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What Muscles Do Handstands Work? + 3 Great Benefits Of Handstands

If you have ever watched a CrossFit competition or been in a CrossFit gym, chances are you have seen your fair share of handstands.

Handstands are often performed as a strength movement in the CrossFit community and are commonly performed by gymnasts as well. They are a great way to build muscle and endurance, and any person can benefit from doing them.

They work a variety of your body’s muscle groups and require great coordination and strength to perform them safely and correctly. 

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of performing handstands and why you should incorporate them into your workouts, and ultimately answer your question: what muscles do handstands work?

We will cover the following: 

  • What to Expect with Handstands
  • What Muscles Do Handstands Work?
  • What Muscles Do Handstand Push-Ups Work?
  • Benefits of Developing Handstand Muscles
  • Takeaways

Let’s dive in!

A person doing a handstand.

What to Expect with Handstands

If you plan to start a handstand journey, it is important to understand exactly which muscles handstands work so that you can learn how to perform them safely and build the strength needed to perform them correctly. 

Learning to do a handstand can be very intimidating. I personally get nervous even when trying to do a handstand against a wall!

Worrying about falling or hurting yourself when working on handstands is normal. The more work you put in and the stronger the muscles involved, the more confident you will feel. 

Performing handstands regularly can improve your strength, balance, and body awareness, but they can be physically demanding. 

Handstands require proper progressions and training before you can safely master them. If you’re new to this exercise, you must gradually improve your handstand skills.

A person doing a handstand.

What Muscles Do Handstands Work?

Handstands utilize your body weight and engage various major muscle groups needed to maintain balance and stability. 

Core, shoulders, arms, back, and chest muscles are all engaged during the handstand movement.

Each muscle group serves its own purpose, and by strengthening these muscles outside the actual handstand movement, you will increase your odds of doing handstands with great accuracy. 

Let’s take a look at each muscle group in detail that is worked while performing a handstand:

Core Muscles 

Having a strong core is an important part of many different exercise movements, and handstands are no different.

In order to be able to hold your body in a straight line and maintain an upside-down and in-line position, your core has to be strong enough to hold everything in place.

A person doing a handstand.

Rectus Abdominis 

The rectus abdominis, commonly called the “abs,” is an important muscle for maintaining a handstand. Being inverted is challenging, especially with your legs above your head.

The rectus abdominis muscle plays a role in sustaining such a demanding posture

It is key in ensuring core stability and needs to work with other core muscles to maintain a straight body line.

This guards you against excessive lower back arching and helps you avoid potential imbalance or injury.

The rectus abdominis is also an anchor of strength and a conductor of control and balance. 

Transverse abdominis 

This deep-lying core muscle plays a vital role in maintaining a handstand. It provides stability and support to the lumbar spine and pelvis.

During a handstand, the transverse abdominis engages to draw the abdominal wall inward, and when this happens, it cinches the waist and creates internal pressure, which results in a stabilized spine. 

A person doing a handstand.

Obliques 

The oblique muscles are located on the sides of your abdomen and play a huge role in the balance and stability you need to perform a handstand.

When you invert your body, your obliques engage to prevent you from doing too much twisting or tilting.

These muscles work the other core muscles to keep you controlled and in line. 

Shoulder Muscles 

Deltoids 

The deltoids work to stabilize and control the positioning of your arms during a handstand. This is important for maintaining balance.

There are three parts of the deltoids, and they all come into play to varying degrees during this exercise.

They work to prevent your arms from collapsing inward and to help you maintain an open shoulder angle and prevent falling forward.

A person doing a handstand.

Rotator Cuff Muscles 

The rotator cuff muscles are made up of many different muscles, and all of these work together to control stability and control when doing a handstand.

These muscles help prevent excessive movement or dislocation. 

When you are in a handstand, the rotator cuff muscles stabilize the shoulder to ensure it stays securely in its socket as you support your body weight.

This group of muscles also helps control the direction and angle of your arms and prevents excessive external or internal rotation, which is vital for maintaining balance and preventing shoulder injuries.

Trapezius 

The trapezius controls the shoulder girdle and the head positioning during a handstand. When you balance upside down, the trapezius muscle helps to maintain scapular stability.

This prevents the shoulder blades from winging outward too much or collapsing inward. 

Your traps also contribute to the fine adjustments needed to control your head and neck position to stay stable and pain-free during the movement. 

A person doing a forearm handstand.

Arm Muscles 

Biceps 

Biceps are often the first thing that comes to mind when people hear the word muscle. This upper arm muscle helps to stabilize the elbow joint during a handstand.

Your biceps assist in helping you maintain the correct arm position and tension during the handstand. 

While your biceps are not a primary driver of this exercise, they do play a supportive role in ensuring your arms stay straight and aligned to maintain balance and stability. 

Triceps 

The triceps brachii muscles are in the back of your upper arms and extend into your elbows to support your body weight.

During a handstand, your triceps control the degree of elbow flexion, and this directly impacts your ability to remain balanced.

The triceps also work to keep your arms from collapsing. 

A person doing a handstand against a wall.

Forearm Muscles 

The muscles in the forearms, including the wrist flexors, are responsible for wrist stability and control during a handstand.

During a handstand, your forearms are actively engaged to stabilize the wrist joint and control your hand placement. 

Your forearm muscles also help distribute your body’s weight evenly through the hands. They allow you to make precise adjustments in hand and finger position to maintain your balance when in position. 

Back Muscles 

Latissimus Dorsi 

This muscle is most commonly known as the “lats.” This muscle is really important when it comes to doing a handstand.

Your lats help stabilize your shoulders and maintain proper alignment and balance of the arms during a handstand. 

The latissimus dorsi also assists the bigger muscles utilized during a handstand.

Their involvement is important for ensuring that the shoulders remain steady and aligned, which is key for staying balanced and safe.

A person doing a handstand.

Erector Spinae 

This group of muscles is located along the spine and works to prevent excessive arching or hyperextension of the lower back during a handstand.

When you actively engage the erector spinae, you protect your lower back from strain or injury during a handstand. 

The erector spinae provides essential core stability and improves overall control and safety.

What Muscles Do Handstand Push-ups Work?

If you have found yourself interested in learning how to do a handstand, then you might also be curious about handstand push-ups and ask yourself what muscles handstand push-ups work that regular handstands do not. 

Handstand push-ups heavily engage your triceps since the triceps are responsible for the elbow extension during the pushing part of the exercise. 

Regular handstands engage your chest muscles somewhat but handstand push-ups rely more on your pecs because of the pushing motion, especially when you are descending. 

Your upper back muscles are also more active when doing handstand push-ups.

A handstand push up.

Benefits of Developing Handstand Muscles 

#1: Improved Balance and Stability 

Many people overlook the importance of having good balance and stability. While it may not seem overly important in your “younger years,” as you age, these things become more important. 

Balance and stability are important when working out, but they are also an important part of everyday life, like walking your dog and cleaning your house.

Doing movements that encourage the strengthening of muscles that improve your balance and stability is crucial for maintaining basic level fitness, strength, and functionality. 

A person doing a handstand.

#2: Enhanced Upper Body and Core Strength 

While many people want to look strong and toned, these are not the only reasons to work towards having a strong upper body and core.

Having a strong core helps you avoid lower back pain, maintain your independence as you age, and stay stable and balanced. 

Your core is utilized for more than sit-ups. Believe it or not, everyday tasks, such as walking up stairs and lifting children and heavy things around the house, utilize your core. 

Upper body strength is important for everyday tasks as well.

If you want to be able to carry your own groceries, mow your own lawn, and break your own fall before hitting the ground, then it is important that you maintain upper body strength. 

Having a strong core and upper body also have aesthetic and athletic benefits as well. 

A person doing a handstand.

#3: Better Posture and Body Awareness 

I know, I know. As kids, we all hated hearing our grandparents gripe about our posture, but it truly is important to have good posture!

Good posture and body awareness contribute to improved spinal health, preventing aches and pains, maintaining balance and coordination, and overall preventive healthcare. 

If you strengthen the muscles that encourage good posture and body awareness, you can reduce your risk of musculoskeletal issues down the line and enhance your athletic performance and confidence. 

Takeaways

Handstands are a very complex exercise and can be challenging and scary to learn, but learning how to safely and effectively complete a handstand comes with many benefits. 

A strong upper body, core, and back muscles can have aesthetic benefits and improve your daily functionality and confidence.

Conquering a challenging exercise movement can improve your desire to work towards even more challenging things. 

For more exercises to develop a strong core, click here!

A medicine ball lunge.
Photo of author
I am a UESCA-certified running coach, psychology PhD student, and competitive obstacle racer and trail runner. Once 100 pounds overweight I found fitness and fell in love with an active and competitive lifestyle. My passion for inspiring others and fitness come together seamlessly in the world of writing where I get to share the thing that changed my life. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family, my dogs, as well as baking and cooking.

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