Breaking Down the Headstand or Handstand Push Up, Part 2: Building the Push

Here’s how you can build up the strength to do strict HSPUs in your workouts.

Last week we worked on getting inverted in the headstand or handstand. This week we will talk about building strength to actually press up and do a strict headstand push up. We’re going to use gymnastics terminology and refer to the movement as a headstand push up, but you may know it as the handstand push up. Here are the progressions that will help build upon what you already learned last week:

Starting from the Ground and Moving to Strict Dips

First, we start from the ground. The best thing to start will be triceps push ups. We want to begin to build the triceps, and you will also work the biceps since these muscles are synergists. Remember to stay hollow – you really should continue to practice this whenever you are in a plank position, no matter which direction your body is oriented.

As you begin to build strength, move on to strict dips. If you feel you are in the middle where triceps push ups are easy, but the strength of your dip is lacking, then put your feet on a box and take some of your load off. If you use a box, then you are using about 50% of your load volume. As you build strength, you can move the box further away, then take one leg off, until you can take both feet off and perform a dip (without using any sort of kipping motion).

Dips will become extremely important when learning to push from the tripod headstand position to the actual handstand position. My recommendation is to be able to do about seven to ten unbroken dips before moving to the headstand push up.

Learning the Tripod Headstand

In most cases, the tripod headstand tends to be easier to hold than an actual handstand. In this position, your weight should be more in your hands than on the top of your head and neck. It’s important to protect the cervical spine and muscles of the neck, so always remember to keep the weight in the hands.

Start in a basic tripod, with your hands at ninety-degress forward in reference to the ears. Begin by lifting your knees onto your triceps, but don’t put all your weight into your triceps – you need to active your core to lift your weight. This is a great place to start when learning how to be on your hands and head. Your hands are going to face toward you when in this position.

After you find some comfort in the tripod, try to see if you can lift your legs all the way up so you are in tripod headstand. See if you can hold this position for five to ten seconds. In my experience of working with athletes, I find they tend to be able to pike into this position faster than they can in handstand.

Beginning the Press Using Your Body and Box

When starting to learn the movement of the headstand push up, start with the legs in a straddle position. If you have the hamstring flexibility, then go into the tripod position just with the upper body and then try to press up and back into the straddle position. As you get comfortable in getting down the actual movement, begin to use a box. As you did with the handstand, work in steps as you get into the pike position. The reason why you use a box is because you want to use as much load on the body as it can take without sacrificing form. So using a 24-inch box will put the body at about 50% of its load volume. Here is an example of a box headstand push up:

Since the way I am teaching this is to do a strict headstand push up, you may be on a box for a bit before you build the baseline strength to lead up to the next progression. As you find the box technique becomes easier, lift one leg off the box. This puts you at about 75% of your load volume. Once that becomes easier and you are doing around five to ten repetitions, then attempt to move away from the box and do strict headstand push ups. More than likely, you will do this against the wall, but remember the goal is to eventually build the strength to do this without the wall.

Remember, learning to do this movement strictly is safer than learning it kipping. It’s better to have control in the movement performing it without the control. When you build the strength to do around five to ten strict headstand push ups, then you can consider incorporating the kip. Around this time you will build the body control to do the kip safely without worrying about doing damage to the cervical spine or cranium. I do understand that strict is not efficient in time-sensitive workouts or WODs that incorporate high reps of headstand push ups, but it may be in your best interest when first learning the headstand push up to change rep schemes or time constraints in order to keep form consistent.

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