“You want me to do what?” This is the usual response I hear every time I announce that a WOD is going to have handstand push-ups (HSPUs). You either love them or hate them, but what I’ve learned is that for most people, it’s the latter. There’s a number of great variations and kipping styles when it comes to the handstand push-up, but achieving a strict handstand push-up is going to take hard work and grinding reps. Practicing assistance lifts is a good way to accomplish this feat.

TOP HALF STRICT PRESS (Pictured above)
How to do it
The first repetition is to be performed as a push press. This is because the weight you’ll be using will be heavier than you can typically strict press for reps. Once you have the bar overhead, bring the barbell down to your forehead then press it back up. Continue strict presses from the forehead to complete extension for reps.

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Why it works
Partial reps have been around as long as weightlifting itself. The point is to strengthen specific weak points in a movement that prevent you from accomplishing other movements. For example, many powerlifters who struggle to lock out bench presses will place boards on their chest and perform board presses (lowering the barbell to the board rather than the chest) with more weight than they can usually move in order to strengthen that section of the movement. Since strict pressing your own bodyweight is something you can only expect from more advanced athletes, this feat isn’t necessary to perform HSPUs. In the handstand push-up, the range of motion ends at the head, so we’re simulating that same range of motion with a barbell. By only lowering the barbell to the head, you are making the lift more specific to HSPUs. Since you’ll be able to use more weight this way, you’ll get stronger at the handstand push-up in a shorter amount of time. However, this is not a replacement for your standard overhead work.

HANDSTAND PUSH-UP PLATE PROGRESSION
PLATE PROGRESSIONHow to do it
Stack 10-15lb plates and place an Abmat on top of them. Perform a normal handstand push-up, lowering your head to the Abmat. The number of plates you use depends on your current strength level. The more plates, the easier the movement.

Why it works
Jumping straight into a full range HSPU is very difficult, especially for novice CrossFitters. This progression allows you to slowly work your way down to the floor, plate by plate. In addition to building up your strength, this exercise provides a safe means of measurable progress through the use of weight plates. Week to week removing a plate will let you know that you are truly getting better at the movement, rather than having to estimate. Measured progress will help keep you on track to achieving your goals.

DUMBBELL SHOULDER PRESS
DUMBELL SHOULDER PRESSHow to do it
Start with the dumbbells resting on your shoulders with your elbows flared out to the side. This should be a similar position as to how you would press yourself out of the bottom position of a handstand. Continue by pressing the dumbells overhead in a controlled manner. For added variety, use kettlebells.

Why it works
Basic strength training will definitely boost the handstand push-up process. Dumbells are an excellent tool to use in this regard as they help to expose an athlete’s shoulder imbalances. Barbells may be the more established tool for strength training, but the value of dumbbells is that they are free weights, so one arm (shoulder) won’t be able to compensate for the weaker one. An athlete needs complete, balanced upper body strength to dominate the HSPU.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Movements get better with practice—more specifically, frequent, quality practice. Do these progressions several times per week and be sure to track your progress.
Top-Half Press: Try to increase the weight by 5-10lbs every week.
Plate Progression: Try to remove a plate every week or two.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press: Try to increase the weight 2.5-5lbs per week.
For the Handstand Holds: Try to hold the position 10-15 seconds longer than your previous attempt.
This linear progress will help you dominate the HSPU in no time.

SAMPLE WEEK
MONDAY
Plate Progression
3 sets to failure.

Top-Half Strict Press
3 sets of 5 repetitions at 90% of your strict press max. Do not include initial push-press as a rep.

Handstand Hold
1 set to failure.

WEDNESDAY
Plate Progression
1 set to failure. Try to beat your first set from Monday.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press
3 sets of 8 repetitions. Heavy but with a focus on perfect form.

Handstand Hold
1 set to failure. Try to beat Monday’s time.

FRIDAY
Plate Progression
5x highest set of the week, minus two reps.

Top-Half Strict Press
2 sets of 3 repetitions. +5lbs from Monday.

Handstand Hold
1 set to failure. Try to beat Wednesday’s time.

Adam Sayih
Adam Sayih has been coaching at 911 CrossFit for the past three years as well as personal training for the last six. He’s currently finishing his Bachelor’s degree in Sports & Fitness at Florida International University and is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sports Performance Coach and the creator of GentlemanAndMeathead.com. When’s he’s not busy lifting barbells, he’s enjoying good company and craft beers. To get in contact with Adam, email him at Adamsayih@GentlemanAndMeathead.com.

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