Do Handstand Pushups Harm the Eyes?
Handstand pushups are a display of superior strength. Turning upside down, with your legs propped against a wall or free, and bending and flexing your elbows, requires balance, concentration, coordination and muscular control. Mastering a handstand pushup doesn't come risk free. In addition to potentially straining the neck and shoulders or causing you to come crashing down on your head, handstand pushups endanger your eye health – especially if you are prone to certain health conditions.
Inversions and the Eyes
Handstand pushups are an inversion, meaning your head is below your heart. When you turn upside down, blood circulation and lymph flow increase behind the eyes, called intraocular pressure. Dr. Carolina Valdivia states that this pressure at least doubles when you go into a handstand. If you are at risk of glaucoma, have been diagnosed with glaucoma, or have been identified as a patient prone to retinal detachment, this increase in pressure can be devastating, leading to corruption of your vision and even blindness.
Pushups and Handstand
Even if the inverted position doesn’t harm your eyes, the strain of attempting a pushup may further increase intraocular pressure. Sudden and sustained physical exertion – such as heavy lifting – increases intraocular pressure. If you attempt handstand pushups without first developing the necessary strength, the strain combined with the upside-down position could cause serious pressure behind the eyes. Your blood pressure rises with exertion and the inversion. This can cause a retinal detachment, in which the retina at the back of the eye separates from its oxygen- and nutrient-supplying blood vessels. This leaves the retina without oxygen and can lead to vision damage.
The rise in pressure is greatest in the first minute of holding a handstand, so no time is completely safe in the position. If you have healthy eyes and are determined to perform handstand pushups, master holding the handstand first. If you feel any strain, exit immediately. Work up to holding the position for a minute or so over the course of weeks or months to get your body accustomed to the inversion. When you do add pushups, ensure that you have a spotter nearby.
Handstand pushups work your shoulders and your triceps. You could effectively train these muscles with less risky moves such as military presses, lateral raises and triceps kickbacks. If your goal is to also train your balance, do these moves while standing on a half-ball or inflated disk.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.