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:
- 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.
- 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
- Once you have kicked up, establish a strong, rigid midline position. (see above photo)
- 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.
- 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.
The Only Three Reasons You Still Can’t Do A Pull-Up
Have you been doing CrossFit for a year or longer yet the ability to do a pull-up still eludes you? I’m not talking about hanging from a pull-up bar while slung from a giant rubber band and having a violent seizure that somehow results in your chin almost touching the bar. I’m referring to the ability to perform an unassisted, strict, dead-hang pull-up that starts with your arms fully extended and your chin clearly over the bar. If this sounds like someone you know, one (or some combination) of these three issues are probably the reason why you still haven’t developed the ability to perform a pull-up.
1. You Haven’t Focused On Developing Strength
Jumping pull-ups and banded kipping pull-ups are the most commonly used substitutions for anyone who doesn’t already have a pull-up. While these substitutions might be adequate in a conditioning workout to keep you moving and your heart rate elevated, I haven’t found these methods to be effective in developing the strength necessary to perform a proper pull-up. Keep in mind that a substitution or scaled movement is not the same as a progression. A proper exercise progression is designed to develop your ability, not act as a placeholder so that you can get a metcon-induced endorphin rush.
My recommendation is to focus on developing upper body pulling strength outside of your conditioning workouts. I typically prescribe a combination of isometric holds, pull-up negatives, and accessory work to improve scapular stability. While there are many generalized progressions available online, building the fundamental strength will help progress you to a proper pull-up.
2. You’re Injured
If you are suffering from a torn rotator cuff, a shoulder impingement, AC separation, or any other type of upper extremity injury, the solution should be pretty obvious. Seek out the care of a licensed medical professional such as an orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist. Diagnosing and treating injuries are outside the scope of practice for personal trainers and fitness coaches so you’ll have to seek out a qualified practitioner to rehabilitate your injury.
Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Skipping past strength development and jumping right to learning kipping and butterfly pull-ups can be a highly effective method for injuring an upper extremity. The dynamic nature of kipping and butterfly pull-ups demands increased stability and strength throughout the shoulder in order to be performed safely. As I mentioned earlier, work on developing competency in your strict pull-ups before worrying about learning kipping or butterfly variations.
3. Your Strength To Bodyweight Ratio Needs Improvement
Maybe you’re not injured and you’ve put in some time and effort to develop a strength base. You feel confident if cleans, presses, or squats are a part of your workout. Yet the pull-up, and most other body weight exercises like handstand push-ups, ring dips, and muscle-ups, are yet to be mastered. CrossFit has forged you into 185 pounds of sinewy, pull-up potential. Unfortunately, you still weigh 250 pounds. As we’ve discussed on the blog in the past, you can’t out train a poor diet. If you’re a male and your body fat percentage is north of 18%, consider looking at your nutritional approach. Ladies, the same advice applies to you if your body fat percentage is 25% or higher. Take a look at your nutrition and make sure that your food intake aligns with your goals.
Make it a goal to achieve your first strict pull-up within a set time frame. Depending on what you need to overcome, three to six months should be plenty of time for you to perform your first rep. Figure out which of these reasons is preventing you from already having a strict pull-up and then work with an expert to come up with an action plan to get there.
Do each of these accessory pieces 1x a week on 3 separate days.
Day 1 – 5xME Ring Rows w probated grip rest 2 mins bw sets (set feet deep so you can get no more than 10 reps)
Day 2 – rest
Day 3 – 5×5 negative pullup (4 second decent)
Day 4 – rest
Day 5 – 3×12 seated Pullups
Day 6 – rest
Day 7 – rest
Day 1 – repeat cycle