Among the most challenging body-weight exercises is the handstand pushup. You perform the move from a vertical position, often supported against a wall or with a spotter, by bending the elbows until your head is just barely above the floor. You need extreme strength and balance to master this move that is often used in extreme athletic training.
You do move your body weight during a traditional pushup, but you have the support of your feet as well as your hands. During a handstand pushup, your upper body bears 100 percent of your body weight versus the 60 percent during a regular pushup.
The muscles that bear all your weight are the three heads of the deltoids, the upper chest, upper back and triceps. All of your abdominal muscles - including the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis and the obliques - must activate significantly to keep your balance. You also build functional forearm strength during a handstand pushup.
Pushup Vs. Shoulder Press
A handstand pushup uses the same muscle mechanics as a shoulder press but with greater emphasis on balance and core. Being able to press the barbell equivalent of your own body weight over your head does not guarantee you have the massive strength needed to successfully perform a handstand pushup. You still have to develop the control and balance to push that amount of weight while freely standing on your hands.
Precautions and Considerations
Before attempting a handstand pushup, become proficient at holding a handstand. For people with high blood pressure or glaucoma, a handstand - and the pushup -- is contraindicated. To build even greater strength and control, perform free-standing handstand pushups off two benches or pushup bars. Use a spotter to keep yourself safe.