The Handstand push up is a great bodyweight exercise to develop strength on the upper body and specially useful when you don’t have equipment.
Even if you can’t perform a full strict HSPU yet, the progressions that we’ll go through this article will help you gain the required strength and eventually be able to perform it.
Work on your range of motion
First things first, at this point we should have a complete range of motion on the shoulder to be able to perform the movement safely, that means that your shoulder should be able to reach 180º of flexion minimum.
We can check that on a side view if you have at least those 180º your arm will cover your ear while your lumbar and dorsal spine remain neutral.
You can warm up with circles on the wall, the closer you are the harder it will be. Remember to bring the shoulder back and down so to not let it round in.
Work on your core strength
After checking the shoulder mobility we have to focus on the core.
Being able to control the position of the pelvis and lower back is crucial in this movement because overarching your lower back will make it hard, not only for the back pain that you can end up having, but to meet the standards as well.
If your lower back arches in the top position your feet won’t reach the target
In order to control this we can do hollow holds and tilts of the pelvis standing.
So, after checking these points of performance we can start;
I like to start with the strict version of the HSPU, why?
Because being able to control the lowering part of the movement will assure that we won’t smash our heads on the floor/mat while performing the kipping HSPU.
It’s like trying a ring muscle up without being able to be stable on the top position of a ring dip… I can already hear the meme of the guys carrying the coffin and dancing…
Strengthening those shoulders
There are a couple of exercises that will help to prepare the shoulders for the load.
They will also strengthen the muscles that we’ll use throughout the movement and also serve as progressions if you still can’t perform the HSPU in a WOD.
Hand position on HSPU
The Pike position will help you develop stability on the shoulder blade muscles and will develop strength on your deltoids, chest and triceps.
Make sure your hands are shoulder width and your head touches the floor/mat forming a tripod with the hands. They should draw an isosceles triangle. The top of the head will touch the floor/mat, not the forehead.
Scapular pike push ups
In a pike position, knees bent if your hamstrings are too tight, you have to push against the floor bringing the shoulders close to the ears. Hold 2 seconds and relax letting the shoulders go far from the ears, repeat 10 times.
You have to hold 5-10” on the top of the pike push up, hold again midway and one last time just a couple of cm from the floor, rest for 30” and repeat again 5 times.
Eccentric pike push up
From the top position lower down in 4 seconds, slow and controlled, then go to your knees and back to the starting position. Repeat 5 reps.
Elevated pike push up
Place your knees on a chair/box and when you find this easy try with your feet on it. Try to keep the hips over your hands for a proper alignment.
Restricted range of motion HSPU
You’ll jump into this step if you control the previous ones and if you can do a handstand against the wall.
For this step you’ll place 1 or 2 plates (or books or other similar objects) and an abmat (a pillow will also do the job) for your head.
Once you can do 10 unbroken with ease you’ll take one plate/book off until you can do the strict HSPU all the way down to the floor.
Remember to control the descent and don’t release the tension on the bottom position, your neck will suffer and it will be harder for you to come out of that position.
Take a deep breath on the top position, brace and go down. Start releasing the air only once you’ve come out of the bottom position. Keep the core engaged throughout the movement but especially when you are pressing.
When you are able to perform at least 10 reps of the elevated pike push ups, you are ready to try the kipping HSPU. To scale this movement the option we have is to reduce the range of motion with plates and an abmat so to learn the movement and how to kick up.
The steps to follow are:
Kick to handstand – hands shoulder width, elbows completely locked, tuck your chin slightly, only heels touch the wall.
Lower your body in a controlled manner. Aim to place your head on the top of that isosceles triangle that we talked before. Don’t let the elbows flare feel like you are closing a jar of peanut butter with the hands to engage your shoulder blades and place the elbows properly. Head will be on the floor/mat only heels on the wall, the weight of your body will be distributed between your hands and head.
Bring the lower part of your spine aka bum to the wall while bending knees and hips. Keep the knees slightly open, this will give you more balance.
The moment of truth – kick up to the ceiling opening your hips violently, if you do this movement too slowly you won’t get the momentum (kip) and it will be like doing a strict HSPU. Right after the hips start opening your arms will start pressing. Think of this movement as an inverted push press, you’ll be push pressing the Earth though…
The final position will be once again at the top of the handstand. Elbows completely locked, head between the arms and only heels touching the wall.
Mastering the kipping HSPU might take you a while but once you understand the timing of the press you’ll feel that your body loses weight making it much easier for your arms.
Article by Progrm Coach TJ Garcia
Watch our HSPU video tutorials
You can also watch our coach John Singleton’s HSPU video tutorials
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