Handstand Push Up Progressions to Build Boulder Shoulders

October 24, 2015 by VAHVA Fitness

Handstand push ups are one of the most impressive feats anyone can do. A great way to build size and strength as well.

Due to clear progressions handstand push ups can be approached by anyone from complete beginners to advanced lifters. Pick the right progression for your level and you are one step closer to achieving a full handstand push up.

Handstand push ups will build shoulders like nothing else. Both front deltoids and lateral deltoids are developed to an amazing degree. Triceps, upper chest and trapezius muscles get tons of work as well. 

Handstand push ups will develop balance and body awareness as a side product. Mastering the handstand push up will allow you to push heavy weights with a barbell, but a barbell overhead press might not necessarily allow you to perform a handstand push up.

In this article we will only call the full depth handstand push up a handstand push up. If the depth doesn't go past the hands, then the exercise is called a headstand push up.

Below is our video demonstrating the different handstand push up progressions. More details about the progressions below.

Handstand Push Up Progressions

Pike Press

pike presses
pike press

Pike press is the easiest progression of the handstand push up.

The range of motion isn't much, but pike press is still a beneficial exercise to develop strength and size in the shoulders. Pike press will develop the exact same muscles as proper handstand push ups do.

The best form requires a bit of pike flexibility: you can work on pike stretches and basic hands to toes stretches to improve your pike flexibility.

Otherwise, use the stance you feel comfortable with. Bend your legs at first if you need to.

Supported Headstand Push Up

supported handstand push ups
supported handstand push up

In supported headstand push ups, you are using a box, a table or a chair for support. You can even use a wall for a harder variation.

You are lifting more of your bodyweight compared to the pike press, which makes it a great progression to work towards a full handstand push up.

Elevated Headstand Push Up

elevated handstand push ups
elevated handstand push up

With elevated headstand push ups you are elevating your head and as a result, cutting the range of motion in order to make the exercise easier for you to perform.

You can use boxes, books, or almost anything. The difficulty is very easy to adjust with books if you workout at home.

At first, you need to use a lot of elevation, but when your strength levels progress, you should aim to decrease the elevation until you are doing full headstand push ups.

Headstand Push Up

headstand push up
headstand push ups

Many people already call this "a handstand push up".

Unfortunately, in this progression you are merely using half of the range of motion of a full handstand push up.

When you are doing a proper overhead press with a barbell, the range of motion is twice as big. Headstand push up is still only a partial repetition of a handstand push up.

Start from straight arms, lower yourself down until your head touches the floor, and then push yourself up. Avoid arching your lower back too much and lock your shoulders at the top.

Handstand Push Up

handstand push ups
handstand push up

This is a full handstand push up: you start from straight arms and lower your head below your hands.

If you attain this progression, you possess a great amount of strength in your entire upper body.

If you have great difficulties learning this progression, then you can just do negatives where you are merely lowering yourself down and calling it a rep.

How To Make Handstand Push Ups Even Harder

A full handstand push up is a serious feat of strength, but you might become so strong that you are able to go past beyond the final handstand push up progression. There are many ways to increase the difficulty:

  • Use a weighted vest. You can easily adjust the resistance by using a weighted vest.
  • Vary your grip width. Narrow handstand push ups tend to be much harder compared to normal ones, or wide handstand push ups. 
  • Do them freestanding. Freestanding adds another element: balance, which makes the exercise tremendously harder.
  • Face the wall with your stomach. This variation is significantly harder than the handstand push up done back against the wall, because this handstand push up resembles more a freestanding handstand push up than a regular one.

Handstand Push Up Programming

We recommend following the handstand push up progressions presented in this article and just fitting the progression into your usual workout. If you need help on how to start working out, please read: How to Start Calisthenics. 

Handstand Push Up Programming

Handstand Push Up Progression: Pike Press for 5 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions.

(Take 1-2 minutes of rest between sets.)

In case you are an experienced lifter and really want to blast your shoulders with handstand push ups, then you can use the burnout workout below:

Handstand Push Up Burnout Workout

A1 Handstand Push Up: Until failure.

A2 Headstand Push Up: Until failure.

A3 Pike Press: Until failure.

Do all of the exercises in a superset fashion. This means you move directly to A2 after experiencing failure with A1. No rest between sets. After you are done with A2, you move to A3 and do the pike press until failure.

This workout will build mass like nothing else. You will likely be completely exhausted after 1-2 sets.

Train hard, stay safe.


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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