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The handstand push-up (HSPU) isn’t just a fun party trick. It’s a surefire way to look like a fitness rock star. However, it requires significant strength and stability prerequisites. Just getting into an inverted (upside down) position places demands on your entire body, top to bottom. You need stability in your midline and throughout your shoulder and wrist complex and all the way down to your feet to master this move.
Ideally, before even attempting this movement, you should have some serious overhead pressing strength and posterior-chain development — your middle traps, lower traps and rhomboids — to keep your shoulders in a safe stacked position when kicking up into a handstand. Finally, core stability is vital for safe movement while you’re upside down.
Here, we take you through exercises and form tips that will get you ready to master this next-level feat of fitness.
How to Build Strength for a Handstand Push-up
Contrary to what some might think, you do not need to be able to press your full bodyweight overhead to perform a safe HSPU. The following moves can help you get to where you need to be to pull off each aspect of this challenging movement.
Before You Flip
Top-Half Strict Press: Using a barbell, perform the top-half strict press to target the range of motion specific to HSPUs. Perform your first rep as a push press. Once the bar is overhead, bring it down to forehead height, then use this range of motion from your forehead to full elbow extension to complete your working sets. Generally, athletes tend to have the most difficulty with pressing out of the very bottom of a handstand. This exercise targets those last few inches at the end range, where fatigue sets in quickly.
Use about 80 percent of your one-rep max strict press, performing three sets of five at a frequency of two to three times per week.
Building Strength While Upside Down
Handstand Hold: The next important aspect of the HSPU is the ability to kick up to the wall with a braced core. Overextending your lower back or neck while you do this can cause pain and eventual injury. Practice kicking up into a good position with your feet together, heels on the wall, while squeezing your glutes and quads. Perform a hold like this until you can no longer maintain a tight position on the wall.
Throughout the week, kick up onto the wall with the intention of matching or beating that initial time to failure. Each week, continue progressing at a frequency of two to three times per week.
HSPU Eccentric: After building strength and confidence in your inverted position, you can focus on building strength while upside down. Place a gymnastics mat on the floor to protect your head, then begin with your hands 6 to 12 inches from the wall when kicking up. Your hands should be just outside your shoulders and elbows slightly in front of your body for an optimal vertical pressing position. Keep your feet together and heels on the wall.
While maintaining a tight midline and keeping your shoulders stacked over your wrists, move your head back toward the wall slowly. This will create a tripod position between your hands and head, recreating the pressing position of a barbell overhead — except this time, you’ll be lowering yourself toward the floor. Think of a 3-2-1 count for lowering as you move your head back toward the wall.
Perform two to three sets of five to eight reps throughout the week.
Wall Walk: With strength training, it’s important to mimic the activities we’re preparing for. A HSPU is performed in closed-chain position (hands in contact with the floor). A strict press is performed in an open-chain position (hands in contact with a barbell). The wall walk is an excellent way to build strength in a closed-chain position.
Lying flat on the floor with your hands placed just outside your shoulders, begin to take big steps to walk your feet up the wall. Keep your core tight and walk your hands and feet up the wall with a goal of pressing your bellybutton and chest to the wall. Without losing control on the way down, return to laying completely flat before you begin the next rep.
If you don’t have the strength/control for this yet, perform half wall walks, increasing your distance up the wall over time.
Strict Handstand Push-Up: You need to master the strict HSPU before performing a kipping (with momentum from driving your hips) handstand push-up. Why? Because your cervical spine and neck have to be able to withstand the pressure when coming down in this movement. You need strict strength before adding any kind of momentum to avoid injury.
Begin in the same way you began your eccentric HSPU. Stack plates within a range of motion that you feel comfortable pressing out of.
As this begins to feel easier, take one plate away at a time. Continue to focus on a “tripod position,” sending your head back toward the wall and pressing up “through the window,” the same way you would when sending a barbell overhead. Here, the pressing path in both movements remains the same when performed correctly and safely.
Perform two to three sets of five reps three times a week with the goal of removing a plate as you progress closer to the floor.
How to Master a Kipping Handstand Push-Up
This variation is all about the hip drive and can come into play when shoulder fatigue sets in. Adding a “kip” to your HSPU allows you to continue for more reps than you would be able to when performing the strict variation alone.
The Tripod Position: Place your hands and feet on the floor, forming a tripod position — your hands should be just outside your shoulders and your heels should be off the floor. Lower your head down, mimicking the path of a barbell in the overhead press. Raise your feet off the floor and position your knees on top of your elbows. This is the bottom position of your kipping HSPU.
Get comfortable here, keeping your core engaged and spine neutral. Complete five- to 10-second holds before getting inverted on the wall.
Tripod Press-Out: Once you’re comfortable finding a tripod position, kick your feet back behind you while keeping your shoulders stable. Your feet should hit the floor at the same time your arms lock out and as you send your head through your hands.
This exercise mimics the explosive momentum needed in a kipping HSPU.
Setting Up on the Wall: Kick up into a handstand with your hands 6 to 12 inches from the wall. Lower down into your tripod position, with your head moving toward the wall, then explosively kick up, feet together and heels against the wall, driving through your hips and sending your head through your arms (or “through the window”) to ensure a full lockout. Think about kicking up and away from the wall to create momentum through the lockout.
Performing high-level bodyweight movements such as this opens a Pandora’s box for leveling up your training when you can’t make it to the gym. HSPUs can be performed virtually anywhere you can kick up on a wall once you’ve mastered them.