If this is your first time here, allow me to tell you that the World’s Strongest Librarian is very tall. I’m tall (6’8″), heavy, and I love to lift. And for the longest time, I would read (or hear) that there were certain lifts that tall guys just couldn’t do safely, or at all, like the handstand pushup. “Your arms are way too long for that,” I was told. While I am forced to admit that we giants do have longer levers that make certain movements disadvantageous, I think we also let ourselves off the hook too often.
I used to let my height be my excuse for not being able to do a heavy deadlift, to perform high volume kettlebell snatches in five or ten minutes, and backs squats. I have been able to prove all of those wrong so far except the back squat. No matter what I try, it becomes a lower back exercise for me, and it does not feel good. I love the front squat, however, and that’s treated me much better and is the same movement pattern.
The handstand pushup
This is one that I never got around to trying, because I was so tall and a friend told me it was impossible for someone with arms as long as mine. He thought that even handstands would be out of the question for me. That didn’t make much sense, but I wasn’t in the habit of questioning my betters at the time.
Years later once I was trying to prove everyone wrong and get a lot stronger, I decided I would find out for myself.
At the start of the progression–I started with a bodyweight progression from the book Convict Conditioning–I weighed about 255. I quickly knew that it was something I would be able to work up to, but it was going to take time. I have no idea why anyone decided that it would be harder for someone tall, besides the fact that a tall guy has more ground to cover to touch his head to the ground and then push back up.
As far as making changes to handstand pushups, I haven’t had to. There are no drastic variations like there are with the deadlift, where, depending on body type a man might choose to pull sumo versus conventional style.
With myself, and with people I train, the hands seem to find the position best suited to this upside-down pushup. It’s hard because it’s hard, that’s it. It is the equivalent of being able to press your own bodyweight overhead, and that feat is in danger of vanishing from gyms everywhere, since everyone knows that the bench press is the only worthwhile measure of a person’s strength–just kidding.
It took me months to get to the point where I was pushing myself back up out of the handstand pushup, but it was worth it. So if you are tall and you think you need to leave handstand pushups to the short guys, don’t!
Update: when I wrote this I weighed about 230. Now I’m about 255 and, having taken some time away from this exercise, found it quite challenging when I tried again. It took about three weeks to work back up to it.