs away from the wall and walk your feet up until you have created a 90° angle at your hips. Your fingers should be wide. Your shoulders should be directly under your hips. Get your back and neck as straight as you can and hold. Hold for 20-30 seconds 2-3 times.

Step two: From here you can do one of two things:

A) You can continue to walk your feet up the wall as you move your hands closer to the wall until you are completely upright into a handstand.

B) Or, you can face the wall, place your hands about 2-3” away from the wall and kick up into the handstand. If you decide to do the “kick up” version, it may be helpful to have a friend assist by catching and holding your first leg as you get your other leg up.

Perfecting Your Freestanding Handstand

When it comes to perfecting a handstand, it’s important to start at the beginning and work your way up. Understand that this may take some time. Start by spending 20-30 seconds on each move and work your way up to 2 minutes.

The most important part of being in a handstand is making sure your body remains as straight as possible. Keeping your body straight ensures you will reach the point where you can do a standalone handstand (without using the wall for assistance).


Contributions from Mike VanGilder, physical therapy expert at G3 Life

The concept of changing hand positions in any “on ground” shoulder girdle strength/stability exercise can really provide a nice tweak to the exercise. Whether it’s push-ups, on ground yoga poses, or handstands, changing hand positions is a great way to vary and nuance the workout in order to vary the load on muscle groups. Varying the load on muscles and joints is super healthy and functional, and more accurately represents how we load our muscles and joints in volleyball and other functional activities.

Tweaking hand positions is easy and infinitely variable. If we take advantage of the fact that our bodies move in 3 planes of motion, we can use that knowledge to place our hands (and, thereby, shoulders) in an infinite number of positions. For instance, if we vary the width of our hand placement (narrow—neutral (shoulder-width)—wide), we can feel how different the loads are to the joints, and how different muscles are emphasized.

We can also change the “fore-aft” position of our hands. We can place our right hand ahead of the left, hands even to each other, or left hand ahead of the right to, again, vary the load to the muscles and joints when doing push-ups, yoga poses, or handstands. Couple changing the width of hand placement with changing fore-aft hand placements, and you’ve got unlimited hand placement tweaks. Finally, throw in changing the rotation of the hands/shoulders (hands pointing in—straight—pointing out, or shoulders internally rotated—neutral—externally rotated) and you’ve got an infinite number of ways to vary the load on the muscles and joints of the shoulder girdle. This can be a very important way to gain functional strength that is effectively transferred to volleyball, as well as part of a great injury prevention strategy.

best physical therapist, san diegoMike VanGilder, DPT, FAFS
Mike received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) from the University of Southern California, and received his Fellow of Applied Functional Science certification, as well as 3D MAPS and CAFS, from the Gray Institute for Functional Transformation. After opening and developing five different private physical therapy practices in San Diego over the past 22 years, he is excited to present G3 Physical Therapy and Wellness Center in Encinitas, California. The center focuses on functional physical therapy which includes a more comprehensive approach toward overall health and well-being.


Just for kicks, here are a few other articles and videos that can help in your journey of achieving a handstand. Perfect your handstand and enjoy the benefit of strong, stable shoulders and the life-long joy of hitting and serving a volleyball.

Articles: Handstands Make You Do Everything Better

Article: Kino MacGregor’s 4-Step Get-Your-Handstand Plan





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