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Why you need to do handstand push-ups

One of the best ways to train your shoulders without equipment is to perform handstand push-ups. Here's how you do it

Handstand push-ups are a great way to get strong shoulders.
Handstand push-ups are a great way to get strong shoulders. (Istockphoto)

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Shoulder workouts are unique in the way they incorporate both push and pull exercises. They are also very responsive to workouts, partly due to their incorporation in exercises for other muscle groups as well. The shoulder will be activated and loaded whether you’re working your chest, arms, and even back. The key of course, is to isolate the muscle you are targeting, but the shoulder is still a key element of a fit lifestyle. 

This is why it is important to keep your shoulders healthy and fit. While that involves regular rehabilitation work, it is also a good idea to challenge your shoulders with bodyweight exercises that aid the functional capacity of the muscles. And one of the best ones for that is our skill of the month: to work your way up to a handstand push-up. 

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It’s okay to question why one has to perform the handstand push-up if you can pick up a bar, add some weights, and just do a basic barbell (or dumbbell) shoulder press. But there are some remarkable advantages which pip the scales towards the handstand push-up. First, and most importantly, it doesn’t require any equipment and offers the same kind of strength and mass building. The other massive advantage is doing the exercise with limited points of contact, with your body upside-down (initially with wall support of course) which makes it an extremely difficult but effective exercise. 

“Flipping upside-down regularly helps to encourage venous return—or blood flow back to the heart—which tends to slow down as we age. You are essentially giving your heart a well-deserved break by helping blood flow from the lower extremities and back for fresh oxygenation. Some people also believe that inversions can improve immunity by reversing the flow of toxins into the digestive system for elimination,” writes Grace Kavaldo in a article titled Handstand Push-Ups: The Press You Need To Learn. Kavaldo is a Progressive Calisthenics trainer, along with expertise in yoga and kettlebell training. 

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She also suggests a popular progression pattern to eventually achieve a full handstand push-up. The starting point is always the pike push-up, which is very easy to do. The pike push-up will prime your shoulders to take the load off the chest, so the angle of performing it is slightly different to the regular push-up. 

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Step two for me would be wall walks: this is when you just walk back up a wall and then walk back down. You are simultaneously walking your hands back and forth as well as the angle between your body and the wall narrows. This will teach your shoulders stability and this is when you learn to brace your core so that your lower back doesn’t arch and take all the load. 

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Step three would be to perform an overhead push-up once you’re at the top of a wall walk. This is also known as a wall facing handstand push-up. Basically you’ll be looking at the wall with your feet supported on it, and performing a push-up. Test your strength here, make sure you go only as deep as the shoulders allow before building up to more reps. But this is the move that is the main building block to mastering the handstand push-up. 

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The next step would be a wall kick-up. Now this one needs to be done once you trust your body, and especially your shoulders to be able to hold yourself up. You can start with a wall kick-up handstand. The below video is a good learner’s guide. The difference between a kick-up and a wall-walk is that you will be facing away from the wall when you do the former, rather than towards it. This is important to learn when you eventually graduate to doing a full hand-stand without any wall-support. 

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The final handstand push-up needs a lot of expertise, balance, practice, and patience. But the kick-up push-up is enough in terms of shoulder work. The biggest advantage of this push-up is the way it works the core which is continuously keeping you up against gravity. The mind is activated with the slight fear of falling and that helps the mind-muscle connection. Every other press done with weights after learning this one will become easier simply because if you can do this one, then lifting a bar over your shoulders is no big deal. You can use parallettes, plates and other items to incorporate into the wall-supported hand-stand push-up as well. So if you’re looking for an exercise which activates your pecs, your triceps, shoulders, abs, and increases your balance and overall control on the body, then this is the one.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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