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Handstand Pushups: How To Make Them Easier And Get Super Hero Shoulders In The Process (Video)

The reason I’m writing about handstand pushups is that recently I’ve been strapped for time and needed to find creative and fast ways to train. So I’ve been doing a two-part routine for my upper body along with some pick-up basketball for my legs and overall conditioning. The routine is really simple and saves me tons of time because I don’t need to go to the gym. Here is what I do.

I train with handstand pushups and dumbbells at home and do various pull-ups, chin-ups and dips at the playground in front of my building when I’m walking my lab Lucky in the evening.

Speaking of super hero shoulders, this weekend we went to see the new Prince of Persia movie. Jake Gyllenhaal really trained his ass off for the role and got into amazing shape. Actors tend to do two things for roles like these – they get to a really low body fat percentage and get very developed shoulders. Anyway – the movie was fun – I was afraid I would be disappointed because of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but luckily I was wrong.

What Is The Handstand Pushup?


The handstand pushup is an exercise for your upper body where you press your full body weight from an inverted position. You either lean against a law or do them without support – something I aspire to learn soon.

The great thing about the handstand pushup is that you need zero equipment- just an empty wall and a stack of books (to decrease the range of motion) when you are starting out. After a few short weeks you will notice your shoulders getting visibly more muscular.

Proper Technique for the Handstand Pushup

One thing you should definitely watch out is the placement of your arms – this is something I read about in the book Convict Conditioning. Basically the arms mustn’t go to the side of your body like in a press behind the neck, but follow their natural position, similar to how you would perform a military press, with your elbows pointing forward.

Trust me, you don’t want to make the mistake of doing handstand pushups with your arms to the side. Although I knew it wasn’t a good idea and despite the fact that I also read it in the book, I proceeded and trained with a wide stance (it wouldn’t happen to me – yeah right!). The result – nasty pain inside the shoulder from the injured rotator cuff. Here is an example (video) of wide stance handstand pushups. Again – don’t do those. One final tip is to look forward instead of at the ground. This will align your body right for maximum strength.

How To Get Into A Handstand

  • Put your palms on the ground 1-2 steps away from a wall. You want to place them roughly shoulder width apart. A good idea is to put them wherever it feels the most comfortable for your body.
  • Kneel with one leg below your body. This leg will be just below your rib cage.
  • Extend your other leg behind you. Keep this other leg relatively straight.
  • Press with the leg that’s below you. You want to press up just a little bit.
  • Swing the trailing leg up. The swinging of your rear leg will do most of the work.

Handstand Pushup Instructional Video

Here is a video we shot at the terrace of our gym of the handstand pushup. There were two trainer chicks who were peeking from the door to see what the hell the crazy Yavor was up to lol. Watch and note the four simple steps for learning the exercise.

How To Make Handstand Pushups Easier

There are two ways you can make the exercise easier. One is to get stronger which will happen with this program after 6-8 weeks. The other way is to start with a very limited range of motion. I recommend putting a stack of books that you don’t use and limit the range of motion as much as needed so you can get at least 12 reps the first time you train the handstand pushup.

You will start training with this huge stack of books (or pads). Adding a rep every day you will soon hit 20 reps. The next step is crucial. Decrease the stack of books by the smallest increment – for example an inch is a good increment.

Here Is Your Action Plan

  • Train often. You need to train the handstand pushups very often – this is the only way to get good at them. I recommend doing them 5-6 times per week.
  • Rest. At least once per week take a day off completely from training.
  • Do at least 3 sets. You need volume so the stress is enough for your muscles to develop.
  • Alternate between repetition ranges. Mix it up between 13-20 rep sets, 8-12 rep sets and 3-7 rep sets.
  • Add reps. For 8-12 and 13-20 reps sets the best way of progress is to add at least one more repetition every workout.
  • Add sets. For heavy 3-5 rep sets, add sets instead of reps.

Freestanding Handstand Pushups

As I wrote, one of my goals is learning the freestanding version of the handstand pushup. Here is a video of ana amazing young athlete, who teaches the freestanding handstand pushup. His channel has videos of breath taking feats, such as jumping over 6 people. And, the guy seems to live in a super exotic place, straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.


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38 Comments - Share Are Your Thoughts

  1. Matt S

    Awesome post, I started wanting to be able do stuff like this when I heard about the Bar-Barians. Its insane but im going to try it out

  2. Yavor,

    I’ve been sans gym for a while now and have been using handstand push ups as well. Awesome exercise. Doing them without a wall is probably way out in my future as I can’t even hold a handstand without a wall yet, haha.

  3. I think I want to incorporate this one on my training session, though it would take some time before I can master the balancing part. :-)

  4. Yavor, dude… awesome awesome article! I love that you always provide video demos for your exercises. And the Kill Bill theme song fits it perfectly :)

    First off, handstand pushups are fantastic. Another insanely effective bodyweight movement, although pretty challenging at first! I too, am working on getting the free standing version down.. gotta keep workin at it!

    You gave me an awesome idea as well here… with those blocks to decrease range of motion, well once you get good at the exercise without aid of the blocks, perhaps you could put each hand ON blocks to INCREASE range of motion? What do you think?

    Great post as always!

  5. Yavor,
    Great tips on getting started with handstand pushups. Another awesome bodyweight exercise that is highly challenging and highly effective at making you stronger. I’d love to see half the people in the gym (especially the bodybuilders) attempt these.
    Dave

  6. Very cool post! I love body weight exercises. The Hand stand is so hard, the free is impossible for me ( maybe because I’m too heavy) some others I like to do which I have stolen from my Yoga practice. One called the “Scorpion” for static strength in the arms and a Free standing “Head stand” but crunching upside down great for Abs.

  7. Yavor-

    Love this post. I’ve been doing handstand push ups for a long time. In school, I would do them before exams to get blood rushing to my head.

  8. Yavor

    Matt,

    you can do it! It’s much easier than one arm pull-ups or one arm pushups.

    Darrin,

    Yeah, I’m working on holding a handstand too. The lack of gym makes you creative, don’t you think?

    Walter,

    If you are talking about the freestanding handstand pushup, yeah the balancing is tough. The wall makes it much easier though.

    Craig,

    I love anything by Tarantino man! Your idea about using the blocks to increase range of motion is great. I use books at home and I’m afraid I will destroy them if I put my bodyweight on top of them.

    Dave,

    the handstand pushup is challenging, but not too much. Now – the freestanding one – this is bad ass :)

    Raymond,

    I think I can imagine the second pose you describe. Just looked up the scorpion pose and it seems very difficult.

    Adam,

    seem like you were quite strong in school. I started lifting regularly at the age of 20 I think.

    Cheers guys – great comments!

    Yavor

  9. Yavor,
    You killed it with the video! I’m sure those two trainers were watching in amazement :D
    I am going to be doing a lot more of these as they are one of the few bodyweight exercises I rarely use. This video came right on time because I am just about to cancel my gym memebership to workout in the sun.
    Thank you for the post. Keep em coming.
    Michael

  10. Yavor

    Mike – awesome man! I actually shot another video of another exercise to do outside. Coming soon lol!
    Yavor

  11. I really want to work up to freestanding handstand pushups. They are seriously impressive to pull off!

    -Drew

  12. Wow, I used to worry about those Temple of Doom kids, but hey this one is all grown up and seems to be doing alright, lol.

    This is great, my shoulders are really stubborn, I started doing handstand push ups the last couple of weeks but I have been facing the wall, don’t know if that make a difference? My right shoulder is a little achy now that I think of it.

    Cool music choice in your vid Yav.

  13. Yavor

    Drew,

    they are a worthy goal, aren’t they? Good thing is that you are ripped, so your bodyweight is relatively low, which always helps.

    David,

    your comment is hilarious man :) As for your question – facing a law is even better – just make sure you are not too far away from it.

    The shoulder might be a sign that you are doing them wide stance as opposed to the natural stance (see the article).

    If all else fails, why not try doing the like I do?

    Yavor

  14. Hey Yavor, I love the video and the music. One concern, it seems that your back bends a lot when you’re far from the wall. Is that safe? A lot of the women I train already have a big curve in their lower back and I think that this might cause problem later if not fixed sooner.

    Thanks for the tips! I will try to attempt this bad ass exercise some time in the next few weeks.

    Anna

  15. Yavor

    Anna, that’s a good question. But when you get to a strength level that allows you to do the handstand pushup, your lower back will be strong too. I personally wouldn’t recommend it to most of my clients – people who train with a trainer usually aren’t after such goals. Also – freestanding handstand pushups are done with this curve.

    Cheers,

    Yavor

  16. I’m switching up my workout starting tomorrow, more strength based training, explosive movements and HIIT with a reduced calorie diet… summa time baby!

    These handstand pushups will be a part of my routine every workout – 6/week … can’t wait to get good at them!

  17. Yavor

    Craig, you’ll get good in no time! It’s crazy how fast you will see your shoulders develop from the nandstand pushups.

    I too am switching to explosive moves – wanna do muscle ups for eps so I’ll do explosive pullups and clapping pullups.

    Summa time…

  18. Great Post,

    I’ve been interested in doing these for a while, but haven’t given them a try yet, I think I’m letting my gym membership lapse so it seems like now is the time.

  19. Yavor

    Awesome LD – you are going to develop very nice shoulders from the handstand pushups!

  20. I like the advice here. Also, what about getting stronger at pushups and moving to doing them incline gradually until upside down? I am thinking of doing that for tricep strength since triceps also seem like a big limiter.

    Pushups seem to be very much anterior delt and I am confused how to recruit the medial delt for overhead pressing like this.

  21. Yavor

    Tyciol, I suggest training directly with handstand pushups but with very limited range of motion. Once youi can do 20 reps with a very limited range, remove one book (or whatever you use to limit the trange) and repeat…

  22. Jazz

    Hmm.. When ever I do, a handstand against the wall no matter where I position my hands for some reason I feel pain in them after a few seconds. (I also feel quite a lot of pressure in my head, but I guess that’s to be expected with the flip over)

    I was wondering how could I do a handstand without my wrists hurting, I haven’t had the chance to be able to see if I can even do a handstand pushup because I don’t want to risk injuring my wrists!

    I can do push-ups and pull-ups fine without my wrists hurting, I don’t know why it changes here?

  23. Yavor

    Jazz,

    I feel discomfort in my wrist when I haven’t done handstands for a while. Try to see if it disappears after a few workouts. If the discomfort doesn’t subside, you could try getting a cheap pair of pushup handles or I guess trying a different exercise… Also warm up the wrists by doing wrist circles.

  24. For people that use body weight exercises only, handstand pushups are a great way to directly hit the shoulders. A combination of handstands, pushups, and pullups can round out an upper body body weight routine. If only the my head didn’t feel like it was about to explode from the blood rush.

  25. Blundell

    Hey your video tut 1 handstand pushup doesn’t work here in the UK!! :-(

    “This video contains content from EMI, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds”

  26. Yavor

    Blundell, thanks for letting me know. I will re-upload the vid without audio.

  27. Joe

    Hi, I don’t understand how you use books to decrease the range of motion. Can you explain what exactly you mean?

  28. Yavor

    Joe, good question. I place a stack of books on the ground and touch my head to the books instead to the ground when doing the handstand pushups. Let me know if it makes sense.

  29. Joe

    Ah yeah, I understand now, thanks a lot. This post was a lot of help to me.

  30. Thank you for such an amazing exercise. Tried the rocca press this afternoon, going to graduate up to level 2 then hopefully in a few weeks do my first handstand push up.

    There was another skill I wanted to learn.
    Nice work. That’s my next goal so I will be getting into it!

  31. Tanner

    This seems like it would work im 19 and i can only do two freestanding hand pushups. I always lose balance when goin for the third. Ill be happy when i can get more than 5. Thats my goal for now. After that i hope i can bust out 10 or more hat would be awesome.

  32. Bodyweight exercises FTW! Perfect if you don’t have a gym membership and want to do some serious exercise from home.

  33. awais

    Do you recommend any alternative workouts, such as the pike pusup, or the shoulder press pushup. Could you do a video on them. I am not able to get into a handstand position.

  34. Yavor

    Awais, pike pushups are good for bottom position strength but as soon as you push out of it, they become too easy. Not sure what a shoulder press pushup is.


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