Handstand Pushups

Following the recent trend here on the forum, I have tried to incorporate handstand pushups into my routine. Since I first entered into the realm of strength training as a Poliquin disciple, I followed his advice that shoulders rarely need a direct hit due to all the stimulation they receive from back and chest exercises. However, now I’ve noticed that while my gains in all my other bodyparts have increased, my shoulder development leaves little to be desired. Some of you on the forum (i.e. Nate Dogg and Mike Mahler) say that handstand pushups are excellent for the delts. My question is, how should I incorporate them into my routine? Should I do it daily? After workouts? How many times/sets a day? I tried today and on Nate Dogg’s advice, tried to hold a handstand position for a couple of minutes. I touched my toes on the wall for stability, and I still only held it for 1 minute. Sorry for the length of this, but I am very intrigued. Can anyone help?

J-Bone, treat handstand push-ups like any other exercise in your routine. They’re just like other bodyweight exercises (e.g. chin-ups or dips) that you might include in your program. You wouldn’t do those exercises every day, right? Personally, I like to do handstand push-ups before other shoulder exercises so I am fresh, just like I wouldn’t normally do pull-ups after doing a bunch of lat pulldowns. Also, don’t forget to pay attention to tempo, TUT, rest periods, etc with this exercise. Regardless of whether you’re doing reps or just holding the position, try to keep a TUT that reflects your current training goal (hypertrophy, strength, etc).

creamdream, thanks for your reply. What you said makes a lot of sense. In my desire to get bigger delts, I was lulled into a mental lapse, making old newbie mistakes such as planning to incorporate handstand pushups everyday. I’ll just call it being over-zealous. Anyway, creamdream, since you seem to be familiar with handstand pushups, could you recommend a routine something for me? TUT, sets, reps, etc.? As I posted earlier, I can only hold a handstand for 1 minute (and that’s with my toes on the wall, albeit it was after my chest, tri, and delt workout–I’m doing Ian King’s Chest and Back Program Phase III). Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

J-Bone, don’t be afraid to do the handstand pushups more than once a week. In fact, Matt Furey recommends doing the combat conditioning exercises quite often. That doesn’t mean you need to do the handstand pushups every day. but I would try a few days a week. I do them about three days a week. Sometimes I only do one or two sets. Other days I may do three or four. And sometimes I’ll just walk on my hands or practice holding a handstand without support. And I’ve gotten to the point where I can press myself into a handstand (from a gargoyle position) without kicking up or using support. Similar to what gymnasts do. If you are going to implement them with your weight workout, definitely do them first.

You can always do as Pavel Tsatsouline suggests. If you want to get stronger in a particular movement, then you have to do it often. He wrote a great article in MILO called “Tie yourself to the Squat rack and call me in a Year.” But the article actually talked about doing chins on a daily basis in order to increase strength and endurance. He was talking about how Navy SEALS do this to make the mandatory 20-rep chin test. The idea behind it is to do only a few reps and NEVER go to failure. If five reps is your best, do sets of three. And just do them whenever you walk by the chin bar. I am currently doing this with close-grip chins. But the same thing can apply to handstand pushups. If you want to get bigger and stronger, do them often but don’t go to failure. Remember, if you have a lagging bodypart or something you want to focus on for some reason, then you must SPECIALIZE. And that often means doing that bodypart more than once a week.

Starting off with a static hold is fine! Once you can hold for a few minutes (or when you feel stronger and more comfortable) attempt to do some reps. Come down until the top of your head touches the floor and then press yourself back up. Don’t rest your head on the floor! Good luck bro!

J-Bone, Nate Dogg offered some good advice. If improving your handstand push-ups is a priority, then it might benefit you to train them several times a week. However, Ian’s exercise selection and sequencing is important in his programs, so I’d hate to mess with it too much. Perhaps you could start each upper body day with a couple sets of HSPU’s. In stage 4 you could substitute them for the close-grip bench, still using the prescribed TUT, rest, etc. Whether you’re doing reps or just holding different positions, aim to achieve your desired TUT. During the exercise itself, try to start increasing your ROM, so the muscles can be stressed at different angles. This can be done in a variety of ways, using stacks of books, boxes, or a partner for assistance. I recommend you do a search for “handstand push-ups” for more details, as this was recently discussed. Good luck!

Nate Dogg, I appreciate your reply. I was actually waiting to hear from you as I know that you’ve proven yourself on this forum to be a respectable source on strength training. Although I have been training for quite a while now, I am still a newbie to combat training and handstand pushups. For that reason, could you please help me out and recommend something for me? Like what I asked creamdream before you, do you have any suggestions for sets, TUT? I’m looking to build up to 3 minutes per hold without support as you recommended on a previous post, and then work up to regular handstand pushups. I’m on Phase III of Ian King’s Super Strength right now, but still want to incorporate handstand pushups in my routine. So Nate Dogg, could you help a brotha out?

J-Bone, thank you for the kind words. But don’t be fooled. I’m not the best source for strength training information. In fact, some have said I have no right to even post on the forum since I’m not a big guy. But I’ve done quite a bit of reading and learning. And more importantly, I’ve tried quite a few different things and have seen what DOESN’T work! (Sticking to the basics is really the key!)

As for recommendations, it depends on what you hope to accomplish. Are you trying to increase your shoulder strength? Do you want to incorporate combat conditioning into your routine? Do you want to be better at hand balancing? Since you are using Ian’s program, you are already working upper body twice a week. So this gives you a few options. You can do as Creamdream recommended and do them prior to your upper body workouts. That could be a good idea. If you want to do that, then start out with one to three sets of holding the position as long as possible. I think that if you can hold the position for a minute, you should be able to do a rep or two. So maybe start trying for one or two reps. And do a few sets (3-5).

Depending on what you are doing on your off days, you could do the handstand pushups along with some other combat conditioning exercises. Maybe do the handstand pushups during two days of the week and one day on the weekend. As for TUT, I just lower myself slow and controlled. I don't go for a specific TUT. But it probably is something like 312. But don't get caught up with TUT. I don't think anyone needs to be anal about it. TUT is just a guideline. It's hard to say exactly what to do, since I'm not sure what your goals are and what you are currently doing on your off days. So give me some more info.

Nate Dogg, I’ve been reading this forum ever since it’s inception, so I’m aware that you’re not a big guy (5’4, buck-50, right?). However, I am also aware that you know your shit. You probably have a greater desire for lifting than I do, and I don’t concede that admission to just anyone–actually, very rarely do I find someone who can match my thirst for knowledge. So yeah, I know you’re a “small guy,” but your knowledge is “big”–that’s all I really care about and that’s why I appreciate your help.
As for my goals, I would like to gain more mass in my shoulders and also some strength too. I started out as a Poliquin disciple, so my delts are a weak spot for me. I never knew how weak until I got over my narrow mindedness and started to read other strength coaches’ articles/books (I guess I thought I would be betraying Coach Poliquin or something…haha). What got to me was looking in the mirror and noticing how small my delts were. Initially I just shrugged it off until one night, my roommate confirmed my thoughts. Now I’m obsessed with increasing delt size. I read in a post that you participated in that you said your delts and arms “blew up” with handstand pushups. Even better is that it’s a part of combat training, and I’m taking a class in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. But the class is really besides the point…mass and strength gains are really what I’m after. I’m going to take a week off after the 12 weeks of Coach King’s program (I’m using it with the Limping series), and then partake on his Great Guns routine. I was thinking about adding a shoulder specialization routine with Great Guns since delts are such a small muscle group. What do you think? I’ve got The Poliquin Principles and would use the shoulder programs in there, plus the one Coach King delineated in Heavy Metal, with added handstand pushups. However, I would like to get a start on handstand pushups ASAP. Since I’ve got an upper body workout tomorrow, what do you think about adding some HSPUs in the beginning, and cutting out the second supersets for tris and shoulders? Actually, I was thinking about 4 sets of 1 minute static holds (with my toes in contact with the wall). This message is beginning to get pretty long, so Nate Dogg, what do you think? Should I do it before my upper body workouts and once on the weekends, or just do them on my off days which are Wed, Sat, and Sun?

J-Bone, are you more concerned about putting on mass or getting better at handstand push-ups? Nate’s right…don’t waist too much time pondering the details. But I do think TUT deserves some consideration.

First of all, TUT refers to the total length of the SET, not the rep tempo. There is a significant difference in training effect between holding various handstand positions for 60 seconds versus doing 2 full range HSPU’s in 10 seconds, though both may elicit “failure” in the same trainee. The former being the better option for hypertrophy, while the latter might be better for athletic strength/skill. Of course, you could always do a mix of types, too.

Being a former gymnast, I think I’m pretty qualified to comment on this topic.

During our off season conditioning, we did tons of handstand pushups. We did them first on parallel bars (actually, they are the hardest there), then on the floor, then on rings. You’d think the rings would make them harder, but the straps that connects the rings to the cables made them easier there. We had to complete a total of 25 in each “station”. Sometimes we had 2 a day practices, but we only did the “conditioning” on M,W,F.

My strength was outrageous when I was a gymnast. I could do a stiff/stiff press on rings (a straight body/straight arm press to a handstand from an L position) without too much struggle. In inverted cross wasn’t too difficult, and I could do a decent Maltese Cross (a horizontal cross) (but for me, a regular one was difficult…go figure). We had one guy on the team that was able to do 25 on each station, without resting, without a spot at all!!

While my strength was good, my shoulders never “looked” the part. Keep in mind that our average competative weight was around 125 pounds at the time. I don’t think I could do anywhere near what I could do then, unless I choose to lose about 40 pounds, which I DON’T need to do.

If your into martial arts, competative sports, or various activities where you need to use your body like that, by all mean, do them. But, IMO, if you are just training for size, stick with iron. Then again…handstand pushups are a pretty good showoff thing.


creamdream, thanks for your reply. I think something may have been misconstrued. I understand that TUT is “time under tension” and not the rep tempo. I was merely asking that since I could only hold a handstand for a minute, how many sets should I do and what should the TUT be? Since I’m starting out with static holds to build greater strength in this exercise, I’m only concerned with TUT and not rep tempo. Thanks for your replies anyways. I appreciate it.

Danny…I was always impressed with the gymnasts’ body. I believe that all the T-men were jealous of the mass and strength of the gymnasts during this past Olympics. I don’t want to do handstand pushups to show off. I just thought they were a great delt/triceps workout and was really intrigued by them. They just seemed to be a really great exercise for strength. Doing 25 per station sounds fuckin’ crazy! You must have been in great shape. Well, I’m interested in gaining strength as well as muscle (afterall, what good are big muscles if they aren’t functional, right?), so I’m definitely going to incorporate some into my workout tomorrow. Wish me luck. And thanks for spending the time to chime in on the subject.

By the way Danny…you got any suggestions to how I could build up strength in this particular exercise? I was figuring 4 sets of 1 minute static holds before upper body days and then once again on Saturday (rest day). I’m planning to add 30 seconds each week until I reach 3 minute holds, at which point, I’d do 4 sets of 4 reps. What do you think? I’d really be interested in your input. Thanks.

J-Bone, you described me just right. So you have definitely paid attention to my posts. And yes, I may not be “big” physically, but I think I have quite a bit of knowledge to offer. I’ve always been the “book smart” guy. Danny certainly gave some good information on handstand pushups. I have always admired the strength and physiques of male gymnasts. That is the type of strength and size I would like to attain. I only wished I had stayed in gymnastics when I was younger.

As for some routines, I would suggest doing the handstand pushups three-days-a-week. It’s your choice as to whether you want to do them on your training days or off days. For what you are doing, it may be best to do them on your two upper body days, and one day on the weekend. Try a few sets doing as many reps as you can. Even if it’s only one or two. The static holds are another option. Sometimes, I’ll do a few sets of 4-8 reps and then do a static hold on the last set. As for TUT, I was the one that messed that up and gave an example of SOM rather than total TUT. Remember to lower slowly and under control. Then press yourself up! Strength is attained by short sets (under 20 seconds). And your regular exercises will help with the hypertrophy. So I wouldn’t take away any of the other exercises in your workout.

I know what you mean about having small delts. I too was a Poliquin disciple. And I figured that if he said that you don’t need direct shoulder work, then I didn’t need to do it. Well, that only made my situation worse. After years of not doing shoulders, they became a horrible weak spot. And that probably contributed to a recent shoulder injury. So now working my shoulders is a priority for me. And even if they do get worked with my other exercises, I’m still going to do some direct work including handstand pushups and overhead presses! Hope that helps big dog!

Nate Dogg, thanks for your suggestions. Today I did three sets of 45 second static holds and man, they were killer. After the first 25 seconds I thought, “shit…this is so easy.” Then the fatigue immediately hit, to the point that when the 35 second mark came on, my arms were shaking like I had a Parkinson’s. During my workout, I cut out my second scapula depression superset just so I wouldn’t overtrain. I think I’ll keep the second superset next week but I’m still gonna do these HSPUs for sure! After work I read your most recent reply to me and I just tried a set of HSPUs (not the static holds, but the real push ups) and I only got 3 reps on a 312 tempo. I felt the blood rushing to my head like a tidal wave. It was incredible! So this is what I’m planning from now on: stretch, 2 sets of HSPUs 3-4 reps (with my roommate spotting me), 2 sets of HSPU static holds, as long as possible, then my upper body workouts. I still have a problem of looking downward to the floor (thus having my head out of alignment) during my sets, but I’m gonna try and work on that so that I look straight ahead.
Thanks to all who replied to my post: creamdream, Danny, and Nate Dogg. You guys are the best. I hope to return the favor one day. Peace.

J-Bone, good job! Sounds like you had a good workout. And your workout plan sounds good to me. Do a few sets of 2-4 reps followed by a couple sets of static holds. Be sure to do them against a wall. Keep your toes or heels against the wall for support. And keep your head straight. I don’t get the rush of blood to my head like other people. I think it’s because I do them so often, and have always practiced handstands that it doesn’t affect me. My brother tried doing a handstand the other day, and he had the rush of blood to his head. He was dizzy when he stood back up! LOL!