teena seated press

Recipe for a Happy Handstand Push-Up
Written By Cat Blatner

We see kipping movements all the time in the sport of CrossFit. Between kipping pull-ups, ring dips, muscle-ups, handstand push-ups and toes-to-bar. These movements, when properly trained for, are great ways to condition your body under intensity. However, if our shoulders are not yet strengthened to endure such aggressive movement, kipping can really be damaging. And the case of handstand push-ups, our spine as well as our shoulders can become injured.

It is very important that we have strict movement in our gymnastics ability before we start adding momentum to the movement. This ensures that our shoulders can handle kipping and that we are strong enough to control our movement rather than just dropping from the top of the movement.

Let’s take a look at some drills we can use to strengthen our upper body for strict handstand push-ups.

Pressing Drills to Increase Overhead Strength

Standing strict press: Dumbbell and Barbell. The goal here is to go heavy and challenge that pressing strength. If you are really struggling with upper body strength, start with dumbbells to work upper body stability as well. You can alternate strict pressing between dumbbells and a barbell to add variety to your pressing.

Seated strict press: Eliminate your feet as your stability. This will not only increase the challenge your upper body but you will be extremely challenged through your midline which will translate perfectly to the tight belly position you must maintain while performing strict handstand push-up. Keep the ribs down as you press the barbell overhead. Focus on aggressive deep breaths as you perform these.

Negative handstand push-ups: Kick up onto the wall and slowly lower yourself down until your head touches the ground into a tripod handstand position. Try to maintain at least a five second negative as you lower your head to the floor with complete control. If these aren’t a challenge for you, slow down your pace or add a deficit to increase the range of motion that you will have to resist. The easier these become, the deeper you can increase your deficit in that negative. It is very important that you maintain control in your negative all the way to the floor. If you are crashing down on your head at any point, you can add a mat under your head to decrease the range of the movement until you are strong enough to control it.

Programming Strict Movements into your Week

Pick 2-3 days to prioritize your strict pressing strength and incorporate the movements that we just discussed above. Always try to challenge yourself by increasing your weight and/ or increasing your time under tension.

Example Week:

Monday:
Strict press
5 sets as heavy as possible for 4-5 reps
rest 2-3 min between

This can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells for added stability.

Wednesday:
Handstand Push-UP (HSPU) Negatives
Complete 5-6 sets of 2-3 VERY slow negative HSPU. Prescribed tempo is 5-8 seconds down. Press out of HSPU if you can, if not, just kick off of the wall to reset.

Please note that when doing eccentric movements at a slow tempo it is important to keep the rep range a bit lower because of the increased time under tension.

Friday:
Seated barbell or dumbbell Press x 8-10 reps
Complete 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps of a heavy seated DB press. These should be very challenging at rep 8 and extremely challenging for 10. (10 reps might not happen on every set if you choose your weight appropriately.)

As you can see, these days are not back-to-back and you need to give your shoulders a break between high volume pressing days. Make sure you are resting between high volume days to keep your shoulders healthy and strong. From one week to the next your goal should be to go heavier than the previous week or add a deeper deficit to your negative handstand push-ups.

Have patience with yourself as strict overhead pressing strength takes time to develop. Continue to practice these movements and watch as your pressing strength increases and handstand push-ups become your new friend!

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How many weeks would you recommend maintaining this effort for?