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The Handstand Push-Up
Written by Nichole DeHart

Most of our readers would probably have thought, if asked about a year before they began CrossFit, that they would never do a handstand push-up, let alone even think about doing more than one! You’ve probably seen some athletes in the gym knocking out a few handstand push-ups, have seen athletes every year completing these at the CrossFit Games and saw Ryan Gosling (or at least his double) crank out effortless handstand push-ups in Crazy, Stupid Love. So, you might be asking, how can I attain a handstand push-up? Or, if you already have one, how can I improve my technique?

To start, let’s establish a few things you should have before you look to build your Handstand Push-Up (HSPU) prowess. First, you should be comfortable kicking into a handstand against the wall. Become comfortable with being upside down and maintaining a stable position. This stable position should look like the photo above…a straight, rigid line from wrists to ankles.

To obtain a good stable handstand push-up position, think about squeezing your butt and gut tight to maintain a firm midline. Once you have established this position, then you can move forward to the first training phase.

We are going to first work on developing a strict handstand push-up. There are many benefits to obtaining a strict handstand push-up. Not only are you making your shoulders stronger and more stable, but you are also forced to maintain a tight, braced midline/core throughout the movement. This piece transfers over to many other CrossFit movements where a strong midline is required to perform the movement efficiently.

Just like you wouldn’t want someone performing a ton of kipping pull-ups when they don’t have the strength to do one strict pull-up, we don’t want someone doing a ton of kipping handstand push-ups if they don’t have the strength to do a strict handstand push-up. The shoulder strength required to complete a handstand push-up is great, and some may not have that strength just yet. Have no fear, we have created a simple training program to help you build your upper body strength to reach the goal of obtaining a strict handstand push-up. With dedication, patience and hard work, you too can successfully attain a strict handstand push-up!

Below is a description for executing a strict Handstand Push-Up against a wall:

  1. Hand placement: place hands about 6-12 inches away from the wall and slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Make sure palms are facing forward, or slightly turned out 5-10 degrees.
  2. Kick up into a handstand, with your heels touching the wall. If you have trouble kicking up into the handstand, check out Carl Paoli’s instructions on how to do so: http://gymnasticswod.com/content/kick-handstand
  3. Once you have kicked up, establish a strong, rigid midline position. (see above photo)
  4. While maintaining this position, lower yourself until the top of your head touches the floor/mat. Try to keep your elbows at a 45 degree angle as you lower.
  5. Once your head touches the floor, press up with the same tightness you had lowering yourself, until your elbows reach full extension.

The 3 training phases for developing a strict HSPU is listed below. Follow this precisely and do not move onto the next training phase until you are able to complete all the reps and sets at the proper tempo.

First, the exercises:

Handstand Push Up Negative: Kick up into your handstand position. Ensure that your hand placement is approximately 6-12 inches away from the wall and your midline/core is in a tight, stable position. Lower yourself at the assigned tempo until your head touches the floor. Kick off the wall and reset. Make sure to control the descent throughout the entire movement. The tempo should be the same from the start of the negative to the end of the negative. If you are hesitant about the distance you are traveling to the floor, then place an abmat underneath your head to lessen the distance of the descent. As you feel more confident with the negative, remove the abmat(s) until you are reaching the full range of motion.

Handstand Hold: Kick up into your handstand position. Hold for a specific amount of time, maintaining a neutral spine and stable midline/core. (See photo above.) Once you feel yourself relax from that tight position, kick off the wall.

Handstand Push Up with Assist: This is best done with a partner. Have your partner hold onto your ankles. Lower yourself at the assigned tempo and press yourself up. The partner is there to help assist you as you press up, giving as much assistance as needed for you to press out of the handstand.

Wall Walks: Lay flat on the floor with your feet against the wall, hands by your side. Press up to the top of your push up position and take a big step up the wall. Take your other foot and step up the wall so that both feet are pressed into the wall. Ensure that you have a tight midline and, if a tight midline is established, walk your hands and feet up the wall until you make contact with your chest. Maintaining control, begin walking your hands out in front of you while simultaneously walking down the wall until your chest is on the floor. Common mistakes with this movement are generally lose of control on the way down from the wall walk and relaxing the midline. Only walk as far up the wall as your mechanics will allow. Increase the height of your wall climb as strength and mechanics improve.

Wall Runs: Wall runs are alternating, single-arm handstand holds and the time held with each arm can vary depending on the athlete’s ability. Wall runs can be performed facing either toward or away from the wall with the latter being the most difficult. Start in the handstand facing the wall (note the cartwheel wall mount in the video below). Keep your glutes and gut tight. You should be in a hollow position with your toes touching the wall, your wrists stacked below your shoulders and your shoulders packed tight into the joint. Slightly shift your weight to your right side and pick up your left hand. Your goal should be to touch your chest and put your hand back down on the ground with control. If you cannot maintain control, walk yourself away from the walk, even as far down as a plank or a pike. If you get to the point where you can easily perform 20 wall runs while facing the wall, you are ready to kick up into the handstand and face the world. 

Training Phase 1

  • Day 1 – Five Sets of: Handstand Push-Up Negatives x 5 reps @ 30A1; Rest 90 seconds
  • Day 2: Four Sets of: Handstand Hold x Max Seconds; Rest 60-90 seconds
  • Day 3: Five Sets of: Handstand Push-Up Negatives x 5 reps @ 30A1; Rest 90 seconds

Training Phase 2

  • Day 1: Five Sets: Handstand Push-Up Negatives x 5 reps @ 40A1; Rest 90 seconds
  • Day 2: Five Sets: Wall Climbs x 3 reps; Rest 90 seconds
  • Day 3: Five Sets of: Handstand Push-Up Negatives w/partner assist x 5 reps @ 40A1

Training Phase 3

  • Day 1: Five Sets of: Handstand Push-Up Negatives x 5 reps @ 50A1; Rest 90 seconds
  • Day 2: Four Sets of: Wall Runs x 5-6 reps; Rest as needed
  • Day 3: Five Sets of: Handstand Push-Ups w/partner assist x 5 reps @ 50A1

Be patient with yourself as you work towards your goal of a handstand push-up, and stay consistent on this program!

If you already have a strict handstand push-up, congratulations! In a future article, we will address kipping handstand push-ups and how to execute those with precision.