Learn How to Master a Handstand Push-up
It seems that everyone with an Instagram is turning upside down and snapping a pic of the gymnastic move against a sunset or beach. Not only does the stunt make a great gram, but there are actually a ton of health benefits to getting upside down and standing on your hands.
Ready to level up? Try the handstand push-up. Don't worry, you don't need to be a yogi or CrossFit athlete to do it.
That said, it *is* an especially advanced movement—and it may not be safe or appropriate for everyone.
″This is a very high-level movement and it's not one you should try willy-nilly because it involves going upside down which can be dangerous if you don't have the prerequisite strength to do that," says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company.
Before you even think about trying a handstand push-up, you should:
1) be able to confidently hold a handstand against the wall for 60 seconds (Need help with this prerequisite? These 6 exercises teach you to do a handstand.)
2) do six controlled handstand negatives (more on that progression below)
3) have no preexisting shoulder or back issues
4) have sufficient thoracic spine, wrist, and shoulder mobility
You've probably heard of or seen kipping handstand push-ups—when you use a kicking motion to use your legs to propel you upward. Though it may seem easier, that's the more advanced version of the move.
″You have to earn the right to do a kipping handstand push-up by being able to do 3 to 5 reps of the harder variation—the strict handstand push-up—first," says Joe Gaines CF-L1 with CrossFit for the People. That's why this focused specifically on the strict handstand push-up. (Related: Why Jillian Michaels Wants You To Stop Kipping In CrossFit).
Handstand Push-Up Benefits
The strict handstand push-up may seem like just an upper body move, but it's not. ″The handstand push-up will strengthen basically every muscle in the upper body including the delts, shoulders, traps, triceps, and pecs,″ says Wickham. ″But it also requires your core muscles to activate, and engages your glutes, hamstrings, and quads." So, yep, just about everywhere.
If there's one benefit you shouldn't sleep on, it's the boosted core strength. ″Being upside down requires a ton of mid-line stabilization—which means your core has to be on and activated," says Wickham. Beyond helping you sculpt a visible six-pack, a strong core helps reduce injury risk in and out of the gym. (See more: Why Core Strength Is So Damn Important)
And because the movement is a compound exercise—meaning that unlike a leg extension or bicep curl, it uses multiple joints and therefore muscles—it can strengthen you all-over, which can lead to a metabolism boost. (BTW: Did you know you should be doing multi-joint before single-joint exercises at the gym?). Plus, you'll reap all the other benefits you get from strength training: fat loss, increased calorie burn, boosted confidence, and increased bone strength, to name a few.
Another perk? ″You can basically do it anywhere," says Wickham. The only thing you need is a wall. And maybe a pad, or yoga mat for comfort.
How to Do a Handstand Push-Up
A. Set up a gymnastics mat or yoga mat on the floor against a wall. Facing the wall, place hands 6 to 12 inches away from the wall, about shoulder-width apart, and kick up into a handstand.
B. Brace core and tuck ribs under, squeeze glutes, and point toes to engage quads and hamstrings, so that body forms a straight line from head to toe. Grip the mat with fingertips, then, bending elbows at a 45-degree angle, slowly lower until head grazes the floor.
C. Explode back to start by pressing palms into floor, straightening your arms, and reaching pushing body up towards the ceiling.
Handstand Push-Up Form Tips
- Engage your core the entire time to keep your ribs from ″flaring" out, which is a sign that your lower-back is hyper-extended.
Point your toes, squeeze your glutes, and grip the ground with your fingertips for a better feeling of stability.
Try to keep your elbows at a 45-degree angle as you lower and return to start.
- Don't ″sit" at the bottom of the handstand push-up. Not only is it harder to push yourself up from a dead stop, but it's also not good for your neck to chill there. (See: Why This Veteran Yoga Teacher Wants You to Stop Doing Headstands)
Still not ready to tackle a handstand push-up? Below, Gaines and Wickham break down some exercises that can help you build the necessary strength and skill to do a handstand push-up.
1. Hollow Rock
The hollow rock is a prerequisite move for all the gymnastics movements in CrossFit, including the handstand push-up. "It mirrors the position your body will be in when you kick into a handstand and strengthens the core," says Wickham.
A. Lie face-up on the floor, arms extended overhead, biceps next to ears.
B. Lifts legs and arms so shoulder blades and feet are off ground, pressing lower back into the floor. (This is a hollow hold.)
C. Rock forward and backward while keeping core braced, holding the hollow hold position.
Do the Hollow Rock for a 8-minute Tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off).
Before you graduate to the upside-down push-up, you first need to master the classic push-up. ″It works many of the same muscles as the handstand push-up, but with a less extreme range of motion," says Wickham. (Related: Finally Learn How to Do a Push-Up Correctly).
A. Start in high-plank with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, palms pressing into the floor and feet together. Engage quads and core as if holding a plank.
B. Slowly lower to floor by bending elbows back at 45-degree angles, when chest touches floor, press palms into floor, straighten arms, and keeping body in a straight line, return to start position.
C. That's one rep.
Do an EMOM (every minute on the minute) for 4 minutes. Do 20 seconds of slow and controlled push-ups, then rest for the remainder of the minute (40 seconds).
3. Pike Position Bear Crawl
This animal-inspired move puts a big demand on your triceps, which you'll need to for inverted move. Note: this can be done with either bent or straight arms. ″Bent arm pike position crawl is harder, so start with straight before you're strong enough to do it with bent," suggests Wickham.
A. Start all fours, hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Rise up onto balls of feet into pike position so that hips are higher than shoulders.
B. Holding this position, walk forward, moving opposite hand and foot at the same time.
Aim to go 80 feet, or to move for 30 continuous seconds.
4. Pike Push-Up
″The pike position requires more shoulder flexion, tricep strength, and core strength than the standard push-up," says Wickham.
A. Start in a standard push-up position. Then walk feet up towards hands so that arms and legs are straight but body is in an upside-down V shape. (Think: Downward dog)
B. Bend elbows to lower upper body until top of head touches floor, then push back to start.
Do 3 sets of 8 reps, resting as needed between sets.
5. Box Pike Push-Up
This is the same movement as the pike push-up, but your feet are elevated. ″The higher up your feet are, the more demand it places on your shoulders and upper body," says Wickham.
Additionally, Gaines says that in his box (CrossFit-lingo for ″gym" or "studio"), the fear of turning upside down is often the limiting factor in athletes being able to do a handstand push-up. This move helps you develop strength and get comfortable in the inverted position.
A. Start in a high plank with feet on a plyometric box or bench so that toes are elevated at least 12 inches. Walk hands backward until hands and shoulders are directly under hips.
B. Bend elbows to lower upper body until top of head touches floor, then push back to start.
Do 3 sets of 8 reps, resting as needed.
6. Wall Walk
The wall walk entails bringing your body from a plank position into a handstand hold, and then return back to the bottom. ″It also requires a ton of core activation to keep you stable as you climb,″ says Wickham. ″And it helps to strengthen all the tiny muscles around your shoulder girdle." (This is also a helpful exercise for learning how to do a regular handstand.)
One tip: "When you get to the top of the handstand, actively grip the ground with your fingers to prevent wrist pain and from sinking into your shoulders."
A. Start in a high plank position just in front of a wall with feet closest.
B. With core engaged, walk hands backward and step feet up onto the wall. Keeping body in a straight line, continue walking feet up the wall and walking hands closer to the wall until you're in a handstand position facing wall.
C. Once in a handstand position, make sure core is engaged, ribs are tucked towards toes, and glutes are engaged. Hold for 5 seconds.
D. Slowly walk hands away from wall walk feet down the wall to return to start.
Do 3 to 5 reps.
7. Handstand Hold
Comfort, strength, and stability in a handstand hold is major indicator of readiness for a handstand push-up. ″You need to be able to hold a handstand for at least 30 to 60 seconds with good form," says Gaines.
You can practice these every day, he says. "Handstand holds are something you can incorporate into every workout You'll find yourself developing more stability and strength as you go."
A. Facing the wall, place hands on the ground roughly 6 to 10 inches away from the wall.
B. Kick up with one foot to launch lower body into the air. If comfortable, let the other leg follow to reach a handstand position at the top.
C. Make sure core is engaged, ribs are tucked, and glutes and quads are engaged (just like in the hollow hold position). Grip the floor with fingers and press up to avoid sinking into shoulders.
D. Hold, then kick down one leg at a time.
Work up to holding for 60 seconds in good form.
8. Negative Handstand Push-Ups
″Negatives work the concentric part of the motion," explains Gaines. The goal is to control the descent: Instead of pushing back up to start as you would with a real handstand push-up, you'll kick down from the bottom of the position.
Depending on comfort level and strength, you might stack an ab mat beneath your head. (See more equipment you need for a badass home CrossFit gym).
A. Place an ab mat just in front of a wall. Place hands on either side, then kick up into a handstand push-up position.
B. Engage core, then bend elbows to slowly lower until head touches the ab mat.
C. Carefully kick down without putting all weight on head.
Work up to doing 6 to 8 slow reps in a row with no ab mats, and with no more than 5 seconds between reps.
9. Partial-Rep Handstand Push-Up
The variation uses ab mats to decrease the range of motion of the handstand push-up. If you need more than three or more ab mats to push yourself up from the bottom, continue working on your pushing strength with the other modifications listed above. (Related: Why You Should Add Partial Reps To Your Training).
A. Set up two or more ab mats just in front of a wall. Place hands on either side, then kick up into a handstand push-up position.
B. Then, bending at elbows, slowly lower until head grazes the ab mat. Explode back to start by pressing palms into floor and reaching pushing body up towards the ceiling.
Aim for 3 sets of 5-8 reps. Continue removing ab mats until you are doing a full-range handstand push-up!