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The Benefits of Mastering Handstand Push-Ups Beyond CrossFit

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

It appears that everyone with an Instagram account is flipping over and taking a picture of the acrobatic maneuver in front of a sunset or beach. Not only does this trick make for an impressive photo, but there are actually numerous health advantages to going upside down and balancing on your hands.

Ready to take it up a notch? Give the handstand push-up a try. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a yoga practitioner or a CrossFit athlete to attempt it.

However, it is an especially advanced movement and it may not be safe or suitable for everyone.

“This is a highly advanced movement and not something you should attempt recklessly because it involves going upside down, which can be perilous if you lack the necessary strength,” explains Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist and founder of Movement Vault, a company specializing in mobility and movement.

Before even considering attempting a handstand push-up, you should:

1) have the ability to confidently maintain a handstand against a wall for 60 seconds (If you need assistance with this prerequisite, these 6 exercises will teach you how to do a handstand.)

2) perform six controlled handstand negatives (more details on that progression below)

3) have no existing shoulder or back problems

4) possess adequate mobility in your thoracic spine, wrists, and shoulders

You’ve probably heard or seen kipping handstand push-ups, where you employ a kicking motion to use your legs for upward propulsion. Although it may appear easier, that is actually the more advanced variation of the exercise.

“You must earn the right to perform a kipping handstand push-up by being capable of doing 3 to 5 repetitions of the more challenging version—the strict handstand push-up—first,” says Joe Gaines CF-L1 with CrossFit for the People. That’s why this article focuses specifically on the strict handstand push-up.

Handstand Push-Up Benefits

The strict handstand push-up may seem like solely an upper body exercise, but it’s not. “The handstand push-up will strengthen nearly every muscle in the upper body, including the deltoids, shoulders, trapezius, triceps, and pectorals,” explains Wickham. “But it also necessitates activation of your core muscles and engages your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.” So, it targets just about every area.

If there’s one benefit you should not overlook, it’s the enhanced core strength. “Being upside down requires a significant amount of mid-line stabilization, which means your core must be activated,” says Wickham. In addition to helping you develop a visible set of abdominal muscles, a strong core also reduces the risk of injury both inside and outside of the gym.

(Discover more: The Significance of Core Strength)

And because the motion is a compound exercise—meaning that unlike a leg extension or bicep curl, it utilizes multiple joints and consequently muscles—it can fortify you all-over, which can result in a boost in metabolism. (BTW: Did you know you should be doing multi-joint before single-joint exercises at the gym?). Plus, you’ll enjoy all the other advantages you receive from strength training: reduction in fat, increased calorie expenditure, enhanced confidence, and increased bone robustness, to mention a few.

Another advantage? ″You can essentially do it anywhere,” says Wickham. The only thing you need is a wall. And maybe a pad, or yoga mat for comfort.

How to Perform a Handstand Push-Up

A. Arrange a gymnastics mat or yoga mat on the floor against a wall. Facing the wall, position hands 6 to 12 inches away from the wall, about shoulder-width apart, and kick up into a handstand.

B. Stabilize the core and tuck ribs underneath, contract glutes, and point toes to engage quadriceps and hamstrings, so that the body forms a straight line from head to toe. Grip the mat with fingertips, then, bending elbows at a 45-degree angle, gradually lower until the head barely touches the floor.

C. Thrust back up to the starting position by pressing palms into the floor, extending your arms, and reaching upwards to elevate the body.

Tips for Proper Handstand Push-Up Technique

Still not prepared to attempt a handstand push-up? Below, Gaines and Wickham dissect some exercises that can assist you in building the required strength and skill to execute a handstand push-up.

1. Hollow Rock

The hollow rock is a basic move for all the gymnastics maneuvers in CrossFit, including the handstand push-up. “It mimics the position your body will be in when you kick into a handstand and fortifies the core,” says Wickham.

A. Lie face-up on the floor, arms extended overhead, biceps adjacent to ears.

B. Elevate legs and arms so that shoulder blades and feet are off the ground, pressing the lower back into the floor. (This is a hollow hold.)

C. Rock forwards and backwards while maintaining a braced core, maintaining the hollow hold position.

Perform the Hollow Rock for an 8-minute Tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off).

2. Push-Up

Before you advance to the upside-down push-up, you initially need to master the classic push-up. ″It activates many of the same muscles as the handstand push-up, but with a less extreme range of motion,” says Wickham.

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A. Commence in a high-plank posture with hands marginally wider than shoulder-width, palms pressing into the ground, and feet united. Activate quadriceps and core as if maintaining a plank.

B. Gradually descend to the floor by flexing the elbows at 45-degree angles. When the chest reaches the floor, press the palms into the ground, extend the arms, and maintaining a straight body alignment, return to the starting position.

C. That constitutes one repetition.

Carry out an EMOM (every minute on the minute) for 4 minutes. Execute 20 seconds of deliberate and controlled push-ups, then rest for the remaining duration of the minute (40 seconds).

3. Pike Position Bear Crawl

This creature-inspired maneuver places significant emphasis on your triceps, which you’ll require for the inverted movement. Note: This can be performed with either bent or straight arms. “Performing the bent arm pike position crawl is more challenging, so initiate with straight arms before transitioning to bent,” recommends Wickham.

A. Begin on all fours, with hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Elevate yourself onto the balls of your feet to assume a pike position where the hips are higher than the shoulders.

B. While maintaining this posture, proceed forward by simultaneously moving the opposite hand and foot.

Aim to cover a distance of 80 feet or maintain movement for a continuous duration of 30 seconds.

4. Pike Push-Up

“The pike position necessitates greater shoulder flexion, tricep strength, and core strength compared to the standard push-up,” states Wickham.

A. Commence in a standard push-up position. Then, walk your feet towards your hands until the arms and legs are straight, but the body forms an inverted V shape (similar to the downward dog position).

B. Bend the elbows to lower the upper body until the top of the head touches the floor, then push back up to the starting position.

Complete 3 sets of 8 repetitions, resting as required between sets.

5. Box Pike Push-Up

This exercise replicates the movement of the pike push-up, but with elevated feet. “The higher the elevation of your feet, the greater the demand it places on your shoulders and upper body,” explains Wickham.

Additionally, Gaines mentions that in his box (CrossFit slang for “gym” or “studio”), fear of being inverted is often the limiting factor for athletes attempting handstand push-ups. This exercise aids in developing strength and becoming comfortable in the inverted position.

A. Begin in a high plank position with your feet on a plyometric box or bench, elevating your toes by at least 12 inches. Walk your hands backwards until your hands and shoulders align directly under your hips.

B. Bend the elbows to lower the upper body until the top of the head touches the floor, then push back up to the starting position.

Perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions, resting as needed.

6. Wall Walk

The wall walk entails transitioning your body from a plank position to a handstand hold, and then returning to the starting position. “It also requires substantial activation of the core to maintain stability as you ascend,” states Wickham.

“And it assists in bolstering all the minuscule muscles around your shoulder framework.” (This is also a beneficial workout for acquiring the skill of performing a typical handstand.)”

A. Begin by placing an ab mat in front of the wall. Position your hands on either side and kick up into a handstand push-up position.

B. Activate your core and gradually lower yourself until your head touches the ab mat.

C. Be cautious as you lower yourself and avoid placing too much weight on your head.

Work your way up to performing 6 to 8 slow repetitions consecutively without using ab mats and with no more than a 5-second rest between repetitions.

10. Handstand Push-Up with Kipping

Kipping is a technique that uses momentum from an explosive hip drive and a coordinated motion of the arms and shoulders to create upward force and assist in the handstand push-up movement.

A. Begin by placing an ab mat just in front of the wall. Position your hands on either side and kick up into a handstand push-up position.

B. Engage your core and bend your elbows, using the momentum from your hips, arms, and shoulders to propel yourself upwards.

C. With control, lower yourself back down to the starting position.

D. Repeat the movement, utilizing the kipping technique to generate momentum and assist in the execution of the handstand push-up.

Build up your strength and stability to perform multiple repetitions with proper form.

11. Freestanding Handstand Push-Up

The freestanding handstand push-up requires a high level of strength, balance, and control. It is an advanced variation of the handstand push-up that challenges the core, upper body, and stability.

A. Begin by standing with your back against a wall and your feet shoulder-width apart.

B. Kick up into a handstand position against the wall, ensuring that your body is in a straight line.

C. Engage your core and lower yourself into a push-up position, bending your elbows and bringing your head down towards the ground.

D. Press through your hands and extend your arms to push yourself back up into the handstand position.

E. Continue performing freestanding handstand push-ups, focusing on maintaining control and balance throughout the movement.

Gradually increase the number of repetitions and aim for full range of motion.

  • If you require more than three or more abdominal mats to lift yourself up from the bottom, persist in enhancing your pushing strength with the other alterations indicated above.
  • A. Arrange two or more abdominal mats directly in front of a wall. Position your hands on either side, then elevate yourself into a handstand push-up position.
  • B. Afterward, by flexing your elbows, gradually descend until your head brushes against the abdominal mat. Propel yourself back to the starting position by exerting pressure through your palms onto the floor and extending your body upwards.
  • Aim to complete 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions. Continue eliminating abdominal mats until you accomplish full-range handstand push-ups!