I’ve seen plenty of guys do military press with their body weight and I’ve seen a few do double their weight with this exercise, and I can testify that those lifts are all quite impressive.
NOW… if you were to ask one of those guys to do a handstand push-up with only their body weight then eking out 1 or 2 reps is probably what we would see.
If you think about it, they are only handling their body weight (in fact a little less since we aren’t really factoring in the lifting of the arms) so you would think since they can already press this why are they struggling so much with this exercise?
Well, it’s pretty much the equivalent of doing lat pull-downs with your body weight for x reps but noticing when you do pull-ups you don’t match that rep number.
So why is this that these two movements are virtually the same BUT these bodyweight movements just seem to bury people?
Well, I’ll save that answer for another blog.
What the hell makes this exercise so damn hard?
The handstand is one of those exercises that are very misleading on how difficult this can be; especially for beginners.
People think that you need to speed years in gymnastics to be able to do a handstand… let alone a handstand push-up.
Our focus here at RTC being big movements teaching certain body weight exercises such as pull-ups, planches and handstand pull-ups are becoming more of a cornerstone with clients’ programs.
The Exercise Progressions
HS (handstand) push-ups aren’t the hardest things out there as long as you go through some of the necessary progressions.
Now, this is already assuming that you have some healthy shoulder mobility because if you CAN’T do a proper overhead press then I would strongly suggest that you start working on those movement patterns first.
Exercise 1: Quadruped Triceps Push-ups
This exercise is a bit misleading with the muscles that get worked. This isn’t a push-up that works the chest, instead this really targets the triceps and the beginnings of the front delts; in addition, this teaches the body how to LEAN over the hands (you’ll see why later).
You will want to get in a quadruped position (all fours on the ground) BUT only let your feet and hands touch, not your knees. While doing this make sure that you have a slight arch in your back and you keep your abs PULLED IN.
You’ll begin by leaning forward over the hands allowing your elbows to stay tucked to your sides and lower down till you feel your knees touch (this will be about 2-3 inches of motion), then press yourself back up.
When you can complete about 3-4 consistent sets of 15+ reps then your triceps are ready to the next level
Exercise 2 Pike Push-ups
This is where you will start to feel those delts begin to really fire with your triceps. You’ll need a degree of flexibility for this but you don’t need to be Cirque Du Soleil limber.
Begin by getting yourself in a push-up position and walk your hands towards your feet until you feel that you have a good stretch in those hamstrings.
From there you’re going to lower yourself down and forward until you feel your head touch the ground and from there you press your way back up. In addition, for added range of motion, you can place your hands elevated on blocks and lower yourself down in between.
Exercise 3 Feet Elevated Pike Push-ups
This movement starts very similarly with the pick push-up but you place your feet on a chair or bench, the key with this one is to be certain that you’re still piking over and not just doing an incline push-up.
Exercise 4 Handstand Holds
This is where things start to get fun.
There are many ways of going about to learn a handstand but if your able to knock out some reps with the feet elevated pike push-ups then you are really close to getting ready to do the motion and honestly there is just no better way to learn a handstand than to just kick your legs up and do it.
I tend to have my clients start with their hands placed about 4in-6in away from a wall, go ahead and lock out your arms (DO NOT BEND THEM YET, this is what causes most people to fall) and you want to kick UP towards the CEILING.
When you reach the wall you want to push your feet as high as you can like your trying ot reach the ceiling and attempt to hold this with steady control for at least 20sec.
Don’t be afraid to work this exercise all the time, there is no limit to how often this can be done. The more often you do this the easier HS push-ups will be
Side Note: I have had some clients work this motion in between their pike push-up to just further ingrain the way this is supposed to feel; don’t be afraid to work this motion a lot.
Exercise 5 Banded Handstand Push-ups
For this one, you’re going to do a banded set up like the one in the video above.
You’ll then place the band around your arms and position yourself for a handstand, when you cast your legs up you’ll want to grab the band and wrap it with one of your legs for some stabilization.
Flex your stomach and try to keep your body pretty flushed with the band for body awareness BUT don’t lean against it, this is just here for assistance.
From here, TUCK your elbows and lower yourself down with your elbows slightly tucked (notice a trend here?) till you feel your head touch and press yourself back up.
This will be a good precursor to allow you to get the feel of being upside down and pressing your weight up and down.
As you get more comfortable with this movement, decrease the band tension that you are using.
HERE <==== is where I pick my bands up at.
Exercise 6: Handstand Push-ups
I would recommend taking off your shoes if you’re going to do this against a wall, this way your socks will help you slide against the wall.
There really isn’t any difference with this exercise and the banded version, the execution of the movement is virtually the same thing.
The best thing I can tell you is too just get up there and do it!
Tips to Help:
- Tuck the elbows. I can’t stress this enough that what buries guys with this is that they try to flare their elbows too soon and end up getting stuck.
- Keep your abs and glutes tight. When you military press, I can assure you that your entire body is tight to help keep you stable with the weight overhead, so the same thing goes with HS push-ups. SQUEEZE your abs and glutes… hard!
- Grip the ground. When your hands are on the ground squeeze the floor with your hands/fingertips; I promise you that you’ll notice a difference in how controlled you feel.
In Health and Awesomeness,
Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, (and other letters behind the name) is the Owner of Rowlett Transformation Center in Rowlett, TX.
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