Handstand Push Up – Complete Guide [VIDEO]



The handstand push up is the ultimate bodyweight shoulder exercise and requires exceptional strength and body control. Not only does it push the deltoids to their limits, but it tests the ability of the lower back, abs and obliques to maintain stability throughout the movement.

Not many athletes can say they can perform handstand push ups with perfect form. This is often the case because athletes neglect building up to the handstand push up, and instead assume they have the strength already. This assumption often leads athletes to compensate with lower back and neck engagement, leading to muscle knots and sometimes even injuries.

This is a complete guide on mastering the handstand push up with correct progression. This guide will give detailed information regarding the progression of the handstand push up, focusing on core and shoulder development.

Handstand Push Ups require lots of CORE & SHOULDER strength

Table of Contents
1. Core For Handstand Push Ups
2) Shoulder Strength For Handstand Push Ups
3) Putting It All Together

Building Core For Handstand Push Ups

The handstand push up is a vertical push exercise, and hence the muscles involved are similar to common exercises such as the dumbbell press. The major difference is that instead of the dumbbells in our example, the athlete is pressing their own bodyweight. Therefore, in addition to the significant muscular engagement through the deltoids and triceps, there is also much greater core engagement.

The core is made up of many different muscles, most of which are ‘postural muscles’ – meaning they are involved in stabilising the body. An underdeveloped core is the number 1 barrier facing athletes learning handstand push ups for the first time.

Often, this is because athletes focus on crunches, an exercise that works the core in only the most superficial sense. Crunches mostly work the rectus abdominis (your 6 pack muscles). Despite the fact they help with the development of aesthetically pleasing abs, crunches won’t help you achieve the handstand push up, which requires stability through the entire core.

One of the most important principles in training is specificity. The correct handstand shape is actually the same as the hollow body hold core exercise. The hollow body hold exercise is one of the most recommended core exercises by professional hand-balancers. Not only does it simulate core activation in the same way as the handstand, but it teaches full body tension – an important principle to understand when completing the handstand push up.

By learning full body tension, athletes can isolate the ‘push up’ in the handstand push up without compromising the handstand shape. Much like a smith machine is stabilised through a narrow range of motion, so too should a handstand be stabilised through a specific range of motion.

Biomechanically, we are designed to move in specific patterns, and moving outside of these patterns can put increased stress on muscles and joints, and can result in injury. By training to resist gravity and the tendency of muscles to relax, it is possible to retain safe positioning when performing skills such as handstands.

hollow body hold personal trainer

Building Shoulder Strength For Handstand Push Ups

Most people have weak shoulders, and this often becomes a bottleneck for progressing the handstand push up. Again, applying the principle of specificity to handstand push up training, we need to find a bodyweight exercise that best simulates the handstand push up but that’s significantly less difficult.

The most relevant exercise is the pike push up. This is a bodyweight push up variation that emphasises the deltoids. Pike push ups replicate the position of the handstand push up while allowing the legs to take some of the strain off the shoulders. Pike push ups are completed such that the hips are elevated, simulating a downward facing dog position.

Depending on the development of the shoulders, this exercise can be modified.

Regression: Pike Push Up With Resistance Band Support

To perform this variant, attach a resistance band to a bar above you. Pull the band down and thread yourself through it, allowing the band to rest at hip level. Complete the pike push up in this position. The higher the bar and the thicker the resistance band, the easier the pike push up will be.

resistance band set sqr
resistance band set sqr

Progression: Deep Pike Push Ups

Deep pike push ups are pike push ups that are completed either on parallettes or on parallel bars. By completing pike push ups on such equipment, athletes can move through a greater range of motion. This is key to learning the handstand push up, as the amount of force the shoulders produce is smallest at the beginning of the vertical push. By frequently training at this range, athletes can improve their shoulder strength significantly.

Starting On The Handstand Push Up

Having built sufficient core and shoulder strength, and having mastered the principle of full body tension, athletes can begin work on the handstand push up. Handstand push ups are most often completed against a wall.

Before attempting it, athletes should endeavour to have a solid wall handstand. Traditionally, at least in CrossFit, handstand push ups are done such that athletes are facing away from the wall. However, this forces athletes to arch or ‘banana’ in their handstands and can actually lead to lower back injury.

Learn more about handstand technique in our dedicated -> Blog Post

The correct technique is to walk up the wall with the feet while facing towards the wall. This allows athletes to hit the correct hollow body handstand position when on the wall. When primed for the handstand push up, athletes should only have their feet in contact with the wall.

Another key point is that the handstand should be completely vertical before attempting the handstand push up. This means athletes need to walk their hands right up to within 2 inches (5cm) of the wall. If the handstand is not vertical, lowering down into the handstand push up can place unnecessary strain on the lower back.

Athletes that aren’t confident with their handstands should consider handstand partner drills. The aim of these drills is to simulate handstands in a safe environment while removing distracting elements such as coming up and down the wall.

handstand tutorial

Very few people can do a perfect handstand push up, but hopefully after reading this guide you will have a better understanding and a newfound respect for this fantastic exercise. Remember that before attempting the handstand push up, your focus should be core and shoulder strength, and above all, a solid handstand.

* Check out our comparison blog post on The Difference Between Handstands in Yoga & Handstands in Gymnastics / Calisthenics


Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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