10 Handstand Push-ups Alternatives For Shoulder Development

Handstand Push-ups are an amazing exercise for building shoulder strength. Plus, in addition to developing shoulder strength, Handstand Push-ups will also improve your coordination, shoulder stability and core strength.

However, if you’re here reading this I’m guessing you need an alternative for Handstand Push-ups.

Maybe you don’t have a sturdy wall you feel comfortable throwing your feet onto. Or, maybe you’re not quite ready (yet!) to do Handstand Push-ups because they’re pretty hard to do.

Whatever the reason, you’re in the right place. I’m about to share with you 10 of my favorite alternatives for Handstand Push-ups.

Alternatives for Handstand Push-ups

I’ve tried to add as much variety as possible to this list of alternatives as possible. There are exercises using all different types of equipment and exercises that range from beginner-friendly to advanced.

The thing all of the alternate exercises have in common is they emphasize shoulder strength and many also will challenge core stability.

Hopefully, at least one of the exercises will fit what you’re looking for.

Front Press (Standing Shoulder Press)

Female Athlete Doing a Push Press

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell


  • The grip should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Elbows should be under the bar.
  • Torso should be erect.
  • Move the bar off the rack.
  • Keep your chest up.
  • Push the bar up to full elbow extension.
  • As soon as the bar passes the head – ‘pull the head through’ – so that the bar is being locked out directly over the ears.
  • Keep elbow pointing out to the side until arms are fully extended.
  • Do not forcefully lock out the elbow.
  • Lower the bar slowly and under control to shoulder level.
  • Do not jerk or bounce at the bottom.

Coaching Points (Common Mistakes)

The biggest mistake I see with Front Presses is overarching the back and leaning back way too much (hyperextension of the spine). This places too much unnecessary stress on the low back that should be avoided.

The other common mistake that I see is bending the knees and using the legs too much. A slight bend is okay, especially when trying to squeeze out that last rep or two of the set. But, if the exercise starts to resemble more of a Push Press as opposed to a Shoulder Press then the weight should be lowered.

Push Press

Push Press (1)

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates (technically possible to do with Iron Plates, but Bumper Plates are highly recommended)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the barbell at the height you would normally front squat with. (Barbell 1-2 inches below the flexed elbow, still on the hooks).
  • Grab the barbell with your index finger on the knurling or just outside the knurling. (Flexibility and what feels comfortable are important here).
  • Flex the elbows up slightly and keep your knuckles fairly vertical to the ceiling.
  • You are not taking a “Front rack” position here. The elbows will be slightly up but the bar is not resting on the anterior delts.
  • To unrack the bar, take a deep breath and brace the abdominal muscles and upper back. Use a staggered stance to unrack the bar.
  • Take 2 steps backward and be sure that you will not hit the hooks or anything above your head when you start to press.
  • Initiate the movement with a “dip” or bend of the knee that will help you propel the barbell up with momentum. Do not bend the knee forward onto the toes.
  • Think about how you initiate a squat. The knee bend should be very similar to this movement.
  • This is a quick movement that helps get the barbell moving upward.
  • As you extend the legs, push the barbell up. Be sure not to hit your chin. Lock the rep out by holding the barbell overhead for about 1 second.
  • Some coaches use the queue “push your head through the arms” to help lock out the rep and stabilize the bar overhead.
  • Slowly bring the barbell back down to prepare for the next repetition.

Coaching Points

Push Press is very technical, uses the whole body, and requires patience and persistence, lifters oftentimes have incorrect form without realizing it, go up in weight too quickly, and may injure themselves.

Feet Elevated Push-ups

Feet Elevated Pushups

Equipment Needed:

  • Bench or Box

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Lie face down on the floor and place your feet up on a bench or box.
  • Pull your toes in so that you’re on the tip of your shoes.
  • Eyes should be focused straight down or slightly up.
  • Pull your hands close to about the nipple line of the chest and bring them out about 2-3 inches away.
  • Take a deep breath, engage the core and brace.
  • Push yourself up in one unit. There should be no sagging of the waist. The entire body from head to toe should move up and then back down in unison.
  • Feel your scapula upwardly rotate and make sure the antagonist muscles (Back and biceps) are fully engaging.
  • Lock out your push-up and pause.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down and get ready for the next repetition from just above the ground.

Coaching Points

By far the biggest mistake I see with Feet Elevated Push-ups (or any push-up really) is lifters not using a full range of motion. Push all the way up and slowly lower yourself back to about an inch of the ground.

Elbow angle. Another common mistake in pressing movements is lifters allowing the elbows to flare. Remember to keep your elbows at 45 degrees to keep your shoulders healthy.

Landmine Press

Equipment Needed

  • Landmine Attachment
  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To

  • Setup a landmine attachment with a barbell.
  • Grab the end of the barbell and start with it at chest level.
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent and core braced.
  • Remove one hand from the bar and then press the bar to full extension with the other arm.
  • Lower the bar back to chest level under control.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed and then switch to the opposite arm.

Coaching Points

Keep the core braced and maintain a neutral torso when doing Landmine Presses. If you find yourself leaning back and arching the low back, lower the weight if needed and correct your form.

Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press (1)

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Stand with the dumbbell next to you.
  • Hinge at the waist and bend the knees until you can grab the dumbbell.
  • Keep a neutral spine, and a nice flat back, and lift the dumbbell into your pressing position.
  • I recommend palms facing away or toward you (whichever feels more comfortable).
  • Brace the abdominal muscles and engage the upper back.
  • Press the dumbbell directly overhead. (The dumbbell should not track forward.)
  • Lock the reps out and pause for a quick second with each repetition.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position to prepare for the next repetition.
  • Once all reps are completed on one arm, switch to the opposite arm and repeat.

Coaching Points

When doing Single Arm Shoulder Presses, keep the core engaged as you press. If you feel you are arching your back as you reach closer to lockout, consider going down in weight.

Dumbbell Curl and Press

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Grab dumbbells that you can perform at least 8 perfect reps with here.
  • Standing nice and tall, hammer curl the dumbbells up to shoulder height.
  • From here, press the dumbbells straight up overhead to lockout.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbells back and down to shoulder height.
  • From here, slowly return the dumbbells to your side.

Coaching Points

Go slow! Time under tension is key here. Feel the burn, especially on the way back down.

It’s easy to get out of control and begin swinging dumbbells all over the place with Curl and Presses. Stay in control of the weight throughout.

Dumbbell Z Press

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Muscles Worked

  • Shoulders (all three heads of the Deltoid)
  • Abdominals (as stabilizers)

How To

  • Sit on the floor with legs straight out in front.
  • Brace the core and raise dumbbells to shoulder level (or have a partner hand them to you).
  • Make sure your posture is good and your core is tight before trying to press.
  • Press the dumbbells to full extension overhead.
  • Lower the dumbbells back down to the shoulders and repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

The Dumbbell Z Press demands hamstring flexibility and core stability to maintain the body position while pressing. Deficits in either of these areas will greatly hinder your ability to be able to do Z Presses.

Make sure to maintain a vertical torso throughout the movement so that you’re pressing the dumbbells directly over the ears.

Kneeling Single Arm Press

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbell

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Take a kneeling position. One knee up and the other down. Bring your toe in on the down leg so that you are on the tip of your shoes
  • If you have your right knee up, grab the dumbbell in your left hand. Face the palm toward you.
  • Brace the abdomen and upper back. Make your torso as tall as possible and stay rigid throughout the entire movement.
  • You may find it comfortable to put your non-pressing hand on your hip or extended out to the side for balance.
  • Press the dumbbell vertically, finishing with the bicep very close to the ear. Lock in the rep at the top and slowly return to the start.
  • Focus on your balance. The half-kneeling position should challenge your core control and ability to stay tall and rigid as you press.
  • Once you finish your reps on one side, put the dumbbell down. Switch your knees in your kneeling stance. Perform your presses on the other side to complete the set.

Coaching Points

I am a huge fan of the tall-kneeling position. Half-kneeling Shoulder Presses challenge the lifter to balance, stay tall and rigid, and disallow the legs from cheating in helping the press.

Incline Bench Press

Incline Barbell Bench Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Determine the angle for your incline bench. Most programs would refer to a 45-degree angle as ideal for it provides the best chest and shoulder engagement.
  • As you go higher with your angle, you are moving more toward a shoulder press. The flatter the bench gets, you are moving more toward a regular bench press.
  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline when doing Incline Bench Press. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.

Machine Shoulder Press

Machine Shoulder Press
Photo Credit: Halfpoint / shutterstock.com

If you’re working out in a commercial gym or college weight room and you have access to machines, a Machine Shoulder Press can be a solid overhead press alternative.

My favorite machine for this is the Hammer Strength Iso Shoulder Press. It’s plate-loaded so it works more like a free weight and less like a cable machine. Both shoulders also work independently of one another too, so like with dumbbells, if you have any strength imbalances they’ll show themselves.

Final Thoughts

Handstand Push-ups are an excellent exercise for developing strong shoulders, but sometimes Handstand Push-ups are just not an option. You may not have the proper equipment available to you (sturdy wall or parallettes) or at other times you might just be looking to add some variety to your strength training routine.

In these situations, you’ll need a Handstand Push-up alternative and I hope that one of the exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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