If you’re like most people I know, then then there’s a high probability that of the hundreds of different exercises we do during 12 Minute Athlete workouts, handstand push ups intimidate you the most.
Maybe they’re so intimidating that you’ve never even tried them, and have a habit of skipping any workouts where they’re included.
In fact, you probably think they’re near impossible — that they’re only for gymnast types with insanely broad shoulders, and strong, compact bodies.
But let me tell you a secret: you can do handstand push ups.
I don’t care how strong you are, how long your arms are (my nickname for years was spaghetti arms, so I can relate), how unbalanced and uncoordinated you are.
Unless you have a shoulder injury or something else actually prohibiting you from standing upside down, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t do handstand push ups.
Because here’s the thing: you don’t have to be superhuman to do handstand push ups. And just like anything else, you can break them down into progressions that will eventually lead you to working the full thing.
Handstand push ups are a skill that takes years for some people to perfect. But you’ll never get better at them if you don’t start practicing.
Why Handstand Push Ups?
Despite being one of the most badass exercises of all time, handstand push ups also rock for the following reasons:
- They build incredible shoulder and upper body strength
- They help strengthen your core and glutes
- They make you feel like a (really strong) kid!
So how do you get started?
We’re all at different levels, and we all (hopefully) will always be constantly improving.
Personally, I’ve only been doing handstand push ups for a couple of years, and I still have a long way to go. But I know that if I keep practicing, keep pushing myself harder, I’ll get where I want someday.
That being said, there’s a pretty logical progression of where to start when first trying to do a handstand push up.
How to Get Started Doing Handstand Push Ups
If you follow the progression of exercises below, you’ll build the strength and technique you’ll need to be able to handstand push ups.
Start wherever is the most appropriate for you—a.k.a. there’s no need to start at the beginning if you can already do pike push ups, though they will definitely build up the strength in your shoulders and back. Then make sure to include these exercises in your workout routine two to four times a week for the fastest possible results.
So whether you’re starting from zero and have never done a handstand push up in your life, or whether you can do a few right now and want to be able to do more, here’s how to master the art of the handstand push up:
Pike Push Ups
If you’re starting from the very beginning, whether you just need to build up strength or you need to get your confidence up, you should start with pike (also called upright or A frame) push ups.
These will build up your shoulders and back, and also get you used to the position of being slightly upside down.
To complete a pike push up:
- Start in a downward dog position.
- Lower yourself down as far as possible so that your forehead nearly touches the floor.
- Keep your abs tight and your shoulders pulled back.
- Your elbows should be held inward, close to your sides (no chicken winging!).
- Push yourself back up in the starting position.
Watch the video:
Modified Handstand Push Ups
When you feel pretty comfortable doing pike push ups, it’s time to move on to modified handstand push ups.
The goal here? To build up strength in your upper body and get used to the motion of being upside down.
To complete a modified handstand push up:
- Set your feet on a surface with your hands on the floor so that you’re bent over in a 90 degree position.
- Lower yourself toward the ground as far as possible, keeping the 90 degree angle.
- Push back up and repeat.
Handstand Push Ups (Against a Wall)
Once you’re feeling pretty good about modified handstand push ups, it’s time to get to the fun stuff: handstand push ups against a wall.
Don’t think you need to be able to do the modified version perfectly before you try these—you just need to feel brave enough to go upside down.
To complete a wall handstand push up:
- Face a wall in a standing position.
- Kick your feet up so you’re in a handstand position against a wall.
- Squeeze your abs, glutes and thigh muscles.
- Lower yourself toward the ground as far as possible.
- Push back up and repeat.
Note: If you’re worried about falling on your head, put a yoga block or a pillow under your head. Also, if you find it too difficult/scary to kick your feet up against a wall, simply face opposite the wall and walk your feet up instead.
Watch the video:
Optional Step: Using a Band
In the second part of the video above, you’ll notice a progression using two bands looped together on a pull up bar. This can help you both build up strength for full handstand push ups as well as develop the muscle memory for the correct position you’ll want for a freestanding handstand push up.
Try it if you’re up for it!
The Next Step
Your ultimate goal for handstand push ups?
To be able to do them without a wall.
Of course, this feat of strength and balance is unattainable for most of us. Heck, it’s not even a goal for most of us.
And the reason why I don’t have a tutorial video of me doing freestanding handstand push ups?
Because I can’t do them yet.
However, it happens to be one of my big fitness goals for the next year… so stay tuned.
Now go do some handstand push ups. I know you can.