Demystifying the Handstand Pushup

Arms as strong as legs?

Have you ever seen a person walk on their hands? It’s a pretty amazing feat. Behold…

Aside from being a really cool party trick…I mean come on, who doesn’t want to see somebody walking on their hands at a cocktail party. Especially in a tux – that would be oddly fun to watch…

…the handstand push up provides a myriad of fitness benefits if you put in the time to actually train it.

Check out this list of benefits courtesy of Legendary Strength:

  • strengthen the triceps, shoulders, and chest
  • strengthen a lot of stabilizer muscles
  • improves coordination/balance

Also, it provides the documented benefits of inversion (being upside down). Being inverted is something the yogis have known about for awhile. As its making its way into the mainstream, we can all benefit. Check out this blurb on FitandMe.com regarding the benefits to the endocrine system. Scroll down to benefit #3 to see it.

Everyone’s journey to the handstand pushup will be a little different. At minimum, and this is from my own personal experience, you need to be able to do at least these two things before trying a handstand push up:

STEP 1:

  • Hold a static handstand for at least a minute

    • Look at it this way – if you can’t hold a handstand for even a couple of seconds, then how are you going to be able to be upside down long enough to knock out even 1 push up? Take some time to get comfortable being inverted.

There are two ways to get inverted on a wall – walk up or kick up.

Walk up:

Kick up:

I am personally a fan of the kick up because I can get my hands closer to the wall and mimic the back bend you’d have with a freestanding handstand. This is also the position in which I do all of my handstand push up work.

In general, I aim to have my fingertips about 6-12 inches from the base of the wall. When you are at the top of the movement, you’ll want to externally rotate your shoulders, and rotate the insides of your elbows forward (similar to elbow and shoulder positional cues in a proper plank). You should feel your latissimus dorsi (big back muscles) engage as well. At that point, settle in, and see how long you can hold that position. I spent time working myself up to a solid 60+ seconds for multiple sets. When you are first getting started, do multiple sets of lower time so you can get used to the sensation of the blood rushing to your head. Hopefully it goes without saying – don’t try to hold the position if you start feeling light headed – get down immediately.

STEP 2: 

  • Perform multiple reps of pike push ups (I’d recommend progressing to elevated pike push ups before trying the handstand push up).

    • The pike push up is kind of like an assisted handstand push up. By having your lower body connected to either the ground or a platform, you are reducing the overall load that your arms need to push. You are still pushing along the vertical plane, so you are training the movement properly.
    • In the month of February this year, I challenged some of my workout partners to strengthen their pike push up capacity. Each day of the month for 28 days, they added a rep to their pike push up count (similar to the “grease the groove” tactic that I’ve talked about in the past). By the end of the month, some of the athletes were doing 20+ pike push ups in a single set when they could barely do 5 before starting the protocol. This is a move you CAN improve at if you work at it.

Pike push up with feet on the floor:

The progressions here are pretty simple. The further away your feet are from your hands, the less vertical your torso is, and the easier the move is. The closer you move your feet to your hands, the more vertical your torso is, and the harder the move is. Notice in the video how I crept my feet forward a little bit to intensify the move. In terms of elbow movement, aim to have your elbows go back at a 45 degree angle from your torso. You don’t want to flare out a full 90 degrees, and you don’t want your elbows scraping your ribs – 45 degrees is a good mechanical position. In terms of hand position, just outside shoulder width, or at shoulder width is a good starting position. You can make the movement harder by moving your hands inside shoulder width.

Pike push up with feet on a platform:

As you can see, raising your feet onto a platform puts your torso in a more vertical position. This will be an intense position. You will need to spend some time in this movement pattern building strength and endurance via high reps and multiple sets.

GRADUATING TO THE HANDSTAND PUSH UP:

Congrats! If you’ve been able to hold some 60 second static handstands, and been able to knock out a good amount of reps in the elevated pike push up (10+ reps per set minimum), you are probably ready to start dabbling with the handstand push up.

A note about hand position:

Similar to other bodyweight exercises, you can alter the intensity of the movement by manipulating your hand positions. In general, slightly wider than shoulder width apart is probably the least challenging hand position. I’d recommend you start with this position. In order to be able to replicate my sessions, I actually marked off about 20 inches on my floor with a sharpie, and put inch markers every 4 inches. This way, I can make sure I’m putting my hands in the same position each time. For me, my “easy” hand placement is with my index fingers 20″ apart.

20″ Wide Handstand Push Up:

Notice that I set my hands, then I kick up into position. On the lowering (eccentric) phase of the movement, my elbows flare about about 45 degrees relative to my torso, I lower until my head kisses the ground, and then I push back up (concentric phase).

Rinse and repeat.

A 2:1:2 tempo (2 second eccentric, 1 second bottom, 2 second concentric) is fine. Note that the kick down is controlled as well. You should leave a rep or two in the tank here – don’t train to failure – you might collapse onto your face and cause serious injury. Be very aware of how you are feeling and adjust your sets accordingly.

Note – if going through the full range of motion is too intense at first, start with half-reps (lower through half of the range of motion and push back up). Build up reps and sets with this movement, and then try the full range of motion again. 

16″ Wide Handstand Push Up:

Note the hand placement is pretty much at shoulder width apart. All of the same cues from the 20″ apply – only difference is that my hands are closer together.

12″ Wide Handstand Push Up:

As my hands get further inside of shoulder width, you’ll notice that my elbow angle starts to come inside of 45 degrees a little bit.

8″ Wide Handstand Push Up:

The closer you bring your fingers to touching, the harder the work becomes. You’ll also find that your tempo naturally slows down on the descent. Once you are doing diamond handstand push ups (index fingers and thumbs touching), you will have reached the apex of difficulty for basic wall-assisted two armed handstand push ups.

Beyond that, you can try graduating to unassisted handstand push ups (freestanding – no wall), or start working on one-armed handstand and one-armed handstand push up work. The one-armed handstand push up is defined as the “master-class” progression in the Convict Conditioning book.

If you are skeptical about that being possible…enjoy…

Or, if that seems too gnarly, check out some of the other movement patterns that people have concocted with the handstand push up…

Every day, I’m amazed more and more by what the human body is capable of. Bodyweight calisthenics like the handstand push up really give you a window into what is possible with proper training and some creativity.

 

Do you train the handstand push up? If so, please let us know in the comments and tell us about your experience and progressions. If you enjoyed this article, please like and share. Thank you!

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Bodyweight Workouts – Basement Sessions – Weekly Catch Up

I kind of slacked off in documenting my workouts for the past week. To be honest, they are probably going to be boring to read about. I think I’m boring myself typing about them. All I really did for the past week is yoga and push/pull stuff.

bored

That’s it.

Yoga…

Push & Pull…

Rinse/repeat all week long.

I did get semi-creative for the garage workout. I combined the yoga AND the push/pull.

really.

I know all of that sounds as exciting as a box of hair. But, here is my take away from the week – you can have a boring routine and still have a solid week of training. Even though it seemed basic and monotonous, I mixed in three different yoga routines, and also clocked 3 different push/pull routines with a variety of grips and angles for those pushes and pulls. In the big scheme of things, I’ll take that over going to the gym and doing biceps curls and leg presses!

In other random streams of consciousness, I’m a Madden junkie. For those not familiar, Madden is the popular football video game series. Its been around forever. I’ve been playing forever. I particularly like the franchise mode – building teams through the draft and scouting players is a ton of fun. As I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole further and further (I’m in year 22 of a 30 year franchise, and have played out about 97% of the games along the way), I’ve needed to find new ways to challenge myself. I have the difficulty settings as high as they can go. Each season, I turn over about half of my starters to make room for my new draft picks. Despite all of this, I keep going undefeated. I keep scoring lots of points. I keep allowing not a lot of points. I think I’ve broken the game in a few ways. Some of the statistics don’t even tabulate properly anymore. At one point, the game even made up its own rules. Part of me wonders if the programmers ever expected a person to play this far into a franchise mode, and just “phoned in” the last couple of years programming. In the most recent season, I decided to only allow myself to run two plays all season. One passing play and one running play. I’m “proud” to admit that I just completed yet another undefeated campaign where my rookie QB threw over 70 TD’s. Proud is in air quotes because its probably just sad.

Oh, and in year 22, these Philadelphia Eagles have won 19 Super Bowls. Carson Wentz retired as the GOAT in career TD’s. He was the yards leader (over 80K) until some fictional QB that just won’t retire ruined it.

Who says video games don’t mirror reality???

Continue reading Bodyweight Workouts – Basement Sessions – Weekly Catch Up

Bodyweight Workouts – Basement Sessions – 7/27 – The Basics (plus)

It feels good to feel good.

I don’t mean that in an ironic sense, or a “I’m better than you” way. I mean it feels good when your body and mind feel good. When you are sick or injured, you certainly aren’t your best self. That “not feeling good” feeling really sucks. Whether its a self-inflicted imbalance from one too many IPA’s the night before, or an unfortunate chronic illness you are battling, sub-optimal health just doesn’t feel good. And you know that it doesn’t feel good. Even if you are off by just 10%, you know that it feels different than feeling 100%. You miss and CRAVE that 100% feeling.

I’m usually pretty sensitive to pollen and other allergens in the summertime. That affliction presents with the usual runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. This summer was a little different. I didn’t get any of those symptoms despite pollen counts that were off the charts. Rather, I experienced fluid in my ears for the first time. In both ears. For almost two months. I can’t confirm that its attributable to allergies, but the coincidence isn’t lost on me. I’ve read that pollen allergies can present this way. Since my doctor couldn’t come up with anything better, I’m going to run with that.

Talk about something that will mess with you. Each day felt rotten. It really was a struggle to get through between the cycles of fatigue and the general feeling of imbalance. Your mind starts to wander to some weird places. You basically have an internal argument going on – your body/mind feel like just laying down and staying still. But, there is a small sliver of your mind that knows you shouldn’t do that, and it fights to keep you plugging ahead. That internal debate is exhausting.

I’m very happy to say that I’m going on my 7th day w/o those symptoms. It appears the fluid has resolved (which I’ve been told will happen over time, and was confirmed by a doctor’s appointment earlier in the week). Whether it was just time, or the mega dose regimen of Vitamin C I started about two weeks ago, I’m finally on the other side (at least it feels that way). It’s fun to wake up again. I’m going to really try to relish this 100% feeling for as long as I can.

I guess the moral of the story is – appreciate your health. Appreciate feeling good, Appreciate feeling energized. Appreciate feeling able.

Continue reading Bodyweight Workouts – Basement Sessions – 7/27 – The Basics (plus)

Bodyweight Workouts – Basement Sessions – 7/11/18 – Push/Pull Session

I made homemade yogurt. I’m actually eating a 4 oz jar of it while I’m typing this. It tastes like yogurt. It looks like yogurt. And, it hasn’t made me sick yet. Bully for that!

It wasn’t hard. My younger sister (Sister Breaking???) sent me a yogurt making kit for my birthday. The care package had the unit (made by Euro Cuisine), and some dehydrated cultures. Her and I have never talked about yogurt, or the making of yogurt. I thought she was lactose intolerant to be honest. Therefore, it kind of caught me and the wife by surprise. It reminded me of this clip from Wayne’s World…

Regardless, I’m grateful for the gift and I decided to give it a shot this past weekend. The steps were pretty darn simple…

  • Heat milk of choice to 180 degrees F (this “sanitizes” the milk). I’m used to this step from beer making.
  • Cool milk (also used to this from beer making – you can’t pitch a culture at high temp – it might kill it)
  • Add cultures to cooled milk
  • Mix everything and add to portioned jars
  • Put jars into the Euro Cuisine “machine” (and I use that term very loosely), and set a timer for 7-10 hours (I left it in for 9 hours)

I only had heavy cream in my fridge, so I did a quick Google search to see if you can make yogurt with heavy cream. You can. And, its encouraged by those in the low-carb community. Bully for that too.

I called an audible and mixed in some pure vanilla extract after the cultures were pitched. I read that as a “recipe” somewhere “on the line.” I did 1 tsp for about 28 oz of yogurt. I think I’ll bump it up next time because the taste is faint at best. The yogurt does taste good, and its creamy as hell. If you’ve never cultured or fermented anything in your kitchen – you should give it a try – its kind of cool, and the stuff tastes good. Mrs. Breaking makes some pretty good homemade pickles and her fermented slaw is the BOMB!

I’m not convinced that I need the Euro Cuisine equipment. I think it just circulates heat to hasten the fermenting process. We might be able to use our instant pot to mix larger batches. We are looking into that. Besides – people have been making yogurt for a LONG time – way before you could plug in a semi-useless piece of kitchen tchotchke. And yes, that word is correct. Its not a typo. You are welcome.

more you know.JPG.

Continue reading Bodyweight Workouts – Basement Sessions – 7/11/18 – Push/Pull Session

Bodyweight Workouts – Basement Sessions – 6/27/18 – Handstand Push Up Training

I’m kind of new to Reddit, but, I must say, there is a lot of good information on there. I’ve joined some subcommunities for:

  • Beer & homebrewing
  • nutrition
  • keto diets
  • bodyweight training
  • Overcoming gravity (a group that talks about olympic style bodyweight training)

I’m finding that as long as you follow the rules of the Reddit community, you can really benefit from the information that is flowing out there. But, as with anything on the internet, the information is only as good as the source. So make sure you do your diligence before following something blindly.

Here is a good example of the power of Reddit…

Starting with this thread…

Muscle-up is the goal, currently at 3×10 pullups on RR: Increase reps or begin weighted pull-ups? from bodyweightfitness

 

…you get suggestions for progressions on one arm chin ups (good instagram video if you check it out), and, you also get a suggestion to check a link for a rather unusual progression…

Strict Bar Muscle Up: Surprisingly Easy? from bodyweightfitness

So, after a few clicks, you found advice from people who have actually been there, and can talk through the various progressions that got them to where they are. Found all of that in about 5 minutes of reading and clicking. Pretty amazing. Gotta love the information age.

Continue reading Bodyweight Workouts – Basement Sessions – 6/27/18 – Handstand Push Up Training

Basement Sessions – 5/7/18 – Handstand Push Up Training

As part of my overall training program, I have certain strength “skills” that I aim to train at least once per week. By focusing on these skills and “progressively overloading” the resistance/difficulty, I’m able to realize strength gains. AND, I’m able to do this without lifting weights. These skills are bodyweight skills, and I use the ability to manipulate my body in space to make the movement easier or harder. Bodyweight training is a great way to build functional fitness, and you can do it virtually anywhere without equipment.

Today is handstand push up day!

Continue reading Basement Sessions – 5/7/18 – Handstand Push Up Training