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Columns: Exercise Technique

Exercise Technique: Handstand Push-up

Johnson, Abigail BS; Meador, Melanie; Bodamer, Meghan BS; Langford, Emily BS; Snarr, Ronald L. PhD, CSCS*D, EP-C, NSCA-CPT

Author Information
Strength and Conditioning Journal: April 2019 - Volume 41 - Issue 2 - p 119-123
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000427

Abstract

TYPE OF EXERCISE

The handstand push-up is an upper-body, multijoint exercise designed to increase upper extremity, shoulder, and core stability, while also aiding in upper-body muscular strength and endurance. The handstand push-up is a prominent movement in gymnastics, acrobatics, tactical strength and conditioning, functional training, and can be incorporated into many individuals' training programs.

MUSCLES INVOLVED

Primary muscles involved in this exercise: anterior deltoid, middle deltoid, posterior deltoid, pectoralis major, upper trapezius, and triceps brachii (16).

Synergist muscles involved in this exercise are as follows: serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi, transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques (16).

BENEFITS OF THE EXERCISE

The handstand push-up is a closed kinetic chain exercise that incorporates the muscular activation and movement patterns of 3 commonly used exercises, specifically the handstand, shoulder press, and push-up. The use of closed kinetic chain exercises is common during late stages of shoulder rehabilitation, as well as throughout traditional strength and conditioning programs (1,2,6). Such exercises allow for improvements in muscular strength and endurance throughout a range of motion in both the glenohumeral and humeroulnar joints. Although this exercise is not a key movement in traditional training programs, athletes may benefit from including it as an assistance exercise. Previous research has shown that the implementation of body weight exercises may improve postural control and joint stability (1,2,6). This process occurs through co-contractions of both the agonists and antagonists of the upper extremity to promote joint stabilization (13). Although research in muscle activation of the handstand push-up is limited, Snarr et al. (12) and Uribe et al. (15) demonstrated core musculature recruitment during 2 of the movements that provide the basis for the handstand push-up (i.e., push-up and shoulder press, respectively) and, thereby, provided speculation that the handstand push-up may aid in an increase in trunk stability for the individual. Because this exercise can be modified with different weight-bearing loads with its beginner to advanced variations it can benefit a range of athletes and nonathletes.

In addition, the handstand push-up has recently been used as a screening tool to measure shoulder and upper-extremity strength and endurance in male gymnasts (11) and assess recovery status in advanced female gymnasts competing at the subelite level (3). Although the handstand push-up is a nontraditional strength exercise for most individuals, it may be particularly beneficial to female athletes who participate in sports where upper-body strength is needed (e.g., volleyball and swimming). Anatomically, females have smaller upper-body skeletal frames and less muscle mass as compared to males, and therefore, implementing exercises to increase musculature supporting the glenohumeral and humeroulnar joints may aid in increased sports performance (5,7,16). Furthermore, the addition of lean upper-body mass may increase resting metabolic rate and help those attempting to maintain a healthy body weight (7). In addition to the aforementioned information, varying the number of repetitions and changing the movement pattern of the exercise increases muscle activation allowing for greater potential benefits of muscular strength and hypertrophy (10). The handstand push-up requires no equipment allowing this movement to be useful within underequipped strength and conditioning programs, as well as individuals, athletes, and teams with a heavy travel schedule. The proper exercise technique is described as follows.

EXERCISE TECHNIQUE

STARTING POSITION

For this exercise, a spotter is recommended for safety and assistance for proper technique. The use of a wall may also be used when no spotter is present. Furthermore, a small exercise mat or cushion may be placed under the head for additional safety.

  • Place the hands prone on the ground and slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Keep the body in an inverted position with the hips and knees fully extended and close to or propped against the wall (Figure 1).
  • Be sure to brace the core musculature to stabilize the trunk and lower body.
  • The head should remain in a neutral position (i.e., aligned with the spine) throughout the exercise.

F1
Figure 1.:
Front view and side view of the beginning and ending position of each repetition.

ECCENTRIC PHASE (DOWNWARD MOVEMENT)

  • Begin the movement by inhaling and slowly descending the body toward the ground by adducting the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint and flexing the humeroulnar (elbow) joint (Figure 2A and 2B).
  • As the body lowers, keep the spine aligned and stabilized by bracing the core.
  • Maintain an erect body position by keeping the trunk and leg musculature fully extended in an isometric state with the feet together.
  • Continue the descent until the elbow joints either reach a ∼90° angle or until the head makes light contact with the exercise mat.
  • The tempo for this portion of the movement should be approximately 3–4 seconds.

F2
Figure 2.:
Midpoint of each repetition. (A) Side view; (B) Front view.

CONCENTRIC PHASE (UPWARD MOVEMENT)

  • Begin the concentric portion of the movement by abducting the shoulder joint while simultaneously extending the elbow joint to raise the body back up to the starting position (Figure 1).
  • As the body rises, keep the spine in a neutral position by bracing the core musculature.
  • The trunk and legs should remain in an isometric, fully extended state during this portion.
  • The tempo for this portion of the movement should be approximately 1 second.
  • Once the set is completed, slowly flex the hips to lower the legs to the ground while keeping the arms extended and core engaged.
  • The legs can be lowered one at a time or together depending on the athlete's level of ability.
  • Once both feet are firmly on the ground, slowly achieve a standing position being careful.

BEGINNER VARIATION

The beginner variation of the handstand push-up is an exercise that requires adequate shoulder stability. This movement requires the use of an exercise bench of medium-sized platform. To complete this version, the individual will assume a pike position by placing both feet on the bench and hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart on the ground (Figure 3A and 3B). This variation follows a similar technique to the handstand push-up. The individual will begin by adducting the shoulder joint and flexing the elbow joint while keeping the hips and legs in a pike position (∼90°) with the feet resting on the bench throughout the movement. The spine and hips should be aligned directly over the wrists. This variation allows for a reduction in intensity by decreasing the bodyweight load placed on the shoulder and arm musculature. This will allow the athlete to successfully complete repetitions of the exercise while further developing stability.

F3
Figure 3.:
Starting position (A) and midpoint (B) for beginning variation.

ADVANCED VARIATION

An advanced variation is recommended for those athletes looking for an increased challenge. This progression requires adequate core strength and shoulder stability and should not be attempted until the traditional handstand push-up with wall- or partner-assistance variation is mastered. For safety purposes, it is recommended that gym mats be placed in front of and behind the athletes in case of falling. To perform this movement, the athlete will assume the same starting position as the handstand push-up; however, this version is unassisted (Figure 4). The individual will then complete the movement by adducting the shoulder joints and flexing the elbow joints. Be sure to engage the core musculature throughout the movement to stabilize the trunk and lower body. In addition, the use of a secure, weighted vest can be used for those athletes seeking an advanced challenge as well as strength gains.

F4
Figure 4.:
Starting position for advanced variation.

SETS, REPETITIONS, AND PROGRESSION

The number of repetitions and sets will be based on the individual's skill level. For example, athletes that incorporate this exercise often (e.g., gymnasts) may excel from an early age and require different training recommendations. The individual should perform multiple repetitions safely and under control. As the level of comfort and ability increases with the movement, additional sets and repetitions may be included. The participant's fitness goals will aid in determining the proper number of sets and repetitions with recommendations below. Before attempting the handstand push-up, the individual should be able to perform 3 sets of 8–12 repetitions of the beginner variation and have the ability to transition into the starting position of a handstand push-up with proper technique.

  • Strength: 2–6 sets, ≤6 repetitions, 2- to 5-minute rest period
  • Hypertrophy: 3–5 sets, 6–12 repetitions, 60- to 90-second rest period
  • Endurance: 2–3 sets, ≥12 repetitions, ≤30-second rest period
  • Power (intermediate and advanced training status only and performed with an explosive concentric phase): 2–6 sets, 3–6 repetitions, 2- to 5-minute rest period

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

The handstand push-up is an upper-body, closed kinetic chain, multijoint exercise designed to increase upper-extremity muscular endurance, strength, and joint stability (4,5,8). Incorporating handstand push-ups into a general conditioning program is shown to help maintain a healthy body weight due to the caloric expenditure of the exercise and differentiation of weight-bearing loads to improve postural control (4,8,9). The transference of these benefits may be crucial for those involved in gymnastics, acrobatics, or those requiring upper-body balance and stabilization. The handstand push-up may also be used for individuals with a goal of increasing functional movement in activities of daily living that require continued use of upper-body and over the head movements (9,14). Therefore, practitioners should consider the implementation of the handstand push-up into an exercise program, which may be beneficial for varying levels of training goals and experience.

REFERENCES

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