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Muscle Groups for Handstand Push-Ups

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Muscle Groups for Handstand Push-Ups
Master the handstand before trying a push-up variation. Photo Credit FluxFactory/iStock/Getty Images

The first step in doing a handstand push-up? Conquering your fear of turning upside down. Once you've gotten that far, you've still got your work cut out for you. You'll need to develop incredible strength and control through much of your upper body to press up and down. Understand which muscles work during a handstand push-up to know how to develop them for your handstand push-up success.

The Shoulders

When you're standing on your hands, legs straight up in the air, your shoulders bear the brunt of your weight -- especially as you bend the elbows and press back up in a push-up. The anterior deltoids, the front of the shoulder cap, specifically, are most-used. This muscle connects your arms to your chest and helps with pushing, swinging and lifting actions.

Overhead presses, such as a dumbbell shoulder press or a barbell press work these muscles so that they become strong enough to bear your body weight.

To do a dumbbell shoulder press:

  • Sit on a workout bench. Start with one with back support and progress to one without. Eventually, perform the press from a standing position, which engages more core to keep you stable.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and position them right by your shoulders. Your palms face forward and your elbows flare out slightly below your wrists.
  • Press the weights up and overhead until your elbows are straight. Bend the elbows to return the weights to the shoulders. This completes one repetition.

Include the press in two to three upper body workouts per week. Use heavy weights that permit you to maintain good form. Aim for three to four sets total, with each containing eight to 10 repetitions.

Read More: Standing Shoulder Presses with Dumbbells

Shoulder presses train the anterior deltoids.
Shoulder presses train the anterior deltoids. Photo Credit gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

They're Not Alone

The handstand push-up is known as a compound exercise, meaning it uses multiple joints -- and, therefore, muscles. While the shoulders are the primary mover, many muscles work as synergists, or helpers, to get the job done.

Pectoralis Major: The biggest chest muscle is the pec major. It's shaped like a fan to span much of your chest wall. The handstand push-up emphasizes the upper, or clavicular, region of this muscle.

Triceps Brachii: A three-headed muscle located at the back of your upper arm, the triceps are responsible for extension of the elbow. When you press back up to straight arms from a push-up, they engage.

Lateral Deltoid: Your anterior deltoids have two counterparts, the posterior (or rear) and lateral (or top) deltoids. In a handstand push-up the top portion engages to balance your body weight and facilitate the press.

Trapezius: A major back muscle, the trapezius stabilizes the scapula, or shoulder blades, and keeps your neck in extension. The handstand push-up utilizes primarily the upper and middle portion of this wide, broad muscle.

Serratus Anterior: Sometimes referred to as the boxer's muscle, it spans the uppermost ribs -- wrapping from your back to your chest. It helps stabilize the shoulder blades during the handstand push-up.

The Importance of Stability

A handstand push-up isn't just about muscle contraction. Several muscles help stabilize your body during the move. Your core -- specifically the muscles of the abdomen and the erector spinae that run along the spine -- must engage to keep you from collapsing at the hips or torso.

Your biceps, particularly the shortest head, and the long head of the triceps helps keep your elbow straight at the top of the handstand. The upper trapezius and levator scapulae, of the neck, provide support to your neck and cervical spine while you're in the upside down position too.

Use a wall for support to learn the muscle action.
Use a wall for support to learn the muscle action. Photo Credit sumnersgraphicsinc/iStock/Getty Images

Start Modestly

If you've got the strength to hold a handstand and are shoulder pressing more than you're body weight, you're ready to work toward a full handstand push-up. Begin in a handstand with your feet supported by a wall. This helps you develop the muscle memory to do the action. Overtime, work to a straight handstand push-up without support of a spotter or wall.

Read More: What is the Hardest Push-up?

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