Increase Upper Body Strength with Handstand Pushups

Handstand pushups are a great exercise to increase your overall upper body pressing strength. While I have performed them on and off for years, I really began to focus on them for the last 6 weeks and my strength has greatly increased. My overhead press was stalling at 150lbs for 5 reps and 165 for 3 reps. Now, due to performing more advanced variations of handstand pushups, I can press 185 for at least 3 reps and I’ve maxed out at 200lbs.

The following progressions are the exercises I used to improve my overhead pressing strength

Handstand Pushups

Using the wall to support to your body, kick up into a handstand and lower yourself until your head touches the ground and push your self back up. Your hands should be about shoulder width apart.

You can also perform wide handstand pushups by opening the span in between your hands.

You can place extra emphasis on the triceps by placing your hands closer together. These are very tough so be careful when first trying them out.

Increasing the Range of Motion

While the above exercises are great, you aren’t working the full range of motion because your head gets in the way. Once you can do at least 5-10 handstand pushups easily, you may want to try placing you hands on small blocks or books in order to allow your arms to move lower.

I used yoga blocks for this, but anything that is about 3 inches or so in height will be sufficient.

Once I could perform 5 reps on the yoga blocks, I used push up bars to increase the range of motion to about 6 inches.

At this point, I also began using pike presses with my feet elevated in order to get the feel of lowering myself until my hands were even with my shoulders and workout my muscles through the entire range of motion but with less resistance than a full handstand.

Lastly, when I could perform at least 5 reps on the pushup bars, I used parallettes in order to allow myself to lower my body to where my hands were even with my shoulders (like the starting position in the Overhead Press). These are extremely tough to perform, especially with my long arms, but strong enough to perform these full range of motion handstand pushups has helped me lift more weight in the Overhead Press.

Tips

I suggest you take at least one day off in between sessions, especially when moving on to the harder progressions. On weightlifting days where you perform the Overhead Press, you can either do a few sets of handstand pushups to warm up, or if you prefer, perform them after you do your work sets.

Make sure to keep your core tight in order to minimize arching your back. This will put more emphasis on the upper chest and less on the shoulders and therefore not give you much strength to carry over to your overhead press.