Before getting started, it is critical to understand that an athlete can develop as much overhead strength as they want, but if they are not being instructed on the skill portion of the handstand push up, they will not be able to reach their capacity. Especially while kipping, positional work is key and the coach needs to be attentive to this when instructing athletes.
The handstand push up begins with the athlete in a completely locked out position with only their heels against the wall. The athlete then bends their elbows, lowering themself until their head touches the mat, creating a tripod with the head and hands. Once the head is in contact with the mat, the athlete breaks at the hips and knees, allowing their butt to make contact with the wall while pushing the knees out. Once the hips are loaded, the athlete initiates the kip by extending their hips and knees, and then finishes by pushing with the arms to a locked out position. The hips remain off the wall during the pressing portion of the handstand push up.
- Midline stays engaged with the ribcage down and butt stays off the wall with the exception of in the loaded “down” position.
- Butt and quads stay engaged in the “up” position while against the wall
Push ups, handstand holds. The athlete must demonstrate a reasonable capacity (15+ push-ups) with perfect form. Additionally, the athlete needs to have enough overhead strength to lower themselves under control from the top of the HSPU.
The Gold Standard
- Hands a few inches outside the shoulders (in the down position, the forearms are vertical)
- Butt and quads are engaged and a straight line is formed from the hands to the feet with no break at the hip or back.
- The body is lowered until the head makes contact with the surface that the hands are on, the hips and knees bend outward, and then extend aggressively upward into a straight, upright position.
- The arms then press to lockout with the heels against the wall in the original starting position, having never lost midline control.
Athletes who do cannot safely lower themselves onto their head and who do not have the requisite pressing strength should scale to something more manageable. Rather than using ab-mats or decreasing the range of motion, we recommend reducing the percentage of the athlete’s body weight that needs to be pressed.
Scaling Option 1: Pike HSPU
Using a box or bench, the athlete props their feet or knees on the box and sets up a soft target for their head. It is important to ensure that the target is not too far in front of the athlete, causing athletes to do more of a decline push up than an handstand push up. Ensure athletes are pressing vertically. The difficulty can be adjusted by changing foot position or the height of the box to increase/decrease the percentage of the athlete’s body weight being used.
Scaling Option 2: Wall Walks
Beginning in a push up position with feet against the wall, the athlete performs a push up and then begins walking backwards up the wall until their nose and toes are touching the wall. They then walk back down to the prone position without sliding down the wall.
Be careful with these – wall walks are a great exercise for even the most advanced athletes and can be far more taxing than regular HSPU. One wall walk can easily be the equivalent of 5 HSPU, so be cognizant of that when substituting HSPU with the wall walk.
Scaling Option 3: Seated or Standing Dumbbell Press, or Dumbbell Push Press
For athletes who do not have the confidence or ability to get inverted, using dumbbells is a great way to increase shoulder strength and stability while still mimicking the HSPU. Ensure athletes are still using the fundamentals of the press and push press while doing these movements. With the seated press, the athlete sits with their back straight up against a wall or box and presses overhead.
Scaling Option 4: HSPU Negatives
This scaling option is great for developing strength, but may not be suitable for substitution in a workout since it will likely reduce intensity. SImply have athletes who can achieve a solid position against the wall lower themselves slowly (no crashing) until their head gently touches the mat. The athlete then kicks down and back up immediately for the next rep.
Common Faults and Fixes
Fault 1: Butt makes contact with the wall in the “up” position
This usually occurs with athletes who do not have the strength to support their full body weight while inverted, or when they become fatigued but are still trying to complete reps. This could also be a result of athletes having their hands too far off the wall, forcing them to shift more of their mass toward the wall for balance.
The fix: Remind athletes to squeeze their butt and quads, and to keep their ribcage down. A hollow position needs to be maintained throughout this movement.
Fault 2: Athletes kip themselves off the wall
This occurs when athletes kip forward rather than upward/toward the wall, causing their weight to get thrown away from the wall and causing a no-rep. This can be a result of athletes extending their hips too aggressively.
The fix: make sure that when athletes are loading and preparing to kip, their knees are pushing out instead of forward and off the wall. Then during extension, they are focusing more on extending their KNEES quickly – the hip extension will then be a by-product of the knee extension.
Fault 3: Athletes are looking down or making contact with their forehead instead of the top of their head
This usually happens to athletes who are strong enough to do strict handstand push ups and are looking at the ground as they lower themselves. However, if athletes are trying to kip and have this fault, they need to be corrected immediately, otherwise they risk serious injury.
The fix: cue athletes to “tuck their chin” or “make contact with the top of your head”. If they’re not understanding, have them come off the wall and use a barbell to remind them that they wouldn’t look upward when they perform a strict press or push press, so they shouldn’t be doing it against the wall either.