This article covers how to do handstand pushups against the wall. It will touch on freestanding handstand pushups but that is covered elsewhere on the site in more detail.
Handstand pushups are one of the greatest bodyweight exercises available. They significantly work all the muscles of the upper body. While not everyone can do them right away, they are within the reach of anyone who spends the time to work up to this move.
But unlike the barbell press, the handstand pushup requires a significant amount of balance and coordination (even when done against the wall and not freestanding.) Just being upside down, for many trainees, is enough challenge to make your muscles not want to respond. Best of all it requires no weights, just a wall to kick up against and your desire to do so.
Handstand pushups have many benefits. Here is a short list:
- Strengthens the triceps, shoulders and chest
- Strengthens many stabilizer muscles
- Requires coordination and balance
- Can be an effective muscle builder
- Provides the benefits of inversion
- Its an impressive skill few people can do
- Can be handled very progressively
For this article I’m going to assume you are capable of kicking up against the wall.
Handstand pushups are great but here’s the problem. Most people can’t even do them. I know I certainly couldn’t when I started training. The handstand pushup was one of my first major goals when I got serious about bodyweight training. I could hold a handstand against the wall but if I tried lowering to my head I came right down.
In this article I’ll be showing you the most simple way you can progress from not being able to do handstand pushups at all, all the way to the full range style.
Let me also say this. There’s a certain very popular book, and rightly so, that has a progression towards a one arm handstand pushup. This is great, except that the move has never been achieved in the form promoted in the book. While moving to one arm works for many things, I think you’re much better off going to the full range of motion in the handstand pushup.
Hold a Handstand
Before trying to do any form of handstand pushups it is important that you be able to hold a handstand against a wall with some ease. I would advise a minimum of a 30 second hold before moving on.
Here you’ll want to make sure your elbows are locked out and you keep your body tight as one unit. Because your arms are locked out in the handstand you’re relying more on bone structure to keep you in the handstand, rather then strength. But as soon as you bend the arms you throw that weight onto the muscles of the arms and shoulders.
This video covers handstand shrugs which are a useful exercise that builds scapular strength.
The important thing to remember is to keep the arms locked when doing handstand shrugs. All the movement comes from the traps and scapula.
Partial Handstand Pushup
If you can rep out the handstand shrugs then you’re probably ready to move onto the first partial handstand pushup. Find something you can pile under your head. Phonebooks work great but there are many options available.
Now you get into a handstand position, lower under control, until the top of your head touches the books, then press back up. Have your setup be so that you only lower a couple inches here to make a quarter range of motion in the beginning.
After that you can move to half range and 3/4 range partial handstand push ups. Of course I like to divide to move into these easy to use increments but you can use any range of motion along the way.
Regular Handstand Pushups
The regular hand stand push up is when your head touches the floor. Some people call this a headstand pushup which is a more accurate name. But here is the end goal for many people.
There are a number of factors that play into the difficulty of any handstand pushup. These include arm and shoulder position, hand placement, leg position, degree of lean, arching, and head position. For a more in depth discussion on how these factors can make your handstand pushup easier or harder, check out my book The Ultimate Guide to Handstand Pushups available here.
Handstand Pushups from Elevation
For the next step you’ll want to raise up your hands so that you can lower your head down more. You can use pushup handles or platforms like I have in the picture below. Whatever you use just make sure it is stable and can support your weight. Like before you can alter the range of motion more or less to suit the level of strength you currently have.
Warning: The sticking point in pressing for almost everyone is right around this level. That means this move is going to be dramatically harder then the regular handstand pushups. Of course when you master this movement you’ll be that much stronger.
Full Range Handstand Pushups
Now it’s time to move onto the last step where you actually press up your entire bodyweight along a full range of motion. For this I usually use two chairs placing my hands flat against them. If you had a parallettes these would work just as well.
Again you can take this position and also place the books under your head to make steps in between. But you may find the bottom of the press isn’t as hard as the sticking point we just worked through.
At the time of writing this article my current record is 8 full range handstand pushups done in this fashion. With the legs bent as they are, since I don’t have overhead room to keep them straight, this move is slightly easier, but still quite tough to do.
Doing freestanding handstand pushups adds the element of balance into the equation. But truthfully these are harder on a pure strength level as well. Here is my current record of 6 reps. Before trying this you’re going to need to learn how to do a handstand.
Of course this strength can be transferred over to other hand balancing moves like Tiger Bends.
You can also even begin to work towards the legendary one arm handstand pushup. But first I would recommend getting at least 10 full range handstand pushups. The full range will do more for your complete body strength, then switching to one arm and continuing with partials.
Here’s another option, the handstand clap pushup.
If you want to have bodyweight strength then handstand pushups are a must. Use the simple progression found in this article to get stronger and stronger, then you can do moves very few people in the world can pull off.
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I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now. Man, it’s really tough when you’re tired and you’re at the bottom of the movement trying to push up. Haha.
Would love to start progressing to a bigger range of motion soon.
i did it on the wall for 5 reps and i found out that power breathing and staying tight will help a lot.
Question…is there any difference (in degree of hardness or wrongness) in your opinion…beween facing or not facing the wall? Thank you
@paul: Yes facing towards or away from the wall definitely changes up the move. They’re both good though most find facing the wall a bit harder. This has to do with changing arching, how much you lean and also the angle of the push.
@paul: I find acing the wall easier. Maybe that’s because it’s easier to cheat with your feet. Also if your head is against the wall (sort of rubbing) it is much easier, well not much, but I can get more with my head against the wall than away from it.
i have really heavy legs which unables me to do handstands,do you have any tips on what I should do?
Don’t want to sound harsh but I see two options. Lose weight to make yourself lighter and easier to push up or gain strength to accomplish the same thing.
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