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Get Olympic-Sized Shoulders With Handstand Push-Ups...the BEST Bodyweight Shoulder Exercise in Existence

 

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The Handstand Push-Up is, in my opinion, THE single most effective shoulder exercise you can do, bodyweight OR free weight (or machine, I guess I should add).

The mechanics are exactly like a shoulder press but, since you're moving your bodyweight through space, you active the shoulder muscle fibers far more.

This exercise often is associated with mystery and danger...most people can't seem to wrap their head around doing an exercise upside-down like this and consider it dangerous because of the body position (if your shoulders give out, it's head that'll be pile driven into the floor).

Not only is this exercise NOT dangerous when performed correctly, it can build tremendous shoulder girdle strength as well as confidence in yourself for doing this crazy-look movement.

And honestly, there IS a reason that Olympic gymnasts do so many sets of the Handstand Push-Up...it flat out WORKS and it's one of the best way to develop the shoulders.

That being said, this IS a challenging movement and if you have blood pressure issues, balance issues, a fear of looking different in the gym, or anything else that might preclude you from doing this exercise, don't do it. Use your best judgement and take personal responsibility for your actions.

For myself, shoulders have always been my weakest link. I've always been limited on the barbell shoulder press by shoulder pain. Dumbells are better but I lose strength in that lift quickly if I don't keep up with it.

Then I tried Handstand Push-Ups and I was HOOKED...

The first few times I did them, I had a spotter grab my legs and hold me up so I didn't come crashing down on my head...I couldn't do full reps on my own. And if you're either not strong enough or you're not experienced with kicking up into a handstand, you may want to try that.

Once I got the technique down and built some strength, I made handstand push-ups a regular part of my shoulder training routine. To do this day, I always like to maintain strength enough to bang out at least 10 to 12 of these.

So right now, I want to give you a quick rundown on the handstand push-up and how to do it...

Here's the Clif Notes version...do a handstand beside a wall so that your feet are in contact with it. Lower yourself until your head touches the ground then push up.

Sounds simple, right?

Ok, yeah there is a bit more to it than that but it's actually not as complicated as you might think (and not as dangerous as you might think!).

 

Step 1: The Kick Up Into a Handstand

Now, the procedure I'm going to give you here is by no means the only way or necessarily even the BEST way to do the Handstand Push-Up. It's the way I do them and I think it works really well.

Place your hands about 3 inches away from the wall. Your starting position will be similar to a sprinter's at the start of the race - just get into that position with whichever leg back feels more natural - for me it's my right leg back further. The leg you will push up with is the one that is furthest back.

Bounce down a little then explode your legs up. I like to do it with split legs, catching the wall with the bottom of one foot to slow things down without smacking my heels.

Once you've got your feet up on the wall, straighten your legs. That's the top position of the handstand push-up!

The kick up requires practice to be able to do efficiently and without smacking your heels against the wall. Wear shoes when practicing! Practice it a few times to get the hang of it. You may want to do it on a mat or other padded surface the first few times.

Kick Up Into a Handstand
Kick Up Into a Handstand
Kick Up Into a Handstand
Kick Up Into a Handstand

Ensure you keep your elbows locked out or very close to it, and your elbows stiff. This will prevent you from crashing down on your head, which as you can imagine is pretty important.


Step 2: The Handstand Push-Up

Once you're in the top lockout position, it's time to do the push-up.

In my version, the heels stay in contact with the wall and slide up and down, allowing you to easily keep your balance while doing the exercise.

Lower yourself down under control until the top of your head touches the ground. Then push back up.

And yeah, it IS just that simple.

The Handstand Push-Up
The Handstand Push-Up

To view this exercise in action, move your mouse on an off the picture.

The range of motion is not huge, really only just a few inches...but the effect on the shoulders is tremendous.

You're moving your body through space in a closed-chain movement (where the hand or foot is fixed and the body moves as resistance rather than open-chain where the body is fixed and the limbs move around the body).

Closed-chain movements generally activate more muscle fibers than open-chain movements and are very effective for developing strength, power and muscle mass.

The other major factor, I believe, is the open hand position with your palms flat on the ground. I find this takes tension off the triceps and puts it more on the delts instead, making it a more effective movement than a similar short-range barbell shoulder press would be for the shoulders.


Step 3: The Drop Down From the Handstand

The way down from the handstand isn't hard. My preference is again to split the legs so that you're basically dropping one leg down, then the other. This helps me keep balance and cushion the landing. Once the first foot is down, the other is already on the way.

The Drop Down From the Handstand

 

Step 4: Tips, Tricks and Techniques to Make Handstand Push-Ups Even BETTER...

1. To focus on the delts more, turn your hands inward somewhat so that your fingers are pointing at each other a little (not too much).

2. A spotter can be used to hold your body upright and to help pull you up if you need it. If you want to add resistance, get a spotter to push down on your legs.

3. A great way to improve your pushing power is to do them with a bottom-stop. At the bottom of each rep, let your body weight rest mostly on your head, releasing much of the tension off your shoulders (not so much that you hurt yourself, obviously). This will eliminate any elastic force you may have in your muscles. This has the added effect of building up your neck muscles. At that point, develop tension in the delts then push up explosively.

4. Splay your fingers out as wide as possible. This will help with controlling your motion and balance. It will also improve hand strength. Don't have your fingers flat on the floor...keep them bent so that you can exert force. It will make your hands resemble a claw.

5. To make the exercise harder, you can use increase the range of motion by using blocks, dumbells, plates, etc. Essentially, anything that puts you higher up even by a few inches is going to the exercise tougher.

6. If you're not strong enough to do full reps, to static holds in the top handstand position. Hold for as long as you can then lower yourself slowly, fighting the negative all the way down. This will help develop the strength you need to work the full movement.

7. If you're unsure about doing this exercise and would like to try an easier version of it, check out these versions instead...Pike Handstand Push-Ups and Horizontal Push-Ups.


Conclusion:

That's the Handstand Push-Up...one of THE single best exercises in existance, bodyweight or otherwise. If I was only allowed to do one shoulder exercise for the rest of my life, this one would be it, without question.

 


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