the joy of strength training


January 10th, 2008 at 12:04 pm

How-to: Handstand push-up

One of the most badass exercises you can do in the gym, the handstand push-up is a humbling experience when you first try it. But persevere and you will develop excellent upper body strength. 

What is the handstand push-up?

A handstand push-up is performed against a wall in the handstand position. You slowly lower your head to the ground and push back up again. The legs are not used in this exercise, it entails purely shoulder and arm strength with a bit of core for stability and balance.

Why is it such a great exercise?

The handstand push-up is a genuinely challenging bodyweight exercise, even for the very strong, because it is so difficult to shift one’s own bodyweight directly against gravity using only arms and shoulders.

It is also very versatile as you need no equipment and everyone can get a lot of mileage out of this exercise. If you ever get to the point where this exercise or its variations no longer does anything for you, you will indeed be ninja!

How to perform the handstand push-up

HSPU using wallBecause it is so difficult, most people will not be able to do many (or even any) full handstand push-ups at first. But that’s not a problem because there are many ways to work up to it.

The rule is that the lower your legs are, the easier it is. If you are new to training, I would suggest starting with your legs on the floor, so that your body forms a triangle. However, most people who have been training for a while can manage starting with their legs at 90 degrees. You can use a chair, a low wall, anything you can rest your feet on that is reasonably secure.

Step 1: Starting position

Get into position by placing your hands on the floor and springing up into the handstand or stepping up into it if you are using a chair. If you are doing the 90 degree version, walk your hands back towards your feet until your body is at right angles to your legs.

Step 2: Bend arms, then straighten

Start with straight arms. Slowly bend your arms and lower your head towards the ground, then push upwards and straighten your arms. It helps to look through your arms, not down at the ground.

Step 3: Full range of motion

Make sure you are doing the full range of motion. There is a sticking point at the bottom of the move and it is easy to try to avoid this by stopping short. If you are worried about hitting your head on the ground, put a folded-up towel underneath it. You can also slowly work up to the full range of motion by putting a stack of thick books (such as phone books) underneath your head and removing one after each rep.

If you can crank out plenty of full handstand push-ups, increase the range of motion by putting your hands on bricks or parallel bars, so that you can lower your head even further.

How to use the handstand push-up in your training

The handstand push-up can be used as part of a strength or bodybuilding routine as the compound shoulder exercise, either in addition to or replacing shoulder press.

It is also a great core exercise if performed without using the wall for balance. This is most useful for those who do martial arts or breakdancing, where balance and core strength is key. Having your legs wider apart makes it easier to balance when trying free handstand push-ups for the first time.

Video clips

Handstand push-up variations from Crossfit – shows lots of variations from quite easy to very difficult!

Freestanding handstand push-ups with good range of motion. And from a heavy guy, too! Note how spread out his fingers are – this makes it easier to balance.

My full body no-equipment routine incorporating 90-degree handstand push-ups.

Related posts

Bodyweight or bust – article describing full body routine with handstand push-ups

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  • 1

    Really loving the blog. And thanks for posting on the handstands.

    FiZZYCAL FiTNESS on January 22nd, 2008
  • 2

    Thanks, man! I checked out your blog, like the style! I’ll add it to my list of blogs on the links page and keep an eye on it.

    I used to live in Kilburn before I moved to Cornwall so I know Grange Park well. Used to use the monkey bars sometimes.

    There is similar apparatus in Primrose Hill Park – they have a set of rings down there so worth checking out. I used to run there, do some exercises and run back.

    gubernatrix on January 22nd, 2008
  • 3

    Ahhhhh so you’re not a West Country Gal! You’re a Londoner? Don’t blame you for moving!!

    My training partner told me about Primrose Hill Park. Made it sound like some sort of Shangri-La so next stop Primrose Hill Park!

    FiZZYCAL FiTNESS on January 24th, 2008
  • 4

    Forgot to say Thanks!!!

    FiZZYCAL FiTNESS on January 24th, 2008
  • 5

    I hope you’re not disappointed with it after all this build up 😉

    gubernatrix on January 24th, 2008
  • 6

    well i was wondering in wat category dose 26 handstand push ups put me in and normal wide pushups i do 109 but if i put my arms close i do abaut 67 my weight is 150 some times 145

    my rutine is i wake up and and exacly in the bed i do sit ups 40 with my legs up and 20 side to side,,,then i go to the wall do 20 handstand not my max so i can do next 60 push ups my diet is eating all that has protein fish,chiken,steak,eggs,tuna mosly thats the chipest thing to find lol healthy food is $$$$$$$$$
    o and i have creatine and muscle gain weight but dosnt do crap couse my body burns calory so fast fast metabolism . i was thinking that could it be posible that a gain wieght suplement can expire in 3 months or so and creatine i do not know the expire date.

    David fitnes on March 23rd, 2008
  • 7

    Well, 26 handstand push-ups is very good work! Just make sure your head touches the floor every time!

    gubernatrix on March 25th, 2008
  • 8

    how can i work biceps hand stands seems to work shoulder and tricep its bearly concentrated in bicep.

    can u make a list for a full body workout thats heavy and good, without any lifting weight like dumbers etc….

    david on March 26th, 2008
  • 9

    or link me a video doing a full body rutine. lol a short example dont over do it and make me watch a 2 houre video!

    david on March 26th, 2008
  • 10

    David, why don’t you check out this article (and video):

    It’s a full body strength routine utilising only bodyweight.

    For your biceps, do chin-ups.

    gubernatrix on March 26th, 2008
  • 11

    […] Handstand Push Ups […]

    Push ups « Power Rack on April 11th, 2008
  • 12

    Thanks for the well researched info. I\’m book marking this site.

    Bodybuilder on August 15th, 2008
  • 13


    suplement on April 21st, 2009
  • 14

    […] How-to: Handstand push up […]

  • 15

    i find it more comfortable to distance yourself about 4 inches further back from the wall than is demonstrated here. this allows one to bend their legs and tense the back muscles slightly to firmly plant ones feet on the wall. this is very useful for beginners and it doesn’t reduce the difficulty of the exercise in term of strength required, but makes it easier in that your arms no longer have to waste energy balancing your body, and the annoying friction cause by your feet/footware on the wall is avoided.

    as the exercise becomes easier, one can push off the wall slightly with their feet before pushing oneself off the ground to reclaim the form needed for better balance and ultimately be able to perform them with only the wall as a failsafe.

    wearing socks and using an internal wall also helps with the friction problem.

    bob on October 23rd, 2009
  • 16

    Good suggestions bob, thanks!

    gubernatrix on October 24th, 2009
  • 17

    […] How-to: Handstand push-up – weight training, strength … – One of the most badass exercises you can do in the gym, the handstand push-up is a humbling experience when you first try it. But persevere and you will develop …… […]

    Bodybuilding Handstand on February 18th, 2015


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