So you want your first Handstand push up?
The handstand push up is one of the more glamorous movements we see in CrossFit, when you first started you probably saw an athlete in the gym cranking them out like there was no tomorrow and thought to yourself “wow, I wish I could do that”.
I remember being a teenager, long before stepping into the gym, mucking around with my friends trying to do a handstand pushup at home against the garage wall and failing spectacularly, sorry Mom for all the holes… Now after a few years of building strength and confidence upside down I’m throwing up big sets inside of a metcon with my heart rate through the roof and a lot less holes in the wall.
What you’ll need to start a handstand push up
Before we get you started and on your way to your first ever handstand push up, we need to lay out some basic requirements that you are going to need in order to do these safely without risk of injury.
Support your body weight
Firstly, we need to be able to support our body weight in planks or push ups. If you haven’t got this then please master it before trying to handstand push up.
There is a lot of risk to kicking yourself upside down and not being able to fully support your body weight. That risk and fear of what may happen is what may be keeping you from kicking up as it is.
Good, we aren’t ready yet if that’s the case. Once we have the ability to support our body weight we need to be able to MOVE our body weight in a push up, if you haven’t got this down, then we need to master it before trying to do it upside down as well.
Secondly, we need to develop confidence with being upside down and balanced against a wall.
This may need to come from getting upside down in a more controlled manner, an example would be putting your feet up on a plyo box or bench and walking your hands back to get yourself into a pike position, as pictured, with your hips stacked over your shoulders.
Then you can start taking yourself over to the wall and working on kicking up there
Have access to the positions required for a handstand push up
Lastly, we need to have ACCESS to the positions required for a handstand push up.
When I talk about access to positions I’m talking about adequate mobility.
For a handstand push up we need to be able to get the arms overhead with the ribs tucked down and the head pushed through, the wrists need to be able to get into an extended position so that we can stack over them as our base of support. Without this mobility, you may be able to get upside down but you will find yourself fighting so hard to stay against the wall and upside down that performing a push up is the last thing you want to be doing.
What does training for a Handstand push up look like?
Below are some examples of exercises we like to use in building our athletes up to their first handstand push up and the reason behind their prescription.
Wrist Extension Rocks
These are a great way to build that wrist mobility that I talked about above that we need in order to have nice stable base with which to stack ourselves over when getting upside down and performing the handstand push up, without the adequate mobility you’ll find yourself falling away from the wall and with very sore wrists on top of that.
Wall Facing Handstand Hold
This is a dual purpose movement, it ticks a lot of boxes for us when developing the handstand push up.
First it allows us to get upside down at our own pace, you can be as close or as far from the wall as you are comfortable with and gradually build that confidence we’re chasing when upside down.
It also allows us to get upside down WITHOUT the requisite mobility in the wrists and shoulders that we need for the full handstand push up, as you get closer to the wall the mobility.
As an added bonus it helps to develop the core and shoulder stability that we’re going to need.
A great exercise for build shoulder strength and endurance the dumbbell Z-press has some added benefits for us. It requires more shoulder flexion and thoracic extension than a standing dumbbell press as the seated position prevents compensation with extension from the lower back and a flared rib cage, if you need an example of this watch someone max out their strict press, chances are it will turn into a standing bench press more than a strict press.
On top of this it helps us to build to tissue tolerance to all of the overhead pressing we’re going to be doing and keeps the shoulders healthy for when it counts.
Negative Strict Handstand push up
One of the last movements you’ll find yourself doing before finally going for the strict Handstand push up, these are great for developing your control upside down as well as an awareness of where you are in relation to the ground, something that freaks a lot of people out is that they don’t know where the floor is below them while trying to do a handstand push up which again creates a fear scenario and they become scared to try for the rep properly.
It is important that these are done at a consistent lowering speed, too often I see athlete holding a five second rep where the first four seconds only takes them halfway and then they bottom to the floor, crashing the top of their head into the ground. I cannot stress enough how important it is to own and control every single position while doing a strict handstand push up.
What do I do now?
With all this new information about developing the handstand push up I’m sure you’re itching to go out and try some of these drills.
Great, go and give them a go, watch the videos I’ve attached to see how they’re performed and see if it is able to help you feel a little more confident with the movement.
If you find yourself wanting more, we have a 12 week program built on the principles I outlined above to help get you to your first handstand push up. Download our 12 week program to get your handstand push up.
I really do hope this article is able to help you get closer to that handstand push up and you find yourself cranking them out like Ryan Gosling in the movie Crazy, Stupid Love.
One last note before I leave you, in any gymnastics skill like a handstand push up, strict MUST come before kipping. Please do future you a favour and master the strict movement before you go doing the more efficient version. If you can do them strict, then kipping will be easy.