Article last updated: February 2018 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
At the end of 2011 I made the switch to bodyweight training. My first routine consisted of chin ups, diamond push ups and single legged squats.
However, after doing diamond push ups for over 8 months my body stopped responding to it, therefore I had to find a way to progress.
At the time I didn’t want to go back to training at the gym, so I decided to do handstand push ups.
The handstand push up targets the shoulders and triceps but also the upper chest which is great news for the skinny-fat guy.
In this article I will explain how YOU can achieve a wall handstand and progress into the full handstand push up, by following the 6 steps below:
Step 1: Get Strong Enough
You CAN do handstands without being strong, but I advise you to get strong first to make it a whole lot easier.
In particular, you must have strong triceps, shoulders and wrists.
To strengthen your triceps, shoulders and wrists you want to master the basic push up variations, by following the advice in the articles listed below:
- Bodyweight Training for the Skinny-Fat Beginner (achieve 20 regular push ups)
- How to Build the Beach Muscles with Diamond Push Ups (achieve 20 diamond push ups with perfect form)
Step 2: Don’t Think Too Much About Form
Before I achieved my first handstand I read a lot about form and watched videos of it. Thinking back, I’ve realized that it didn’t help me much to read about form and watch videos.
When you kick into a handstand the first time, you’re too anxious to think about having great form. You may be thinking:
“What if I fall to the side”
“What if I land on my head”
“What if I hurt my back”
Those are all valid concerns, but watching videos and reading about form will most likely not help much. Instead, you should focus on maximizing safety by getting a spotter doing them on a soft mat.
Step 3: Ask a Friend to Spot You
To overcome the fears listed in step 2, you want to get someone to spot you by standing in front of you, ready to catch your legs so that you don’t tilt forwards in the handstand position and land on your back.
Additionally, a spotter will be able to tell you what you’re doing wrong, so you can adjust right on the spot.
That kind of information is much more valuable than watching videos online.
Spotting a handstand is simple, and anyone can do it. I have been spotted by small and light girls before, and it never failed.
Ask a friend spot you, or go to a yoga class and ask the instructor to spot you.
Step 4: Use a Gymnastics Mat
I’m 6”3, +190 lbs and I can’t even do a cartwheel after trying hard for years. Not exactly the perfect build for handstands.
Despite that, I have NEVER hurt myself with handstands, and I have fallen in pretty much any way you can imagine. A gymnastics mat enables you to fall and minimize the risk of injuries.
They make it diffcult to balance since your hands aren’t on a stable surface, but they will make any kind of fall painless and balancing shouldn’t be too difficult when you have a spotter.
That’s why you want to do your first many handstand attempts on a mat with a spotter.
Step 5: Learn By Doing
With a spotter that is ready to catch your legs and a soft mat, there’s pretty much no way you can hurt yourself.
Now it’s time to learn by doing.
Dedicate a few weeks where you do handstands with a spotter on a soft mat and fail a lot. That’s what I did to overcome my fear of handstands and get comfortable with them.
The more often you do them, the better.
Keep in mind that you may not learn the handstand right away. I probably attempted +200 handstands before I got one that looked somewhat decent.
I remember that in the beginning I would make a forward roll because I was afraid of kicking up and keeping my body straight.
That was one of many mistakes, but the only way I learned to fix the mistakes was by having someone spot me and tell me what I’m doing wrong.
Chances are that you’re gonna make mistakes that are completely different from mine, and that’s why you want to have someone spot you and give you feedback on the spot.
By doing the handstands often and failing a lot while getting feedback from a spotter, you should be able to get a handstand within 2 weeks.
Step 6: Wall Handstands
After overcoming your fear of handstands with a spotter and soft mat, your goal is to hold a wall handstand for 1 minute.
When you do the wall handstand, you should kick into it, just like you did on the soft mat, rather than walk your feet up the wall.
For instance, start holding it for 10 seconds, then gradually increase the time until you reach 1 minute.
When you can hold it for a minute, you start working on the wall handstand push up.
Handstand Push Up Training
Handstand push ups are a taxing exercise where you lift your whole bodyweight, so even if your muscles can recover quickly from them, your joints may not – especially your wrists.
As a skinny-fat guy you should be extra careful about the wrists.
You most likely have small and weak wrists, so it will take time for your wrists to get used to handstands.
That’s why you really want to follow step 6 and be able to hold a 1 minute handstand comfortably before you even think of lowering yourself.
If you get any kind of pain in your wrists, use wrist wraps to protect them. I used wrist wraps for a long time, but now I don’t need them anymore.
Think long term with this exercise, instead of rushing for fast gains.
Once you are ready to lower yourself from the handstand position, you may have to overcome another fear: falling on your face.
I remember that I would be in the handstand position for a very long time, and I just couldn’t force myself to go down.
That is until I discovered a great tip: place pillows on the floor before you kick into the handstand.
Pillows will give you confidence to lower yourself AND they’re a great tool to progress safely.
For instance, use 3 pillows first, then use 2, then 1 and finally none.
You remove 1 pillow once you can do 12 controlled reps on your current depth.
With that out of the way, let’s continue to the routine I used to achieve the full handstand push up.
Training Routine to Achieve a Full Handstand Push Up
For any type of handstand, you should warm up your wrists and shoulders extensively. The warm up must include:
- Dynamic stretching for your shoulders (swing your arms around in circles)
- Stretches for your wrists (place your hands on the floor with fingers pointing to your thighs, then push back and forth to get a nice stretch)
- A few sets of push ups to get you warm
NEVER skip warm up.
Once you are ready to perform the handstand push up, keep in mind that you should do them with control. This is not an exercise where you just pump out reps like push ups.
Here’s the routine I followed to get a full handstand push up:
- Handstand push ups were trained 2-3 times a week depending on how I recovered.
- I performed 3 sets and noted down my reps, then finished the training with a few sets of high rep diamond push ups to get a good sweat.
- My handstand sets were stopped when I could feel that I wouldn’t be able to complete the next rep with good form.
- I focused on adding reps as often as possible.
- Once I reached 12 reps on my first set, I increased depth by removing 1 pillow.
- On days I felt fresh, I supersetted handstand push ups with chin ups to get a better workout.
The routine is simple, but effective. I started at 3 sloppy handstand push ups with no more than 1/4 range of motion and within a few months I could do 3 full handstand push ups and about 20 with 1/4 range of motion.
Additionally, some of the strength I built from handstand push ups transferred to my overhead press at the gym. After going back to the gym, I added 16.5 lbs to my overhead press max in just 3 weeks.
I hope this guide got you pumped to get out there and do some handstand push ups. It’s not only an effective exercise, but also a very cool skill to have.
Have fun and let me know how it goes.
Handstand spot photo credit: Flickr
Gymnastics mat photo credit: Flickr