No, the room isn’t spinning—we’ve just been spending a lot of time upside down lately at CrossFit DC.
You’ll be seeing more handstand push-ups (HSPUs) thrown into our workouts, too. That’s because they combine strength training in the shoulders, triceps, and upper back with an emphasis on core strength, form, and coordination; all of that translates well into plenty of other barbell and bodyweight movements.
So let’s take a closer look at the HSPU progression, and how you can improve at every stage.
Common sense tells you that before working on handstand push-ups — even handstand push-ups against the wall — you have to first get into a handstand. So, just how do you get into that all-important position?
In his appropriately titled article, Handstand Tutorial, Logan Christopher lays it out perfectly:
“Get in a sprinter’s stance. Place both hands on the floor about shoulder width apart approximately 6-10 inches from the wall. One foot should be close to your body while the other is farther back. With the back leg you kick up and then bring the other leg to meet up with it against the wall. Kick enough to get yourself up into the handstand but not too much so that you slam into the wall..
If you can’t visualize what that looks like, check out a video demonstration from the author, How to Kick-Up into a Handstand. Note how as his kicking leg swings up overhead, his bent leg immediately swings up to meet it, so that he gently come to rest on the wall.
Not to get too science-y, but an essential piece of using the momentum of your body in the kick-up is establishing a stable base (arms) to create a proper fulcrum point (shoulders) to pivot on:
Make sure your elbow are locked. If you bend your arms you’ll have to rely on your strength versus your body’s structure to hold you up. Also push your arms into the ground from the shoulder girdle. Think of trying to reach your shoulders to your ears. This will give you a better locked out position.
In other words, if your arms are bent, your base is unstable, and you’re either doing twice the work necessary, or simply not going to make it up into position. Of course, once you’re there, there’s still more work to be done.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but before you can string together handstand push-ups, you need to become much more comfortable upside down (with your head pointed straight at the floor, eyes on the opposite wall, shoulders engaged, core tight).
Once you’re more comfortable with this inverted position, you will find that it actually takes less effort to kick-up into the handstand, thus leaving more energy for handstand holds and handstand push-ups.
In class, we have a few ways of preparing for this position, both of which are focused on good posture and control through the mid-section.
During warm-ups and skill prep, wall walkers train us to keep our core tight and our hand movements controlled as we bring our body as close to the wall as possible.
Another way we work on this position is handstand shoulder touches, which are less about pure strength and more about balance and stability. Of course, simply mentioning the term “stability” necessitates a a conversation about core work, and all that it implies.
Core, core, core
With wallk-walkers and shoulder touches, the chest is facing the wall. But with HSPUs, the chest is facing outwards. What gives?
Handstands facing the wall don’t allow as much leeway with balance as facing away from the wall does. Facing outwards allows us to develop strength and comfort in the handstand position, while also allowing us time to play with body alignment.
However, handstands facing away from the wall do not encourage a proper hollow handstand posture. In fact, most athletes will allow themselves to over-arch in this position.
Remember: Part and parcel of the handstand is the hollow position. Whether you are holding the hollow position on the floor, the pull-up bar, or upside down, the same rules apply!
If handstand push-ups aren’t in the cards for you yet, you can still work on the proper form and build strength with scaling options, such as handstand push-ups to an extra ab-mat, or handstand push-ups from a box.
The key to remember with the scaled versions is “verticality.”
That means if you have your knees on a box and both hands on the floor, you want your torso as vertical as possible 1) at the bottom, with your head touching the floor, and 2) as you press back up. Don’t allow the spine to arch and the chest to flatten out, which turns the movement into a decline push-up.
If you can string together a few strict HSPUs, practicing your kip can dramatically increase your work volume.
From inversion, bring your knees down to your elbows. Keep your head neutral and your core and back tight.
Then drive your hips up explosively as you kick your feet up/back towards full extension and you press up into a handstand.
If it’s difficult to think about the kip upside down, think about a similar movement we do with our backs on the ground: the kip-to-hip bridge.The hips explode open while the feet come back around (or fully extended, as in the HSPU).
With more HSPU coming our way in the coming weeks, you bet you’ll be hearing more about handstands in the near future. Stay tuned! Or rather, we should say, pǝunʇ ʎɐʇs!
Many thanks to our own Will P. for his help in putting this post together.