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Handstand pushups.

Description: Use the body in a full inversion to practice an overhead press.

Motions trained: Overhead pressing.

Main muscles used: Deltoids and lats
   Other muscles: Core


How to do it: Get into a handstand with your arms shoulder width apart. Lower yourself down as far as you feel you have control. A narrow grip will ferociously work the triceps (at right in the pictures). A wide grip will work the deltoids more than the lats.

How to work up to it: First, take a test to see if you have sufficient abdominal strength. Lie on your back and have someone elevate your feet. Now, see if you can lift your hips off the ground and hold yourself stiff for 10 seconds. If you cannot do this, you cannot stabilize upright, so work on this. Next you need to be sure that you have been doing enough leg exercises that you can kick off. You should be able to do a good 10 double pistols. You should also be doing overhead presses with dumbbells. Check your progress with a machine if you can hold you weight. This is different than lifting your weight, so have help getting it up and be sure to keep your back flat against the back of the seat. This is where is gets a bit trickier, since some weight machines have your arms quite far apart, which is not ideal. You could try a weight bar if you have help.

Now you are ready to point your head at the floor. Try some 'V' pushups, which is just a pushup with your feet and hands closer together. Aim for 10 of these. Next try posting by putting you knees on a small bench and assuming the position but with your lower body supported. This will let you practice getting into the position as safely as possible. Just practice trying to get up with your hands shoulder width apart and stay there, without moving, this is called posting. Work up to posting for a good 30 seconds. Maintain good alignment with the hips over the shoulders. Get so you can raise one leg having the other on the bench. When you can post with one leg in the air for 15 seconds, try raising the other.

Once you can post for a good 15 seconds, you can start to work on pushups progressively. Get in pushup position with your feet elevated at 45 degrees. Gradually raise your feet. You can walk your feet up a wall to do this. You will have to be able to do a pushup first, of course. Treat handstands and the pushup parts as independent and have a goal of integrating them.

Some people find it easier to do this with the tummy against the wall. To get into this position by facing the wall, reaching down to one side so you have a twist in your body, then pulling your legs up. Smaller lighter people can do this but I personally never had much success with it. I usually show folks how to do it with the back to the wall, then once they are good at that tell them to give the tummy to the wall version a shot as a variation. You do have to grow a lot of new muscle and teach yourself to balance to do handstands, so don't expect a miracle. On the other hand, it's like riding a bicycle and once you have ti down you can rock up into this position in a heartbeat. I usually start my workout with a few of these since they feel good. The point is that there is a lot more going on here than just raw power in the shoulders.

Again, if you are large and do not have a lot of relative upper body strength, stick with overhead dumbbell presses and forgo these. A concussion and dislocated shoulder(s) aren't worth it.

Ramping it up: Get off the wall. Try to post in the middle of the room for up to 30 seconds, then once you can do that on a regular basis, do your pushups there. You can also practice walking on your hands. This is an unexpectedly beneficial exercise, since it requires movement, so your body must accomodate different angles and loads. Of course, all of the should be done on mats. Before you start this just do a few sommersaults to convince yourself that yes, you can bail out, then have fun.

Try them plyometrically: Drop a bit and push off immediately. Have a friend gently put a hand on your feet to give you added resistance. This can be increased, but this is fundamentally not a power movement.

Don't forget to do shrugs when you are inverted. Get into posting position and without bending your elbows, use you shoulders to move you up and down. It won't be much, but this is really good for your shoulder stabilizers. You don't need to do much of this.

Some extremely strong and lightweight people can do these one-handed. If you think you qualify, give it a shot. First and foremost, get so you can post for at least 30 seconds to a minutes before you even think about a one-handed pushup in this position. If you are going to do it, start at a corner, so your feet can find purchase and stabilize you.  Shift your balance and root over to one hand and gradually take the other palm off the floor, which increases the load on the planted hand. Again, these are not for everybody by any means. Work up to it by eventually just being on fingertips with the assisting hand and then strive to lift it off the floor just an inch. Pretty gymnastics form has the free hand at your side, but this isn't gymnastics.

Do's and don'ts: Don't let your hands get too wide unless you are very strong indeed. The wider they are, the more your deltoids do and they might give out on you with little warning. Also, hands can slide and the wider they are, the more apt they are to slip. Concrete feels lousy on your head, so be careful. Don't use a small mat, even though it looks like it's a good idea. These can very treacherously slip out from under you.  If you have a large mat securely attached to the floor that might be ok, but I'd probably opt for a hard floor first.

Don't even think of trying a clapping version of these!

Comments: One of the all time great exercises for your serratus anterior, which are those little muscles on either side of your chest that look like ribs. This, as I stated and will do so again, is not a power move. You should really never plan on having someone over your head like this for a martial arts technique. It will strengthen the shoulder and all the structures that stabilize it.

I started doing these in earnest when I was trying to get over a bout of back trouble. I can do these with no ill effect on the lower back (there is no load it must support), while overhead pressing machines aggravate it to no end. Some folks wonder about that. Once I realized that my bodyweight exercises were giving me a better workout than weights and I was largely avoiding any back trouble with them, I dropped the weights (well figuratively) and never looked back.