The handstand (or inverted) push-up sure is an intimidating sight. Legs up, head down, arms working like pistons; the human body can’t be meant to function like that!
Whether or not it is, we can’t say, but damn if it doesn’t make for a fine shoulder workout! However, the handstand push-up is unsurprisingly a move with a high entry barrier. Most people don’t even know how to do a handstand, let alone work from there!
But no need to worry! With our guide, we’ll take you from zero (or wherever you stand at) to full mastery of this challenging, and oh-so-worth-it exercise!
Handstand Push-up Prerequisites
This being an advanced move, a certain level of fitness is recommended before undertaking the journey of the handstand push-up. Prior to tackling the progressions themselves, you should, at the very least, be able to pull off:
- 20 strict push-ups in one set
- 20 sit-ups or crunches, also in one set
- 60 seconds of plank
- 20 bodyweight squats, one set
If something like this is beyond your current ability, please take the time to get there by incorporating those moves into your daily regimen and working up. If however you’ve mastered the exercises by now, by all means keep reading!
Handstand Push-up Progression: The Long Journey
We shouldn’t need to state this, but we’ll state it anyway: always warm up before an exercise session. Do what works for you, for as long as it results in you feeling mobile and flexible afterward. You’ll need that feeling.
As far as training aids go, you’ll need very few. A wall is of course necessary, as is an elevated surface such as a stool a bench, or anything stable that goes up to your knees or so.
This course has 11 tiers of mastery. We recommend starting at tier one, so you can accurately gauge your ability. Take the move listed in that tier’s description, and do three sets of four to eight repetitions per training session. Once that is finished, you’re done for the day. Find a tier too easy? Move over to the next one!
Don’t force it; any gains from pushing hard on this will be marginal, but the risk of injury will escalate sharply. For optimal results, train for handstand push-ups two to three times per week.
Tier 1: Incline Pike Push-ups
Stand before the bench/chair/other elevated surface. Place your hands on it, shoulder-width apart. Bend your body at the waist (aim for a 90 degree angle) while keeping your back as straight as you can, forming a line with your torso and extended arms. Now do a push-up while not disturbing the 90 degree angle.
Tier 2: Incline Pike Diamond Push-ups
This one is similar to the previous one, the difference being the position of your hands. As the name says, instead of a classic push-up, here we will go with the diamond variant.
Tier 3: Pike Push-ups
Alright, this is where we get serious! Ditch the elevation, get your hands on the ground while keeping your body at an approximate 90-degree angle, and you’ve got your pike push-up!
Tier 4: Diamond Pike Push-ups
As the name says, pike position, with arms bent like with diamond push-ups.
Tier 5: Decline Pike Push-ups
Time for a difficulty spike! Get the bench again, but this time put it behind you instead of before you. Get into the pike push-up position, but instead of keeping your legs on the ground, place them on the elevation. Then do your push-ups.
Tier 6: Wall Walks
This is where we start working on our handstand. What you need to do it assume a plank position with your feet touching a wall. Now walk back, raising your feet up as far as you can go/feel comfortable with. This is the one exercise that we suggest you do in tandem with another tier, in order to improve both balance and strength.
Tier 7: Wall Bent Handstand Push-ups
This is essentially a decline pike push, but with no bench. Instead, you will be resting your feet against the wall! Use the wall walk to assume the position, and get going!
Tier 8: Wall Handstand Push-ups (facing the wall)
Now we will raise our feet further, and do our push-ups while keeping our body as straight as possible.
Tier 9: Handstand Hold
There are many ways of assuming the handstand, but one rule is constant: do what works for you. After this much time spent wall walking and doing wall handstand push-ups, kicking yourself up into a handstand and staying in that position should not be that difficult.
A handstand is about strength and balance, and by this point you’ve got more than a little of both.Anyway, what you want to do is hold the handstand for as long as possible. Once you can do a minute, you can try and move on.
Tier 10: Wall Handstand Push-ups (facing away from the wall)
Assume the headstand position near a wall, while facing it with your back. Keeping your body as straight as an arrow, lean your feet against said wall. Now you can start doing push-ups. If this is too awkward, go back to the handstand hold for a bit.
Tier 11: Handstand Push-ups
The summit itself! Nothing fancy about assuming the position: go into a handstand, and start doing push-ups. Your legs are going to be difficult to balance early on (they will keep trying to tip you over to one side), but with time you will get the hang of it. All that remains is fine tuning, and once that is done with, you’ve fully mastered the move.
All in all, we that hope you’re ready to invest in a new shirt or two, because those shoulders are about to get massive!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.