Enter the Upside Down: How To Get Your First Handstand Press-Up
19/10/2021 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 16 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
The handstand push-up or ‘HSPU’ is a seriously impressive, show stopping calisthenics movement that allows you to unlock vertical pressing into your training repertoire, using only your bodyweight.
Far from easy though, getting those initial few reps, or even getting upside down at all, may feel like a daunting task. But follow these simple regressions, ensuring you’ve got complete mastery of each before moving on, and you’ll be inverted in no time.
Begin by building fundamental pressing power through your chest, shoulders and triceps, whilst creating bodily awareness and core control. Focus on controlled eccentrics, lowering your body to the floor over a 3-4 second count, whilst maintaining tension throughout your entire body, from toes to fingers. Fostering control and tension here will pay dividends once you’re upside down, fighting to maintain balance.
Once you’re comfortable nailing those controlled, tempo push-ups, it’s time to shift the emphasis onto the shoulders and begin transitioning into that vertical movement pattern. From your press-up position, drive your hips into the air and walk your feet forwards, altering the angle of the press, lower your head towards the floor, displaying the same tension and control as before. Pause briefly as your head grazes the ground, before pressing back up intentionally, but explosively.
PIKE PRESS-UPS FROM BOX
With proficient execution of pike press-ups in the locker, we’re going to alter the angle again, further shifting the emphasis onto the shoulders whilst creating a slightly more unstable environment to begin working on the balance and stability we’re going to need down the line. Assume a press-up position with your feet on a box or bench, walk your hands backwards, towards the box, until your torso is as perpendicular to the ground as possible. Your weight should be spread evenly, with your wrists, elbows, shoulders and hips all stacked above one another. From this position, lower your head to the ground under control, pause and press back up.
With sufficient shoulder strength and stability built, we’re ready to put our full bodyweight to the test. Place your hands on the ground, slightly over shoulder width apart, around 6 inches from a wall. From here, kick yourself up explosively into a handstand position, using the wall for balance. Create tension throughout your entire body, even parts you might be tempted to overlook such as your glutes and quads. Focus on actively ‘pushing the floor away’. Build up the amount of time you can comfortably spend in this position to foster confidence and create strength and integrity through the shoulder joint.
HANDSTAND PRESS-UP TO PLATES
Now you’re comfortable upside down, we’re going to begin with a limited range of motion regression that will have us on the home straight to the finish line. Before you kick up into your handstand hold, place a stack of plates or ab-mats in-between your hands. Pile them up so that in your fully extended hold, they’re around 4-6 inches below your head. Kick up into your hold, then flex at the elbows and slowly lower your head until it reaches your plate stack, pause and press back up under control. Once you’re comfortable with a number of reps in this range of motion, remove a plate or two, adding additional inches of travel and repeat.
Continue removing plates and solidifying your reps in each new range of motion until eventually you’re left with nothing but a single ab-mat, or the ground. Remember each key learning from every regression, even as you’re able to rep out full handstand press-ups, to ensure your reps are proficient, efficient and safe.
Above all, never be afraid to slide back down the scale and reinforce the fundamentals, after all- we’re only as good as our last rep!
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