Handstand push-up muscles differ from those of traditional push-ups in that the handstand push-up places much more focus on the shoulder muscles and less on the chest, as in conventional push-ups. The handstand push-up is an advanced exercise and requires caution when executing.
In a kipping handstand push-up, one of the most popular forms of handstand push-ups, the dynamic force that you use originates from the shoulder, scapula and clavicle, elbow, lumbar spine, hip and knee, according to ExRx.net.
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The elbow, spine, hip and knee are all responsible for extension. The scapula and clavicle are responsible for upward rotation and the shoulder is responsible for abduction and flexion.
A kipping handstand push-up is commonly used in CrossFit workouts and competitions. To perform this movement, as well as a standard handstand push-up, you need to be very physically fit.
According to a March 2018 article published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, shoulder joint function and stability are imperative to daily life. The shoulder is very vulnerable to injuries in the bone, muscle, tendon, ligament and bursa. The study notes that in today's society, there is a higher incidence of shoulder pain and abnormalities to bad posture and repetitive work tasks.
Keeping the shoulder complex strong can help avoid conditions such as forward head posture and rounded shoulder posture, which are some of the most common structural abnormalities of the shoulder complex.
While you can maintain shoulder strength and build shoulder muscles without needing to be as physically fit as a CrossFit athlete, training with this exercise in mind as a motivator to work toward is a fantastic way to keep your shoulders strong and healthy. Just be careful to go slowly and not push yourself past your limits.
Handstand Push-Up How-To
Following are instructions on how to do a strict handstand push-up. Please do not attempt this exercise unless you are very physically fit and have strong shoulder muscles and no injuries. It is best if you have a spotter, a person nearby that can catch you if you start to fall. Make sure the area around you is clear of anything that you could fall into and hurt yourself.
Move 1: Strict Handstand Push-Up
- Place your hands between 1/2 to 1 foot away from a wall, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your palms should be facing forward or turned out slightly, whichever is most comfortable.
- Kick yourself up into a handstand until your heels touch the wall.
- While in this position, brace your core and keep it rigid. One way to think about this is to brace as if you were going to be punched in the stomach.
- In this position, begin to lower yourself slowly until your head touches the floor. Maintain an approximate 45-degree angle in your elbows as you lower down.
- Once the top of your head touches the floor; then press back up, maintaining your core rigidity until your elbows fully extend.
Move 2: Kipping Handstand Push-Up
A kipping push-up will differ from a strict push-up in that you'll have help from your momentum to press up. There is a definite risk of injury, however, since you will be exploding upward; you could easily tip over, so be careful of this.
- On your knees facing a wall, place the top of your head on the floor, near to the wall without touching it. The back of your head will now be facing the wall, and you will be looking away from the wall.
- Place your hands on either side of you within your line of sight and form a triangle between your head and your hands.
- Slowly straighten your knees and lift your hips. Place each knee on the elbow of the same side.
- Lift your feet off of the floor and raise your knees off of your elbows slowly by straightening your spine. You will need to use your core strength for this.
- Your hips will touch the wall briefly before you use your arms and shoulders to push your body up, quickly extending your legs up and back along the wall. The back of your feet will be touching the wall for balance.
- Place your head between your arms while straightening your arms.
- Slowly descend your head toward the floor and then lower your legs one by one by bending at the hip and knees. In this lowered position, your hips will touch the wall.
- Once your knees are fully flexed, quickly kick your legs up and repeat.
Read more: Benefits of Headstands
Handstand Push-Ups: Muscles Used
The shoulder and back muscles take the brunt of the action during a handstand push-up. Push muscle groups are used similarly during any shoulder press exercise. Regular push-ups mostly use the chest muscles similar to when performing a bench press. Push-ups also utilize the front deltoid muscles more than a handstand push-up. A handstand push-up calls upon all three parts of the shoulder delta —the anterior, medial and posterior deltoids.
Moreover, during a handstand push-up, your muscles are stimulated much more than during a standard push-up. This is because your entire body weight is moved against gravity during a handstand push-up.
Most of the muscles used in a handstand push-up are not those that you are still relying on for everyday activities. Most people will have a tough time pushing their body weight up using their hands, arms and shoulders in this way.
This is why kipping, a kind of push using momentum to help support upward motion, relying less on the shoulders to push the load, is used. This helps you perform a kipping handstand push-up with less strength than if you were to perform it without kipping.
The shoulder is a significant player for handstand push-up muscles. Any part of your shoulder can become injured, and it is one of the most injury-prone parts of your body due to its high mobility, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
One of the best ways to strengthen the muscles used for a handstand push-up, particularly the shoulders, is to perform a push press. The push muscle groups used with dynamic force to drive the barbell up off your shoulders in a powerful explosive movement that will mimic the type of strength and muscle recruitment needed to perform a handstand push-up.
During a push press, your hip, knee and elbow will provide extension while your ankle and shoulder will be in flexion. Your shoulder will abduct, while your scapula and clavicle will provide upward rotation. As you can see from the comparison with the handstand push-up, similar actions are taking place during both exercises.
Besides the shoulders, the chest and back muscles such as the trapezius, latissimus dorsi and back extensors take on a large portion of the work needed for handstand push-ups and are involved in standing and lifting motions. Your arm muscles, mainly the triceps, will also take on a large part of the load.
Another big piece of the picture is your abdominals and entire core, which includes those back muscles mentioned above. You'll need to brace and tighten your core throughout this whole movement.
Handstand Push-Up Cautions
According to an October 2018 article published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, CrossFit training is relatively safe compared with more traditional training modalities. Still, it is essential to be careful if you are less than a year into your CrossFit training and work out fewer than three times per week, as these conditions have been found to put you at a higher risk for injuries.
The study revealed that injuries to the shoulder accounted for the most substantial amount, at 39 percent, of all CrossFit injuries.
Any exercise comes with an inherent risk, but handstand push-ups are arguably more dangerous than a lot of other exercises. Be sure to warm up thoroughly before attempting this exercise and do not perform any movements that cause pain.
- Journal of Physical Therapy Science: "The Effects of Shoulder Stabilization Exercises and Pectoralis Minor Stretching on Balance and Maximal Shoulder Muscle Strength of Healthy Young Adults With Round Shoulder Posture"
- ExRx.net: "Kipping Handstand Push-up"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Shoulder Pain and Common Shoulder Problems"
- Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine: "A 4-Year Analysis of the Incidence of Injuries Among CrossFit-Trained Participants"