There’s no doubt the handstand pushup (HSPU) is one of the hardest functional fitness movements to master. Along with muscleups and pistols, handstand pushups 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 pushup. In fact, I used to train with dual Regional competitor Dave Buckley, who was still struggling with the exercise not too long ago!
So 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 pushups, 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.
If it’s your first time trying the exercise, then you just try getting into position. Handstand pushups requires you to kick your legs up into an unfamiliar position, and for many first timers 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.
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.
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.
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 3 or 4 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 pushups.
In the end, patience, dedication and hard training are the only ways you will improve.