NOTICE: To avoid any misunderstanding (and possible penis reduction in some individuals) by OAHSPU I mean wall-assisted One-Arm Handstand Push-Up (or as many people prefer to call it One-Arm Headstand Push-Up). You kick up into handstand with feet resting on the wall. Take away one arm and lower down until your head touches the floor. Then push back up.
So today’s theme is the mighty One-Arm Handstand Push-Up – the move that many people consider impossible. And only few individuals around the world take all their determination into a fist and are training for it day in day out. Are they out of their mind? Probably. Is it worth it? In my opinion, yes. And that’s not because I’m one of them. It’s worth the time and effort because OAHSPU is like holy grail for me. It matches all my requirements for ultra-heavy minimalistic no-tech upper-body pushing exercise, it resonates with my inner self and its “impossibility” adds some more spice to it. This move undoubtedly requires your full concentration, lots of time, effort and hard work. That’s what lures me to it. Are there better and safer ways to develop shoulder and triceps strength and size? Most definitely. But with all the safety you miss the romance of exploration.
Recently I was lucky enough to contact several people to provide some insights on the move. These people are Paul Wade, Jonathan Ferland-Valois and Logan Christopher. It’s always educating to hear [read] different people’s ideas especially if they are experts in the field (like these guys), so I figured out that it would be interesting to bring them all together and make some kind of a round table. I hope you’ll learn something new from this multi-interview and, of course, I won’t let you go without my own comments.
So let’s get to the questions:
Introduce yourself. Tell us about your training experience.
Paul: My name is Paul John Wade. I began training nearly thirty-five years back, in my early twenties, when I was incarcerated in San Quentin. Virtually everything I learned about training, I learned from the crucible of prison. Prison has its own attitude, its own training culture, that is VERY different from the one most folks know beyond the bars. That was probably even more true back in the day.
Jonathan: Hi, my name is Jonathan Ferland-Valois. I’m 26 years old and I live in Canada. I have a fairly long training experience. I started gymnastics when I was 9 years old, and kept going until I was 21. After that I did my firefighting course during one year, which made me lose some of my previous abilities to some extent. I then participated in research about martial arts training (unconventional type of training) and got into parkour. I kept doing that for a year, after which I decided to go on the road and live outside for a little while. I did that during 6 months, and landed in Vancouver with no money left, so I decided to stop and work a little bit. I had no preference concerning the type of job I was going to do and didn’t want to have to beg to find work, so instead of sending copies of my resume everywhere, I took my gymnastics skills on the street to make some money right away, and out of luck, got hired by a small circus company by the same occasion. I then decided to stick with circus for a while, as it would be a good opportunity to learn more interesting things and take my time to develop my hand balancing skills furthermore.
Logan: My name is Logan Christopher and I’ve been called a physical culture renaissance man because I’ve practiced and gained decent ability in a wide range of different ways of working out. Some of my specialties include bodyweight training including some basic hand balancing and acrobatics, kettlebells and feats of strength.
Alex: To learn about me (what a shame if you haven’t already) you can read another long article here.
How did you learn about OAHSPU?
Paul: I first saw this move relatively late in my career, in my thirties. At the time, most of the pressing I was doing was built around one-arm pushups, elbow levers, and tricks based around the two. At the time, for me, a OAHSPU looked like a very different animal; I was kipping up into one-arm handstand from a one-arm elbow lever. I soon dropped that method and began learning and teaching the OAHSPU against the wall, the way you describe it, but with a kip from the legs.
The athlete I saw who performed this was an inmate, who spent a huge amount of time training alone in his cell. This was over many years, remember—no weights, not machines, no distractions. Just him and a wall. I teach this style over the elbow lever method, because it relies less on balance and skill. It’s pure strength, baby.
Jonathan: I started thinking about it a while ago. Probably in 2006, year during which I often trained for up to 40 hours a week. I could crank up weighted HSPUs on the parallel bars, and wondered what would I have to do to keep getting stronger if I no longer had access to a gymnastics gym with weights. So that year, I kept doing weighted HSPUs and dips (with training partners hanging off my legs), and spent some time developing my one arm chin-up.
Logan: As it’s discussed here I first learned about it in Convict Conditioning. That being said, there are several similar skills involved in hand balancing that are equally amazing like pressing up from a one arm elbow lever to a one arm handstand.
Alex: I first learned about the OAHSPU, of course, from Convict Conditioning. This book changed my life and training approach forever. Before it I thought that calisthenics are useless and you can’t build strength and muscle with their help. How wrong I was. When I dived into the world of progressive bodyweight training, I found out that it was what I was looking for. It fit my philosophy perfectly and even changed it a little bit. And for me OAHSPU is on the top of the pyramid of bodyweight exercises.
Is OAHSPU possible, in your opinion?
Paul: I have seen it performed with reasonable form by more than five individuals, and have performed it myself. Of course it’s possible. Sure, you won’t see it on Youtube, but that’s because very few folks train for it, and the ones who do almost never train for it over long periods. In this respect, it’s kinda like the bent press. That used to be the number-one big lift a hundred years back, long before the bench press took over. In those days, Arthur Saxon could bent press over 400 pounds. But today—with better diets, steroids and so on—you won’t see anyone on Youtube doing even half that. Does that mean it’s impossible? No. It’s just that very few people train for it today.
I have heard a gymnastics coach (who should’ve known better) say that he thought the OAHSPU was impossible, but remember that gymnasts don’t train to perform this movement. So that’s a little like a powerlifter saying that a double backflip is impossible. It’s ignorance.
To work out whether it’s humanly possible, don’t listen to me. Just do the math. If you kip with the legs, a OAHSPU is not that far from an upside-down one-hand jerk—you are throwing up your bodyweight with one arm. That would be like a 200 pound guy pushing up 200 pounds with one arm. Is that possible? Hell, there are men who can do that much for ten reps. Obviously the technique and balance is different, but the mechanical forces aren’t all that dissimilar.
Modern athletes and wannabe athletes spend too much time on the internet, talking and thinking about training, and not enough time training. Your body is capable of far, far more than most folks give it credit for. As it stands now, the world record for the bench press is over 1076 pounds. People need to think about that for a little while, before declaring that a bodyweight OAHSPU is impossible.
Jonathan: If I didn’t believe the OAHSPU to be possible, I wouldn’t train on it the way I do now. But I want to make a little distinction. I doubt that it is possible to perform a good OAHSPU on the wall. To be balanced, a one arm handstand need the center of mass to be inside the support zone (the hand). It means that your body have to tilt above your shoulder, which created an angle at the shoulder. Because of that, the wall would throw you off balance if you used it. Maybe it’s possible to do it with the wall, but the form must look terrible.
Alex: Of course, OAHSPU is possible. You can read my thoughts on this here.
Do you train (for) OAHSPU right now? What’s your progress?
Paul: Right now I’m way on the wrong side of fifty. When I was younger, I was pretty much obsessed with bodyweight presses. They were like a religion to me. But your attitudes change. As I get older, I am more and more into hand-balancing and equilibrium techniques. They are fun, and keep me strong, keeping my shoulders healthy. I couldn’t perform a OAHSPU now, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t if I specifically trained for it for a year or so.
I was recently inspired by getting in touch with Jack Arnow. Jack trained under Jasper Benincasa (of “CTI” fame). Those guys trained with bodyweight pulls the way I used to obsess over bodyweight presses. Jack is over seventy, but recently went to train with Al and Danny Kavadlo, and is still ridiculously strong. He’s back in training for the one-arm pullup. He told me that Jasper Benincasa could still do a one-arm pullup in his eighties. Makes you think, huh? Maybe I should start training for it again.
Jonathan: As I said, I currently train to be able to do OAHSPUs, and I’m seeing consistent progress with it. I train it twice a week, and over the last year, I’ve been able to go from 3 reps with 3 fingers assistance to 5 reps with one finger assistance. Using the wall. I’m just waiting to be a bit stronger to practice it the same way, freestanding, basically the same way one would train for a one arm handstand: starting with a finger assistance, and then assisting less and less until the finger is no longer needed.
Logan: No I do not. While I believe it is possible I know it is far beyond my capabilities at this time, which I think is true for most people. I would rather encourage people to work on full range handstand pushups then to go after the OASHPU. These will build strength in a full range of motion and are much more achievable. Another worthy goal is to work on freestanding handstand pushups.
Alex: Yes, I’m training for OAHSPU right now. My progress is not that great yet. I’m doing singles in 5 finger assisted version. All in all it’s a good progress for me considering that I’m 83 kg and started with 5 finger assisted OAHSPU with partial range of motion (6 books).
What are prerequisites for starting OAHSPU training?
Paul: Great question. People who are not ready should not begin stressing the system by flipping upside down, and they should put the tissues of the shoulder under undue pressure. Before even thinking about these techniques, athletes should get used to inverse positions. Begin with exercises with the head down, like forward bends and stretches. Then move to headstands for a while. Then move to handstands against a wall. You need to let your blood vessels and vestibular system get used to being upside-down, so ease yourself into this training gradually.
You need strong shoulders to handle handstand pushups. I wouldn’t even bother with them unless you are very comfortable with pullups and pushups already. Anyone’s body can adapt to this training well, I promise. Just give it time.
Jonathan: The prerequisites for starting to train the OAHSPU are not perfectly clear yet, because as far as I know, nobody really achieved the skill (I choose to believe Paul Wade, but I don’t think he did it with the form I want to see achieved) we’re talking about. Prerequesites will become more clear as more people get it (if enough people ever make it for this skill to become a bit wider spread, which I doubt). So my advice would simply be to master the hardest exercises that you can possibly master before starting working the OAHSPU. You should definitely be able to do plenty of full range HSPUs. I don’t think it’s very useful to be able to do more than 20, but it’s better than not doing enough. I think you should also make good use of gymnastics exercises like planche, press to handstand, maltese, inverted cross. Doing good one arm push-ups would also help with triceps strength. Try to learn the regulation perfect one arm push-up, it will make a very good assistance exercise. One last thing: don’t rush into it. I regularly search Google to find out if someone got it, and to see who’s working on it, and I keep seeing fairly weak people claiming they’re going to make it, or weak people trying to work on it while they can barely do wall headstand push-ups. I believe being able to do one arm handstands is very important, too. Do everything you can to get stronger first, then when you can’t think of anything else that’s easier than a one arm handstand push-up, you can start training it.
Logan: I would recommend someone work up to 15 full range handstand pushups in a single set before even beginning to work on this goal.
Alex: I’ll agree with all the participants to some degree. Of course, you need to master the regular HSPU first. As for going for 15-20 reps, I think it will work not for all the people. Let’s take me for example. I have awesome progress in 1-8 rep range with 3-5 being ideal. It will be much more reasonable for me to find variations of HSPU that will give me more resistance than work on my endurance (8+ reps) to toothache. So when I hit, let’s say, 3 sets of 8 reps in regular HSPU, I will be searching for the next progression step in order to get maximum results in minimum time.
Why so? Firstly, because different rep ranges suit different people. I wrote an article on this. Secondly, different rep ranges use different energy storage. And finally, different rep ranges involve different muscle fibers into action more or less. Not to tire you with all the science, what can you learn from this? In my case, progressing from 1 to 3 reps is hard. Progressing from 3-8 reps is much easier. But progressing from 8 to infinity a lot of times seems close to impossible. Besides, you can feel it. When I fail, for example, on 5th rep, I feel that I lack strength. When I fail on 12th rep, I feel that I could go on and on, but my muscles are so pumped that I can’t. You probably had similar experience.
So in conclusion I’d say this. Try to work up to 15-20 regular HSPU but if you struggle after 8-10 reps then find harder progression step (for example, Diamond HSPU or Uneven HSPU or anything that works for you).
What are reasonable ways to achieve it? What progressions? How often?
Paul: Progression-wise, there are plenty of ways to skin a cat. Get real good with the two-arm handstand pushup first. Then move to a close grip. From here, there are lots of “transitional” techniques you can use to place more pressure on one-arm, like boxes, uneven hand positions, and so on. Once the one-arm is looking more possible you can bring in statics and partials. A great way to self-assist involves hooking the heels over a low wall, and curling yourself up with the hamstrings on one-arm. That’s a powerful assistance technique, but you need to know what you are doing. Personally, I don’t favor negatives, especially when you are coming down on your noggin.
As regards frequency, I am a little contrary to the usual advice here. I prefer hard workouts—say 10 maximum attempts, if you are advanced—then lots of rest. Two times per week is fine. For some people, even less frequency will be better. You grow when you rest kid, not when you train.
Jonathan: Definitely not negatives. I tried it, and it didn’t work. I think the most reasonable way to achieve it is to first get proficient at regular HSPUs (full range) on various supports (edge of a high object, parallel bars, rings), and also get pretty good one arm push-ups. Learn to do planches too. The stronger your shoulders, upper back and triceps, the more chances you have to succeed. Then you have to start working with a decreasing assistance. I use my fingers, and I find it work pretty well. I don’t have it yet, but I’ll see. If it’s not good enough, I’ll just change my training techniques do adapt. The way I do it is that I pick a level of assistance with which I can only do 1-2 reps, then I build up the reps until I can do 10-12. Once I can do that, I decrease the assistance again. As to how often, it depends on everybody’s training. Adjust the frequency to the volume you’re doing and to your ability to recover. I train it twice a week, doing up to 10 sets with a lot of rest if it’s low reps. After that, I do planche push-ups (I recently added planche press to handstand as well) and one arm push-ups. Someone who would like to train it every day should probably stick with 1-3 sets per training. But it depends the intensity. When I do my sets, I avoid going to failure, but I’m pretty damn close, and once in a while, I do fail to complete a rep.
Logan: Considering no one has done it yet this is all just theory. The approach I would take is to go up on the finger tips of the off hand and gradually take them away. Since a lot of pressure can still be used through one finger I would also position the finger further away from the body. This will help the strength but balance as well. I would attempt to do this as often as possible without doing too much work.
Alex: There are really a lot of ways to achieve OAHSPU. Finger assisted is only one of them. You can do partials. You can take something sliding, put your assisting hand on it and assist while pressing up with other. Or you can try something like on this photo:
Opportunities are endless. I use something similar to Jonathan right now. I’m experimenting with 2 heavy sessions per week or 8 days, but I still need some more data for analysis.
Also I like this video (progression with wheel is quite interesting and definitely seems reasonable for me):
What are your personal tips for OAHSPU?
Paul: Make it as easy as you can. You can use a wall to limit balance requirements, but a corner is better for stability. Learn the art of kipping (kicking up) with the legs to make the take off easier. Apart from this, learn to be explosive in the push off, the hardest part, with lots of clapping handstand work against the wall. Learning back and front flips will help with shoulder explosiveness, and I will show people how to learn these techniques progressively in Convict Conditioning 3. These tips will make the movement significantly more attainable.
Jonathan: Take your time to do it well. Learn every little thing you got to learn. Remember, officially, nobody’s achieved the movement. It means that it’s hard as fuck. Another advice is to take care of your body. Don’t get hurt. Listen to yourself. Avoid inflammation in your shoulders, elbows or wrists. It is true that there’s a race for the first person to get it. Not an official race, but I’m sure that every guy trying to get it wants to be the first. I know I do. But no matter what, the most important is to just finish it. It’s useless to wreck your body just to be the first. Even if someone get it first, I’ll still be happy. I hope I’ll do it first… But I’ll be happy, because I’ll know for sure it’s possible, and it’s going to help many people take a big step forward, I’m sure.
Logan: Unless you’re in the circus I wouldn’t even go for it.
Alex: Here are some of my thoughts:
- If you already mastered regular HSPU but any assisted OAHSPU version is too hard for you, try limiting range of motion. Use books (who reads them nowadays anyway, right?) to monitor your progress. I was using this method myself. At first I couldn’t do 5 finger assisted OAHSPU. So I put 6 books under my head. Any time I hit 3 sets of 5 I took away one book and worked up to this volume again.
- As for finger assisted version, be careful with your fingers. Don’t rush things. If you’ve done all the reps with 5 fingers for the first time, perform couple of more sessions and only then try 4 finger assisted version.
- In any progression don’t forget to shift your weight on the working arm. It should feel like dumbbell or kettlebell Side Press because of the weight shift.
- Try to spread your legs in handstand position. This will lower your center of mass and will make the exercise a little bit easier.
- Obviously, take your time. To learn this feat you’ll need A LOT of time.
What are your thoughts on carryover between OAHSPU and freestanding HS and HSPU?
Paul: There obviously is some. But we are really talking apples and oranges, Alex. Freestanding is largely skill-based and depends on the ability of your nervous system and vestibular system. The OAHSPU is more about raw muscle and tendon strength.
I have seen men who were very, very powerful in handstand pressing against a wall, who could not hold a free handstand. Likewise, I have seen some talented hand-balancers who could walk all day on their hands who were not that strong in real terms.
Jonathan: Freestanding handstand should be easy, by the time you work on your OAHSPUs. I think you have no business training it if you can’t do a solid handstand. For the carryover from OAHSPU to HSPUs, well, the HSPUs should feel much easier than they did before. Being able to do OAHSPUs won’t make you much more endurant for doing HSPUs if you can already do 20 or more, I think. But if you can do several OAHSPUs, well… you’ll also be able to do more HSPUs. I guess we’ll have to see when someone gets it. Same for the carryover to overhead pressing. We’ll know when people start doing tests. I think that a good test would be to achieve a full range OAHSPU (on handbalancing canes, per example) first, for a solid 5 reps. At that point, you’d have tree trunks instead of arms. And then, test your 1 RM with military press. Train it for 2 weeks. Test your 1 RM again, and see how much it improved after you’ve gotten more used to the movement.
Logan: I imagine the strength and balance will help to some degree. Nothing would work as well as just spending time on those specific exercises though.
Alex: Well, I’ve seen little carryover from training for full ROM HSPU to the handstand. But nothing from OAHSPU training. Maybe I need to work up to more reps. And I haven’t seen any effect other way around.
Your final advice to those brave ones that desire to learn OAHSPU? You can add any thoughts that were not covered earlier.
Paul: The best advice really isn’t training advice. It’s about perspective. Approaching a OAHSPU is kinda like approaching a 500 pound bench press. It’s an elite strength feat. If you want to do it, raw and drug-free, you can. But it is gonna take years and years of solid, focused work. The only reason folks think a 500 bench is possible is that everyone in the gym benches. Relatively few athletes these days, world over, train for the OAHSPU. That’s the only difference.
It makes me laugh, Alex. Nobody would get under a 500 pound bar and try to bench press it for a couple months, fail, and then assume it was impossible, right? That’d be dumb. But I get messages from athletes all the time saying they have “tried” the OAHSPU and think it’s impossible. I tell them; “it’s not impossible—you’re not strong enough! Train for it specifically for ten years, then come back and tell me it’s impossible.”
Jonathan: If you’re ready for it, go for it. Stick with it for a long time. If you don’t, you won’t improve very much. Stay focused, and good luck!
Logan: It may be helpful to also work with exercises besides the OAHSPU to help you towards your goal. Incline one arm pushups would probably help. I would also advise lifting a heavy dumbbell overhead. If you could set one up to hang at head height so you’re working a partial like in the OAHSPU you could easily add weight overtime. Since the body position will be different it may not have too much carryover but it could help. This would be something worth testing out.
Alex: Don’t rush it and stay focused.
Where Rough Strength readers can find more information about you and your training approach?
Paul: The first Convict Conditioning book is a great place to start, but I would also wholeheartedly recommend anything by Al Kavadlo if folks want to break into progressive calisthenics. He also has a huge volume of instructional posts and videos he has put out for free to help bodyweight students. We are looking to spread information through the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC) which is an amazing project we have been working on for a couple years now.
Luckily, as time passes there are more and more sites with good information about bodyweight strength. I want to thank you for spreading the word about old school calisthenics, Alex. Rough Strength is an awesome site, and I hope folks out there take the opportunity to train with you and learn from you.
Jonathan: Rough strength readers can find more information about me and my training approach on wandererstraining.com. I don’t have much articles out yet, but over time, there will be more.
Logan: My main website is http://LegendaryStrength.com where they can find much more on hand balancing, bodyweight training, and a whole bunch more.
Well, this article is over 4.5k words long so I think I need to wrap up quickly. Thanks to Paul, Jon and Logan for their input. It was awesome. As for you, my precious reader, I hope you’ve learnt a thing or two. Maybe you even got inspired to try to tame this mighty OAHSPU. If so, I encourage you to try it. Be brave. Do what you want, not what others say you should. Ok, that’s it. Thanks for reading. Share the knowledge.
P.S. What are your thoughts? I invite you to participate in the discussion in comments.