Push-ups are known for being a highly adaptable exercise that have a wide range of variations which can help you progress your fitness goals.
There are a surprisingly high number of push-up variations that you can add to your training program.
From beginner variations like the box push-up, all the way up to the much more challenging (and complex) hindu push-ups, there’s a push-up variation to suit pretty much any gym-goer no matter how much experience they have in the gym.
As great as it is to have so many push-up variations to choose from, it can make it quite challenging to know which is the best version of the exercise for you to do.
And that’s where this article comes in.
In it, we compare regular push-ups vs handstand push-ups to determine which is the best.
We discuss the difference between them, whether certain muscle groups are worked more in one than the other, as well as looking at the safety and difficulty levels of each variation too.
What’s The Difference Between Push-Ups And Handstand Push-Ups?
If you see someone performing a regular push-up and then see someone else performing a handstand push-up, the two exercises will look very different.
When you do a regular push-up, you maintain a horizontal body position. Your hands and feet are both on the floor and you’re in a high plank position to start.
Your elbows bend and your chest gets lowered toward the floor before your upper body works hard to lift your chest back up to its starting position. And your hands stay at around chest level throughout.
During handstand push-ups, you start in a handstand position i.e. upside down (normally using a wall to support you and help keep you balanced), with your arms flat on the floor.
Rather than lowering and lifting your chest towards and away from the floor, you bend your elbows to lower your head down toward the floor before using the strength in your shoulders and arms to lift you back up into your starting position.
Handstand push-ups use your shoulders and arms much more than regular push-ups that tend to put the main focus of the exercise on your chest.
Are Handstand Push-Ups Push-Ups Better For Chest?
Regular push-ups will put more focus on your chest compared to handstand push-ups.
That doesn’t mean that your chest isn’t working during handstand push-ups as it definitely is, it’s just that other muscle groups (triceps and shoulders in particular) do more of the work.
When you get to the lowest point of handstand push-ups (head closest to the floor), your chest is probably working harder than it is at any other point in the movement.
However, even at this point, your chest won’t be working as hard as it would be during regular push-ups.
Regular push-ups primarily focus on building your chest.
Other muscle groups like your shoulders, arms, core, legs and back do play a part in the movement too, but your chest is the primary target.
This means that regular push-ups do a great job of working your chest which is something that handstand push-ups can’t really compete with.
Are Handstand Push-Ups Better For Triceps?
Handstand push-ups definitely do work your triceps hard but regular push-ups work them hard too.
During both regular push-ups and handstand push-ups, your triceps activate as secondary muscles.
The main difference is that more of your total body weight is being lifted during handstand push-ups which means that your triceps will likely be working a harder during the movement.
When you do regular push-ups, you lift somewhere around 70% of your total body weight whereas, during handstand push-ups, it’s closer to 80% of your total body weight.
As your working muscles (including triceps) have to lift a heavier load during handstand push-ups, they will work your triceps harder than regular push-ups.
(This also explains why push-ups are harder for heavier people. They have to lift more weight!)
Are Handstand Push-Ups Better For Shoulders?
Yes, handstand push-ups will be better for building shoulders than regular push-ups.
This makes sense when you think about how you’re lifting your body weight in each exercise.
During regular push-ups, your shoulders work from a horizontal position. This moves some of the weight being lifted onto other muscle groups also working in the movement such as your chest and arms.
However, during handstand push-ups, your shoulders are working from a vertical position with most of the load (your body weight) being above them.
As your shoulders will have more weight to lift during handstand push-ups, they’re a much more challenging exercise for this area of your body when compared to regular push-ups.
Are Handstand Push-Ups Harder?
Handstand push-ups are one of the most challenging push-up variations you can do and they are quite a lot harder than regular push-ups.
Not only are you lifting a higher percentage of your total body weight but you’re also predominantly relying on smaller muscle groups to do the work.
Are Handstand Push-Ups Safer?
There’s definitely an increased risk of injury during handstand push-ups compared to regular push-ups.
The position you need to get your body into for handstand push-ups puts your shoulders, elbows, and a lot of your upper body in a much more vulnerable position than they would be in during regular push-ups.
That being said, both handstand push-ups and regular push-ups can be very safe exercises when done correctly.
All exercises come with a certain degree of risk but, of these two exercises, handstand push-ups have a greater risk associated with them.
Push-Ups vs Handstand Push-Ups: Which Is Best?
There are multiple factors to consider when trying to decide whether regular push-ups or handstand push-ups are the better exercise.
If you want your push-ups to be more comfortable, to be easier to perform, to focus most on your chest, and to have a lower risk of injury, then regualr push-ups will likely be the better exercise for you.
However, if you want to put a lot of focus on your shoulders and triceps while performing one of the most challenging push-up variations out there, then handstand push-ups will be the best exercise for you.
Ultimately, your current fitness and strength levels, your fitness goals, and your push-up capabilities will all play a role in deciding which one of these great exercises you’ll add to your training program.
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.