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Have you ever experienced going to a park, to a beach, or to a gym, or just simply watching online these ultimately strong or scrawny dudes who can do a handstand push up as if it’s nothing? Most probably, you asked yourself,
“Why in the heck they are doing that to themselves?” or
“How can they do that? I can’t even do a regular push-up.”
But you are still impressed as to how strong they look, then keep on reading.
The Handstand Pushup Journey
It’s not uncommon for people who first try to do handstand pushups to wonder what drives people to pursue such a complicated physical goal.
They may wonder how long it took the person in the video they watched online or if that will take them their entire life just to get there.
It’s normal to be intrigued. But mind you, handstand push ups will change the way how you think about the world of fitness.
You don’t need to be a gymnast or an Olympic athlete to get the benefits of handstand pushups. All you need is a little space, some determination, smart workouts, and a willingness to try something new!
After you read this blog post, we hope that you’ll want to give the handstand pushup journey a shot so you can experience the amazing benefits this advanced pushup exercise can offer and elevate your fitness level beyond!
The fundamentals of a handstand pushup
Where to start?
Fundamental basic strength and technique
Obviously, you won’t be starting with the handstand pushup (HSPU) right away. It demands a certain level of fitness and good body weight and body composition before you can begin with it.
Since this is a compound movement, you have to familiarize yourself first with the basics movements of push-ups and handstands.
Normal floor push-ups – First things first, you should have enough shoulder, chest, and tricep strength before trying handstand push-ups.
Regular, normal pushups are a great place to start for building that kind of strength and stability in the shoulders while putting also minimal weight on them.
You can also do elevated (or negative) push-ups where you have your feet on an elevated surface like a bench or chair with your hands touching the ground below it and then slowly lowering yourself down to increase the intensity.
Standard push-ups don’t only offer the basic pushing strength requirement but also ingrain the proper technique for the push-up mechanics.
These pushup variations are somehow related to each other so implementing them into your workout one way or another provides massive benefits in overall fitness and our current specific goal.
Handstand hold – One of the positions in the handstand pushup is, obviously, a handstand. Being able to hold the inverted position allows the handstand pushup to be performed with perfect form and also builds a solid foundation for handstand pushups.
Once you are comfortable with the two movements, you can start training for your first handstand pushup variation.
Don’t be overconfident though. Controlling your full body weight in such an awkward body motion is not an easy feat. A wall might not even be enough to help you out.
Always be safe in executing these movements. The last thing you want is plummeting your head straight into the ground.
Choose the progression that suits your skill level. There are also tons of exercises you can use to build up your fitness level.
ANOTHER OPTION and BETTER OPTION: MASTER THE BASICS
Mastering the basic exercises will offer faster, more efficient, more enjoyable, and safer progress towards the handstand push-ups.
Fundamentals cover physical pushing and pulling strength, mobility, and skill. This way, you get a more general sense of preparedness when moving towards a specific skill.
You’ll also get to develop your core and bodyline further which massively helps in technique development.
For more fundamental work, you can check out The Movement Athlete.
Types of handstand push-ups
There are a few variations of handstand push-ups. Some are more difficult and some are easier.
Easier variations can be used to bridge the strength and skill gap for the strict full handstand push-ups.
Harder variations are perfect goals once you have mastered the strict and standard form.
Range-modified handstand push-up
Altering the range of handstand push-up can be used to either increase or decrease the intensity of the exercise.
Added block at the bottom to restrict the range of motion and make the exercise easier
A decreased range of motion allows execution of hspu while the complete overhead pressing strength is not yet there. To perform, simply keep your head further away from the floor. You can do this by placing an elevated surface close to the top of your head. When you lower down, let your head rest on top of the elevated surface. You can keep your head high at first then slowly lower the elevation as you grow stronger.
Advanced athlete Jonathan MacMahon showing a very deep handstand push-up.
Increased range of motion of hspu extends to a position lower than the hands. You will need an elevated surface such as a set of parallettes so you can go deeper into the handstand push-ups. This variation demands a high level of shoulder pressing strength.
Kipping handstand push-up
Coach, Kristi Eramo O Cornnell teaching how to use momentum for handstands
This variation involves momentum to the equation. It lessens the strength requirement due to the kick and allows you to rest at the bottom position, but the technique is good for teaching how to control momentum and the press-up technique.
Many athletes use this for explosiveness or sport-specific techniques since you will not be controlling your full body weight because of the added momentum.
Wall handstand push-up
Wall assistance is a great way to build up strength especially when the balance component is the one holding you back to perform handstand push-ups. You can add reps without the mental fatigue of balancing your body weight. Plus, the access to a wall is literally free!
Tom Merrick demonstrating a chest-to-wall hspu
You can either start the handstand push-ups with the chest facing the wall to recreate the feeling of the actual skill. It puts weight similar to the actual hspu.
Or do it with your back facing the wall when the former is still too heavy and too scary for your current skill level. Mind you that proper technique should be used to maximize what you can get from the exercise.
- Hands not too far from the wall to avoid the banana back
- Hands a bit wider than shoulder-width to maximize pushing strength.
- Tucked elbows for more skill transfer and avoid injuries.
- Head near the wall.
- Weight primarily placed on the delts
- Hollow body
Supported handstand push-up
Leg supported handstand push-ups or also known as pike push ups are the perfect introductory exercise to the hspu. You can easily scale the exercise by adjusting the leg position and simulate the overhead movement pattern. The more vertical you can get, the close you are to getting to the handstand push-up.
Freestanding handstand push-up
Alex “el eggs” Lorenz of Calisthenics Movement doing a solid hspu
The freestanding variation is our main target for this article. This exercise builds up strength, muscles, control, and balance since the movement is free of any assistance.
If you want to learn this variation, it’s vital to first master a perfect form of a freestanding handstand.
90-degree handstand pushup
One of the hardest push-up variations by Daniel Vadnal of FitnessFAQs
Once you have mastered the freestanding handstand push-up, you can move towards this variation which requires an extreme level of pressing strength and control.
Compared to the regular hspu, the 90-degree angle hspu moves you from a handstand position to a bent-arm planche with your body parallel to the floor.
Athletes able to perform this variation have complete mastery of the hspu, deep hspu, and bent arm planche position.
Although it seems more impossible compared to the handstand push-up, it is very possible to learn and master if you work smart towards this goal.
Muscle Groups Involved in a Handstand Push-Up
Before we get into the whole fiasco of why we should start this excellent display of upper body strength, let us first look into the muscle groups involved in this compound movement.
Your shoulders carry most of your weight in a handstand position. What more if you do a push-up while in a handstand position. Your shoulders will surely feel the burn for the movement but I assure you that your shoulders will be as strong as a bull.
Simply, your pecs or your chest muscles are also activated in doing a handstand push-up just like when you are performing a normal standard push-up.
When you dip for a push-up while in a handstand position, your triceps give your elbows the power to lift yourself back up in a handstand position again.
This muscle group can be found above your biceps. To be able to maintain your balance and do that press for the pushup, your deltoids are ready to serve you.
Look at your back in the mirror. If you can visualize a V-shaped muscle from the base of your back deltoid down to your middle back, that would be your Trapezius. This back muscle stabilizes your shoulders to carry your weight.
Responsible for your stabilization in performing the handstand pushup itself, this muscle group can be found at the side of your ribs extending to your back. This is a commonly unrecognized and undertrained muscle that needs equal loving like the efforts we put on our shoulder press.
Another stabilizer muscles
To even hold the inverted position, and push your entire body weight using your upper body, the entire body needs to work like clockwork. The core and glutes play a major role in doing so.
For emphasis, the mentioned muscle groups are not the only ones involved in performing a hspu. YOUR WHOLE BODY is required to perform the deed.
PROPER FORM of a Handstand Push Up
Despite “knowing how to do a handstand”, we strongly encourage you to master the proper technique first before advancing to the handstand push-ups.
This is the perfect freestanding handstand:
Here’s a round down on the handstand form:
- Feet pointed and together
- Knees and elbows extended at full extension
- Hips fully extended and stacked onto your body
- Core engaged (good cue: Posterior pelvic tilt)
- Lumbar spine in a neutral position
- Shoulders full elevated and open
- From wrist, shoulders, hips, to your feet: everything stacked into one line
- Hands slightly wider than shoulder
Your GOAL is to be able to do this hold in a COMFORTABLE manner which allows you to efficiently and consistently hold a handstand without too much effort so you can focus on the shoulder press.
You have to make sure that you build upon your strength to be able to support yourself in the handstand position and to sustain that position long enough for a handstand push-up (ideally around 30 seconds).
Be mindful in keeping your body alignment straight. Your hips must be fully extended as well as your elbows and wrists. Your spine must be in a neutral position and NOT LIKE THIS:
The ultimate step for you to reach before performing a handstand push-up is to be able to sustain the handstand position in PROPER FORM.
READ MORE: Best Tips for Achieving A Handstand
The 45-degree angle during the bent-arm handstand (lower hold) before you do the press-up is VERY IMPORTANT for a SUCCESSFUL HANDSTAND PUSH-UP. This angle will help you to stabilize while pushing yourself towards the ground and keeps your movement shoulder-dominant.
A 45-degree body hold at the lowest point performed by calisthenics athlete Simon Ata of Simonstrength
For the handstand pushups, keep in mind these details which are very similar to the push-up mechanics:
- Elbows tucked
- Lowest point has elbows at a 90-degree
- Lean forward when lowering down
- Maintain straight bodyline
- Use shoulders primarily for the pushing
- Forearms perpendicular to the ground
WHY DO HANDSTAND PUSHUPS
After the lengthy discussion on what and how do you perform handstand push-ups, here are 9 MAJOR REASONS WHY YOU WANT TO BE DOING HANDSTAND PUSHUPS to become a better athlete without relying on barbell press-ups.
1. Very effective to build strength in your shoulders and upper body
Since a handstand push-up is a compound movement of a handstand and a push-up which both target the upper body, performing this can obviously strengthen your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
According to B.K.S. Iyengar, the venerable founder of Iyengar yoga, sustaining a handstand itself requires you to have stronger upper body muscles. What more if you are performing handstand push-ups.
The overhead shoulder pressing strength is roughly equal to doing shoulder press using weights with an added balance component.
2. Improve your balance, focus, and brain function
Being in an inverted position means that blood will rush to your brain. An abundant oxygen supply will be delivered to the brain which will be used to function and to focus effectively. Aside from that, the inverted position also elevates your mood and reduces the risk for depression as discussed by the “Yoga Journal.”
Hanging upside down will totally give you a different perspective on how you see the world. LITERALLY. Hence, performing handstand push-ups motivate you to focus more to maintain your balance.
3. Increase your glute and core power
Handstand push-ups are more challenging than normal push-ups and crunches mainly because you are performing the movement against gravity.
Simply put, you are putting more work into your glutes and core when you have to pull yourself up after pressing for a handstand push-up. You have to engage your core and glutes completely to maintain your balance and power.
This additional work makes this movement beneficial than the other movements
4. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable
We all know that challenges excite us. Doing the same things over and over again will make us resistant to the effect that these things can give us.
If you are so used to doing push-ups or handstands and they don’t challenge you anymore, the benefit of building stronger muscles doesn’t really show.
Trying to do something uncomfortable like handstand push-ups will continuously keep your interest and challenge you to do better at it.
Let’s just say that it’s similar to dating. You don’t want to always do the same thing every single time and still feel the excitement and engagement from your partner.
Read more on how to push yourself every time: 7 Methods of Progressing in Calisthenics
As long as you are motivated to do better at something you are not, the results of that hard work will surely pay off.
5. Open to more advanced calisthenics skills
Many advanced exercises share the same mechanics and muscle requirements similar to the hspu. When you master this movement, it means that you already have excellent upper body strength and full-body control.
You can then transition to more advanced variations or to other skills such as the planche which also require a high level of shoulder pressing strength.
6. Significant back pain reduction
Being upside-down releases the gravitational pressure off your nerve roots and discs in your space. As discussed by Dr. Lakowski of Mayo Clinic, you will have more space between your vertebrae hence decompressing your spine relieves back pain.
Although, this is not advisable for someone who has high blood pressure and glaucoma since blood will be rushing to your brain. Before implementing exercises in your workout, seek professional help first.
7. Definitely a stress-reliever
According to published medical studies of Teeter, stress is typically related to increasing tension in your muscles that can cause pain and inflammation. Being inverted in a handstand push-up helps the body to circulate the blood to reach the sore muscles. Aside from that, this blood circulation helps the lymphatic system flush out the toxin build-up from the muscles that cause tension and stress.
Perform a handstand push-up and it will enable your body to rehydrate the discs, reduce nerve pressure, realign the spine and relax the tense muscles which definitely reduce stress.
8. Build boulder shoulders and arms
While barbell and weight training can be an excellent choice for developing hypertrophy, bodyweight training has an answer for overhead pressing development.
The handstand pushup can be integrated into your workouts so you can build bigger muscles, especially with your shoulders and arms. You can always focus on the wall-assisted variation so you can train more reps without having to think about balancing.
Pike push-ups with feet on the floor or elevated can also help further building those boulder shoulders and massive arms.
Since the balance component is out of the equation, it will be easier to perform the exercise and rep out for maximum bodybuilding potential using only bodyweight.
9. You can do it anywhere, anytime
What we love about bodyweight training and this exercise is that you can train it for free without any other equipment.
All you need is a sturdy wall then you are ready for your training.
If you can’t do a handstand or even push-ups, that is totally fine. You can check out our fundamental course on The Movement Athlete Academy.
Take the free assessment so we can provide you a fully personalized training program professionally and efficiently to help you get where you need to be and to see how you stack up on the road to the handstand and other fundamental calisthenics moves.