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