“He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty”
I love training with kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, clubbells, macebells, stones, medicine balls and resistance bands. However, much of the strength in my stabilizer muscles comes from focusing on balance while pushing and pulling my own body weight from multiple angles. Other benefits of this training include; increased coordination, flexibility, and of course increased muscle strength and muscle mass.
One of the foundations of all sports and athletics is called relative strength. This means aiming for maximum strength relative to your size and weight. There are many body weight exercises that help increase your relative strength, some include: pistols, handstand pushups, one-arm pushups, and one-arm pull-ups. All of those examples are demanding feats that require diligent and intelligent training.
I enjoy challenging myself with more difficult exercises so I can continue to grow as a trainer and as a strength athlete. Currently I am working on achieving my most challenging training goal ever: the one-arm chin up. I am also working on and off on achieving the freestanding handstand pushup. With a well-designed progressive approach, I have made steady progress toward these goals.
One of the most effective bodyweight exercises for pressing strength is the freestanding handstand pushup. Besides strengthening the core, it develops powerful shoulders, total-body coordination, balance, and kinesthetic awareness. Therefore, I want to share with you an innovative approach that will help you work up to your first freestanding handstand pushup. If this exercise is entirely new to you and you cannot hold a handstand with your entire body weight against a wall (wall handstands) for at least 30 seconds, you should first master the progressions from the book Convict Conditioning by coach Paul Wade.
However, if you are able to hold your feet against a wall for 30 seconds, start by pressing from the floor with a pair of resistance bands suitable for your level of strength.
The bands work similarly to having a workout partner. They help you during the wall handstand press when you need it and not much when you don't. They even help to assist your balance. If you lose your balance when taking your feet off the wall, just place your feet against the band and let it stabilize you.
Use the bands on some days, and on other days, do isometric holds with your entire body weight, using a wall to help guide your feet. Slowly lower yourself from the upright position, pausing for a few seconds every few inches. This approach will develop the strength necessary to perform wall handstands presses.
Once you are able to do eight to twelve reps wall handstand presses with your whole body weight, use the resistance bands approach on deloading days.
If you don't have a good sense of balance control during your handstand pushups or want to simply knock out some good reps for hypertrophy purposes, simply keep the feet against the band. In this video below I am keeping my feet against the band on a high rep day. I am using the bands to gradually build up the strength required to perform extended range handstand push ups with my entire body weight between cement blocks.
Keeping the feet against the band makes the press a lot easier and allows you to do more reps. However, if you want to work on your balance control, strive to complete this movement with minimal support from the wall and from keeping your feet against the band. With a consistent training, you will become less reliant on the bands and you will be able to do handstand pushups with your feet barely touching the wall and with your whole body weight.
You can gain a great deal of pressing strength by performing wall handstand pushups with your entire body weight. It's useful to wear a pair of socks when starting out. The socks will slide up the wall and you’ll be able to focus entirely on pressing upward. As you become less dependent on the wall, you can begin to wear shoes to minimize your ability to use the wall for assistance. A pair of shoes will not glide up the wall, forcing you to take your feet off its surface.
Assuming your goal is to do a freestanding handstand pushup, there is no need to obsess about gaining balance and control during your handstand presses. Eventually with consistent practice the freestanding handstand pushup will happen surely.
Here is a video demonstrating the entire approach and a pressing technique for safety performance and to amplify your strength: