Let's Improve Your Handstand Push-Ups

This past Saturday, we posted an IGTV video with a fresh variation to the HSPU. If you missed it, take two minutes and watch Michelle be awesome.


But that fun little tutorial gives way to a more in-depth conversation for many of you. The vast majority of you reading this - myself included - fall into one of a few categories:

  1. I'm afraid to kick upside down

  2. I can only do HSPU with AbMat(s) under my head

  3. I can't figure out the kipping HSPU

  4. I can only string a couple together at a time

A lot of the answer comes in practicing outside of the WOD, building strength and muscle-memory and confidence. I'm going to table that discussion for another time and focus today on corrections you can make during the WOD to ensure a better outcome. Here goes.


Here are the 4 common faults we see when you're trying to do HSPU in a workout:

  1. Your hands are in the wrong place. From the start, the HSPU may be sabotaged. If the hands are too close to the wall, then the kip will likely push you away from the wall. You don't want your upper back and head touching the wall; there should be a slight angle from the head on the floor to the butt touching the wall in the bottom of the movement. You'll see this when athletes bring the legs down to kip and just crumble to the floor and/or kick upward when the feet don't make contact with the wall at the top of the press. If the hands are too far away from the wall, then the kip is weakend. The angle from head on floor to butt on wall is too extreme, now. You'll see this when athletes kick upward and the feet drive into the wall prematurely, requiring a strict press-out to finish the rep. The hands can be the proper distance from the wall and be too narrow, as well. Imagine trying to do a Push Press with your hands on the edge of the knurling. The movement is done with delts and triceps instead of the larger thoracic muscles. Based on the standards from the CrossFit Open over the past few years, the hands should be between 10" and 14.5" away from the wall and 20" to 24" apart for kipping HSPU. The ranges are based on the athlete's height/arm length and mobility. On average, anything outside of those measurements is inefficient.

  2. Your head is in the wrong place. Now, with the hands in the correct spot, the head can present a problem in a couple of ways. First, athletes will lower their head down in a straight line between the hands. Doing this would be like lowering a barbell down on top of your head instead of slightly forward and in a proper front rack position. The head and hands should form an Isosceles Triangle. If the hands are at 12" from the wall, the head should be at 8-10" for example. Second, while pressing upward, athletes will forget to press the head through the window. This alters the pressing angle and limits the ability to finish the rep, similar to doing a Push Press and leaving the head behind the bar at extension. Most of us lack the mobility to do this successfully for many reps. The third mistake is looking down at the floor while pressing. This curves the lower lumbar, alters the pressing angle even more, and makes it difficult to remain in contact with the wall, must less complete the press-out. It also puts extreme strain on the neck, which I can guarantee several of you have experienced before. The head should touch the floor in front of the hands and then push through the window of the arms as soon as possible during the push-up, just like any sound barbell pressing motion.

  3. Your kip is inefficient. So we've got the hands and head in the right position. It's a done deal now. Right? More often than not, this portion still breaks down for people. Similar to kipping a pull-up, the movement doesn't help if it's done ineffectively or inefficiently. There are 2 styles of kipping that are correct, but they each come at a cost. The first is a dip-drive, shallow kip similar to a Push Press. This is quicker and requires less energy, but you need a very solid base of strict strength. The other is a deeper, knees coming to chest kip. This requires more energy but gives greater kipping power. Think Thruster vs Push Press, and pick which one is best for your level. The incorrect one, though, is the cannonball style kip where you pull your butt off the wall, give up your brace, and drive your feet quickly back into the wall and still have to press up with your shoes acting as an emergency brake. Or, there's the style where your timing is off and the leg drive didn't help at all. This is common in the HSPU and barbell Push Press. The arms start pressing before the leg drive provides the full benefit. You'll see this when athletes kick and move a couple of inches but can't finish. Imagine doing an upside down Thruster or Push Press : brace the core -> dip -> drive -> press.

  4. You don't have the strength to be kipping. This is just an honest statement. Just like with Pull-Ups, many of us are learning to kip the HSPU without any strict strength. The kip is meant to ADD REPS to your capacity, not be your only capacity. If this is you, then you need to consider movement adjustments within the WOD and to do some accessory work offline. A few suggestions would be 1) practice wall walks where you get your nose fully to the wall and have a good body position. Then, you can slightly pull your toes off of the wall to work on muscle engagement and stabilization 2) practice HSPU negatives, where you kick up to full extension and slowly lower into the proper driving position. Make it a challenge to have your head as light as possible on the floor and have full tension of the core and lats/triceps 3) keep doing seated presses and incorporate tempo work. Slow the downward path and explode upward with full muscle engagement. If you fix faults 1-3 and build this strict strength, mastery of HSPU is yours!

Hopefully, these tips will help you add some more reps to your workouts. Drive with the heels as if you were pressing through the floor with your heels in a barbell press. Don't neglect the accessory work that can be done outside of the WOD to build your strenth, muscle memory, and confidence. And don't be afraid to trim the prescribed number of reps or go straight to a movement adjustment to hit the intended stimulus of a given workout AND keep yourself safe.


To your success,


PS - You're welcome for this amazing pic...


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