How to Improve Handstand Push-ups

How to improve Handstand Pushups

There’s no doubt the handstand pushup (HSPU) is one of the hardest functional fitness movements to master. Along with muscleups and pistols, handstand push-ups are usually the last exercise most athletes manage to Rx.

In it’s simplest description, the handstand pushup is basically like a vertical pushup. The idea is to use a wall, get in the handstand position with your feet leaning against the wall, and lower yourself until your head touches the ground before pushing yourself back up again. Then repeat!

The exercise itself is great for building upper body strength, and one of the best for shoulder strength.

If you’ve only just joined a CrossFit affiliate, chances are you will struggle with the exercise and most probably won’t be able to get a rep in your first attempt. I know many athletes who took years to finally get their first Rx’d handstand push-up, including many who went on to compete as individuals at CrossFit Regional competitions.

The most important thing to remember is that if you are struggling with it, you are not alone!

There are a number of tips on how to improve handstand push-ups, but I’ve found the best way is to use simple progression.

I know CrossFitters can be impatient, and everyone wants to Rx their exercises as soon as possible, but with movements like the handstand push-up, you are better off building your way up then just trying and failing.

First Timers

If it’s your first time attempting the exercise, then you just try getting into position. Handstand push-ups require you to kick your legs up into an unfamiliar position, and for many beginners it can be a bit frightening and difficult. First timers should concentrate on getting into position without the assistance of others. Once you get it down pat, try to do it 10-15 times to get used to the starting and finishing positions.

Beginners

Once you are used to getting up and down from the wall, you should work on your form. Some people might have great upper body strength and be able to pull out a rep straight away, however, for most people this won’t be the case. Just holding the position is hard enough, so for beginners, try to get in position and hold for at 30 seconds. Try to do this around five times, or until you start to fatigue.

Intermediate

After a few weeks of getting used to the HSPU position, you should move on to trying to lower yourself up and down. While you might not be able to go all the way down, you might be able to go half, or a quarter of the way. When you find where your limit is, get some ab-mats, or a few towels, and try to reach that mark with your head. The better you get, and the more confident you feel, you can remove an ab mat or towel until your head is touching the ground.

Expert

Once you get to the point of being able to perform a HSPU Rx, then you should try to improve your form, and increase the amount of reps you can do before fatigue kicks in. The shoulders are a small muscle group, and will tire out very easily. So, while you might be able to fly through three or four reps, you might find yourself struggling with any after that. One thing that helps is the ‘kip’. Athletes can ‘kip’ in the HSPU position by bringing their knees to their chest and kicking while pushing up. This will give you some momentum and make it easier to push yourself up.

The HSPU is very dependent on shoulder strength, so doing exercises like thrusters, push presses and shoulder raises will all help you improve your handstand push-ups.

In the end, patience, dedication and hard training are the best ways to really improve.

John Michael Bric
John is a newsreader, freelance writer and Level 1 CrossFit Trainer. A contributing writer for the CrossFit Games and CrossFit Community websites, he is the current Australia Regional Media Director for CrossFit Inc. When he's not CrossFitting, he can often be heard reading the morning news on the radio or trying to convince people that chicken burgers, french fries and beer are all Paleo.
John Michael Bric
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=741719107 Sharyn Manson

    I love handstand pushups, as a crossfitter of just 5 months my handstand pushups have greatly improved, i have pretty reasonable depth now, strict only, as kipping just complicates the action. Muscle ups however are the pinnacle for me, long way off. and double unders, could care less for skipping, just don’t enjoy it, never have. So Muscle Up definitely the hardest

    • http://www.therxreview.com/ John Michael Bric

      I’m with you Sharyn, kipping complicates the action for me!

      • http://about.me/trib/ Stephen Collins

        Much better form. Everything works better with good basics.

        • http://therxreview.com/ Michael: The Rx Review.com

          Agreed Stephen

  • http://about.me/trib/ Stephen Collins

    As a former gymnast (very average) but much better coach (had national champs many years back), I’d say for the average CrossFitter, HSPU and muscle up are both pretty hard.

    As a new CrossFitter, I’ve already got my HSPU back, but see lots of people struggling with it. Mostly, it’s because they don’t have strong, stable handstands. Because, seriously, HSPU isn’t all that hard if your handstand is solid. You’ll never need to kip an HSPU if your handstand rocks.

    I haven’t got muscle up back myself yet, but again, it’s form that’s wiping people out. A front uprise (which is just a fancy name for a muscle up) is a pretty fundamental ring skill that kids get at about 10-12 years, but only because us gymnastics coaches make their lives a misery hammering form – “hips up, toes down, hands in… tap and pull!”

    And the form in that video… oh dear…

    • http://www.therxreview.com/ John Michael Bric

      Spot on Stephen!
      And ur right about the video.. form was HORRIBLE! So i put up a new one!
      It’s a lot better!
      Enjoy!
      John

    • http://www.facebook.com/mattyrog Matt Rogers

      So are you saying that if I improve my free standing handstand it will improve my HSPU?

      • http://about.me/trib/ Stephen Collins

        Matt, if you have a strong free handstand, or even a really strong, straight wall handstand, your HSPU should be measurably better.

        Think of it like any other movement. If your core is weak or loose, it’s going to be tough. Imagine trying to do snatches or power cleans with a hyperextended spinal arch that wasn’t stable. Hard to do, right?

        When I used to coach gymnastics, handstand basics fed into everything – balance, tumbling, strength. Especially strength.

        The shape you want is way open shoulders (like at the top of a snatch), rock solid core with a flattened lumbar arch, squeezed legs and backside. We used to say “straight line through all joints from wrist to ankles and squeeze everything”.

        My skinny 14-year-old daughter, who isn’t a gymnast, but wants to do CrossFit, can do an acceptable HSPU because she has a good wall handstand.

        • http://www.facebook.com/mattyrog Matt Rogers

          Thanks for the advice mate, I will work on trying to hold a good handstand

          • http://about.me/trib/ Stephen Collins

            No worries. One alternative to try is wall handstands and then HSPU *facing* the wall. Get in really close and try to get feet, knees, hips, chest all touching the wall with hands only as far out as you need. It’s a great drill you can do solo to improve your handstand form.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1171232814 Ryan Lang

          awesome advice stephen!

          • http://about.me/trib/ Stephen Collins

            Thanks, Ryan. My gymnastics background is proving to be super useful as I improve; lots of technique coming back!

            I’ll chase my CrossFit cert before Christmas, but if anyone here wants to talk gymnastic moves, core strength, flexibility, I’m more than happy to offer advice.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1171232814 Ryan Lang

            gymnastics background is a great advantage to have in crossfit.  i remember reading a post a while back asking what people wish they had a stronger background in, and gymnastics was he dominate answer.  thank you again for sharing :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/TimDonegan Tim Donegan

    Great article on a skill most people struggle with

  • Philip

    Good article. I have been using a 4 in. yoga block and it has helped a lot.

  • http://twitter.com/NickAWheeler Nicholas Wheeler

    For some strange reason, I’ve always been decent at HSPU. Not certain why. It was always fully strict too. I just recently starting kipping to try and learn it (and because the programming I follow tells me too). I weigh 160 lbs, and can crank through HSPU’s, but I can just barely put anything over 135# overhead, I’ve yet to figure this out.

  • Nels

    Thanks for the progression pointers. Exactly the kind of structure I need to impove my HSPU. And mine need a lot of improvement!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1171232814 Ryan Lang

    good article, i find that a lot of the members at my gym start their progression initially by doing pike push ups with their feet on a 24″ box. this helps build their shoulder strength and gets them used to the position before making the transition to a wall.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003517840938 Calogero Coco

    I’ve just adpoted the kipping style. Excellent idea!

  • afto

    for some reason, short arms maybe, this is one of my better movements…

  • Erick

    HSPU are hard. I still have to scale. My goal is to master them by the end of the year.
     

  • Jay

    This is one movement I got fairly quickly…

  • Pingback: Mastering Pistols

  • Pingback: Coaching & Commitment: What it Takes to Make the CrossFit Games

  • Pingback: Review: Rudy Nielson's Outlaw CrossFit Camp

  • Pingback: Friday – Pistols | Southington CrossFit

  • Pingback: Dorm Room Workouts

  • Pingback: How to Improve Pistols

  • Pingback: 2014 CrossFit Regionals: Day 2 Workouts Released!

  • Pingback: My First Regional: Nick Fuentes

  • Pingback: The Rx Review: Reporting on Fitness and CrossFit NewsReview: NC Fitness Gear Wall Ball

  • Pingback: Review: NC Fitness Gear Wall Ball

  • Pingback: Review: NC Fitness Pro Grade Kettlebell

  • Pingback: Zeke Grove: A ‘Solid Crack’ at the 2015 Games