Most people do overhead press variations and isolation exercises to train their upper body pushing muscles (e.g., triceps, shoulders, and chest). But there’s one bodyweight exercise that’s very overlooked and that will challenge even the strongest of humans… that’s the handstand push-up.
Now, it’s not for everyone as you do have to be able to lift your legs overhead and press yourself up from an upside-down position. But for those who are capable, it makes for a superior exercise that you can do almost anywhere.
In this guide, we’ve explained how to do it with variations, tips, and more.
- Target Muscle Group: Triceps brachii, deltoids
- Type: Hypertrophy, strength
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: None/bodyweight
- Difficulty: Advanced
As the name suggests, the triceps is considered a three-headed muscle that consists of a lateral, medial, and long head, that when visible, usually creates a horseshoe-like appearance.
Each head has a different origin but all attach distally to form a single tendon. The triceps muscles are primarily responsible for extending the elbow.
The lateral head is on the outer side of the upper arm and is usually the strongest out of the three triceps heads. It also, when well-developed, contributes to the appearance of the upper arm having more width.
The medial head is located between the lateral and long head and isn’t typically as visible as the other two heads. Although, it still contributes to size.
The long head has its origins at the scapula and therefore, unlike the medial head, not only helps to extend the elbow but also has minor action at the shoulder joint (extension) as well. It also helps to adduct (bring arm toward the centerline of the body) the arm and prevent displacement of the humerus or upper arm bone.
The deltoid anterior or front deltoid is one of the three heads that make up the shoulder muscles.
This muscle is involved in arm flexion, stabilizing the arm while the deltoid lateral abducts the arms (raise the arm away from the midline of the body).
It also works with the pectoralis major to flex the arm when walking.
The handstand push-up involves a lot of front deltoid.
The deltoid lateral is one of the three heads that make up the shoulder muscles. When all three shoulder muscles contract simultaneously, the deltoid lateral muscle abducts the arm from 15-100 degrees.
The deltoid lateral also helps to stabilize and prevent displacement of the glenohumeral joint while the arm is pressed against the body.
When developed, this muscle gives width to the upper body.
Pectoralis major clavicular head
The clavicular head of the pectoralis or major chest muscle is located on the upper portion of the chest near the clavicle area. It causes flexion of the extended arm.
Elevating the feet during any push-up allows us to place more of an emphasis on this muscle.
Pectoralis major sternal head
The sternal head is the lower portion of the chest. It causes extension of the flexed arm.
The serratus anterior also commonly called the “boxer’s muscle”, is a fan-shaped muscle located along the outer ribs between the pectoralis and latissimus dorsi muscles. it’s actually divided into three parts.
It functions to protract the arms or pull them forward and it also works with the traps to upwardly rotate the shoulder blades and raise the arms overhead.
The teres major is also a rotator cuff muscle that’s located on the underside of the upper arm near the teres minor. It helps to stabilize the upper portion of the humerus, medially rotate the humerus, and works with the lats to move the humerus back and down when extended.
How To Do A Handstand Push-Up
The handstand push-up is more of an advanced movement which means you should already be able to do a handstand if you are to safely and effectively perform this exercise.
If you can hold a handstand then you’re most of the way there but here’s a basic guideline of how to do it.
- Get into a handstand with your arms wider than shoulder-width, feet together, and hands pointed forward. Find a hand position comfortable for you.
- Lower your body down by moving your shoulders forward and keep your head lifted. Your elbows should be back and not out to the sides. Your upper arms should be about parallel to the ground at the bottom.
- Making sure to keep your body straight, press yourself back up to the starting position. and repeat for the desired number of reps.
Here’s a great video example of the handstand push-up that also includes tips…
Handstand push-up tips
- You want to maintain a straight body throughout the movement. If you have to arch your back, this could be due to a lack of total body control and shoulder strength.
- Your body should not lower into a horizontal position as this also means overcompensation for a lack of strength and control.
- You want to keep your elbows back and closer to your body. This allows you to move your body forward and it also prevents shoulder injury.
- You can also use parallette bars that will allow you to use a larger range of motion but it also requires more strength.
- You should be able to hold a straight and bent-arm handstand comfortably to be able to do this exercise.
- If you can’t do a handstand push-up, use progressions until you can. Pike push-ups and negative/wall handstand push-ups are good ways to progress. Check the above videos for great tips.
How To Incorporate Handstand Push-Ups Into Your Training Regime
The handstand push-up is simply an exercise that you’d do to train your shoulder and triceps muscles.
That means you’d treat it like any exercise. Therefore, if you had limited resources, you could do this exercise only to maximize the challenge of training your shoulder muscles. But it’d be better to include it with your other shoulder exercises.
Because it’s technically a shoulder press variation, you may not want to do a lot of other overhead presses in addition to it, especially if you do pressing movements several times per week.
But how you incorporate it really depends on your goals because if you’re training just to get better at this movement, then practice makes perfect.
We recommend anywhere from 2-3 sets to a few reps shy of failure for safety, or if you’re more advanced, you can go to failure.
But there’s no right answer to this as again, your goals will determine how you want to use it.
The handstand push-up is a challenging exercise and there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s also extremely effective for building up the upper body muscles and overall fitness.
There are ways to progress into the handstand push-up as everyone has to learn it at some point. But for those who want to hop right in, we hope you found these tips helpful.