Pike Handstand Push-Ups and Horizontal Push-Ups
When it comes to shoulder training, nothing beats the handstand push-up for sheer shoulder-building power. To do the handstand push-up, you need to kick up into a handstand (generally with your feet touching a wall), lower yourself down like a shoulder press, then push yourself back up. All of this performed upsidedown with your entire bodyweight for resistance!
But the bottom line is, as effective as it is, the handstand push-up is also one of the hardest and most dangerous exercises to perform! If you don't have the strength to perform it correctly, it'll drop you right on your head, which is rarely a good thing.
So how do we harness the shoulder-blasting power of the handstand push-up while not only keeping it safe but also adjusting the resistance so you can perform it (or variations of it) no matter what your strength level?
Two ways. The first is the Pike Handstand Push-Up (for intermediate to advanced trainers). The second is the Horizontal Push-Up (for beginning trainers).
The Pike Handstand Push-Up
This exercise is performed almost exactly like a regular handstand push-up with one major difference...instead of going up into a full handstand, you set your feet on a bench and bend your body in half at a right angle (pike position). In that position, you perform the push-up.
To get into position, all you need is a bench, a chair or some steps. Set your hands on the ground a little beyond shoulder width apart and about 2 feet in front of the bench. When your hands are planted, step back and up and set your toes on the bench. Bend only at your hips so your body forms an upsidown "L" shape.
When doing this exercise, your fingers should be spread wide for best stability. Look directly back and underneath the bench in order to keep your torso vertical. If you try and look forward, you'll change the focus of the exercise and possibly plant your nose into the floor.
Lower yourself down just like you were doing the negative of a shoulder press. Touch your head lightly to the ground then press yourself back up.
Because your lower body is supported on the bench, this reduces the resistance that your shoulders must work against, allowing you to reap the benefits of the handstand push-up movement without being forced to use your whole body as resistance.
As you get stronger with the movement, you can set your hands on two push-up handles or on the handles of two dumbells (use hex dumbells so that they don't roll out on you). This will give you a somewhat greater range of motion and further develop the shoulders.
Even though this exercise is an easier variation of the handstand push-up, you still need to be careful about balance and about being upsidedown while exerting yourself. Do only a few reps the first time you try it and stand yourself back up slowly.
This exercise is ideal if you're not strong enough to perform the Pike Handstand Push-Up but are looking for a good bodyweight shoulder exercise. This one of only a very few bodyweight exercises available for the shoulders, especially if you are newer to training.
The Horizontal Push-Up utilizes a similar movement pattern to the handstand push-up but with a horizontal body position instead of a vertical body position. This means you're moving primarily forward and back, not up and down.
To perform this exercise, it's best to use two pieces of equipment (e.g. two benches) or furniture (e.g. two chairs). The reason for this is that ideally you want to have room for your head to go down the middle so you get a full range of motion. It is possible to do this exercise using the edge of a single bench by ducking your head under the bench as you do it.
Note: normally I don't recommend exercises that put resistance on the shoulders with this "behind-the-head" position but in this case, because it's a bodyweight exercise with small resistance, you can very easily adjust your shoulders to accomodate the movement without a problem. You can also simply touch the top of your head to the bench edge instead of going under it and do a shorter range of motion.
In the demonstration pictures and video, I'm going to be using the "Lebert Equalizer" that I reviewed in the previous article (see above).
Brace your equipment against a solid object or wall for support and you're ready to go!
Kneel down about a foot in front of the equipment. The two pieces should just a little outside shoulder width apart. Set your hands on the corners of the two pieces and set your torso horizontal. Now use your legs to push your body forward.
This mimics the lowering phase of a shoulder press. When you get to the fully stretched position, use shoulder power to press yourself back to the start while using pressure from your quadriceps to resist the movement.
To increase the resistance on this exercise, get on your feet! Instead of kneeling down, set your feet about a yard away from your apparatus then perform the exercise exactly as above.
This exercise is ideal if you're just starting out in your training and working out either at home or in a gym.
The full Handstand Push-Up still reigns supreme as the king of the bodyweight shoulder exercises. But these two variations will go a long way towards helping you develop the shoulders you want, whether it be giant barn-door shoulders or tight, toned shoulders with great definition.
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