With the Olympics just finishing up recently, I was inspired to adjust my next training program. Every now and then I feel like I have a decent amount of relative strength, and then I see a gymnast. I grew up playing team sports so I never had the opportunity to experience gymnastics as a youth. I see the strength, power, and flexibility they posses and my confidence is quickly shattered as I waddle home with my tail between my legs.

When asked what body type I would like to have, I always answer with 1a. A gymnast and 1b. A sprinter. You’ll never see an out of shape gymnast or sprinter, however, you do see plenty of overweight and out of shape long distance runners…hhmmm…but I digress.

Back to the point – If these two body types are ones I aspire to; then why not train like they do (within reason of course)? Now, strength gains are my ultimate goal, so the bulk of my training will consist of heavy, compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts. I plan to incorporate these bodyweight, gymnastic-inspired movements into the routine as my accessory lifts. I believe they will be a nice compliment to the heavier lifts and provide an overall well-rounded routine. I also believe the biggest factor is clean, healthy nutrition; so that will be a priority as well.

I recently finished up a 6-week training program and this is my current “deload” week. I will change up my next program and include more bodyweight training and sprint training. Now, I already do incorporate these to an extent, however, I want to take it to the next level. For the gymnastic portion of my training, I plan to add in new, BASIC movements such as:

• Handstand Pushup
• Front Lever
• Back Walkover
• Cartwheels/Round-offs
• Rolling – forward & backward
• Maybe a back tuck…maybe

We must always keep in mind the goal of our training. My favorite question to ask when it comes to training is, “Why”? Why are we doing a particular movement or skill? If we can legitimately answer that question then we are on the right path for success. I realize I’m not preparing for Rio 2016 so any improvements in these movements will be a victory for me. Baby steps.

For the purposes of this particular article, we’ll focus on the handstand pushup only. If my progressions improve in the other movements as well, I’ll continue the series.

Disclaimer: I’m an absolute beginner and the majority of these new movements that I plan to incorporate into my routine for the next couple months will be progressed slowly and safely.

Let’s ask my favorite question → Why?
• Why incorporate handstands and handstand pushup variations into a routine?
• They are great for developing strength for the shoulders, arms, chest, and even your back and abs; pretty much the entire upper body
• They help to create core stability as you must keep that “stiffness” in your torso during the exercise
• Will improve your overall balance and body awareness (proprioception)
• When performed correctly, they will improve your shoulder joint stability
• No equipment is needed so they are great to incorporate anywhere…your home, the park, the beach, etc.
• The provide variety. We typically perform pushups and presses for our chest, arms, and shoulders…this is a great way to challenge the body in a new and effective way

Important Point – These are not for everyone. Anyone with shoulder, elbow, and/or wrist issues should probably stay away from handstand variations. Until you are pain free and cleared, do not attempt these, as the risks do not outweigh the rewards.

Now that we see all the great benefits one can obtain from incorporating handstand variations into their routine; let’s take a look at how to perform the movement. This is an exercise with a ton of progressions and, just like any other exercise, start with the basics first and then progress accordingly.

I decided to connect with a colleague of mine who is extremely smart and is a heck of a lot better at handstand pushups than I am. Max Shank, owner of Ambition Athletics, has been incorporating bodyweight movements into his routine for a while and he’s had tremendous success. He shows a couple handstand pushups with pvc parallettes and I also included 2 additional clips of Max below. This first clip will show you a series of progressions and variations to try out. There are tons more options out there…just wanted to give you a few. This clip includes chair pushups, table pushups, crow pose, pole-assisted handstand pushups, wall-assisted handstand pushups, and TRX variations.


Advanced Clip #1 – Rings Press to Handstand

Advanced Clip #2 – Weighted Free-standing

Where to fit these into my routine?
Handstand pushups are an ‘upper body push’ movement so they would fit into my routine the same place a chest press, pushup, or shoulder pressing exercise would fit. Starting out I wouldn’t be too concerned with sets and reps, just work on increasing your time on the ‘holds’ every session. Once you are competent with those, then you can begin to work on adding the pushup repetitions.

Example 1
Lower Body Hip Dominant – Deadlift
Upper Body Vertical Press – Handstand Pushup
Rotational – Tubing Torso Rotations

Example 2
Upper Push – Handstand Pushup
Upper Pull – Pullup

Upper Push – Pushup
Upper Pull – Inverted Row

Final Thoughts
Again, remember the important point above; these are not for everyone. If you have any joint issues I do not recommend attempting handstand pushups until you are issue free.

This is a great, underrated exercise that will really challenge you in new ways. Mix up your normal routine and get upside down! The extra blood flow to the brain will provide benefits too! And you never know, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are coming…

About Doug
Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is the owner of DB Strength, which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for Alliance MMA where he works with UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. Prior to starting his own business, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).
He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU and has obtained multiple certifications including ACE, NSCA-CSCS, MMA-CC, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, and FMS training. He has produced his own 2-DVD set on strength training for combat athletes, appeared in many fitness videos and articles, and was recently a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show.

For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.