CrossFit® Handstand Push-Up: Exciting Variations, Alternative and Workouts

The handstand push-up is a challenging and impressive bodyweight exercise that requires not only strength but also proper technique and progression.

In this article, we'll delve into a structured approach to developing the strict handstand push-up—a foundation that will set you up for success in mastering other variations like the kipping handstand push-up.

We'll delve into the foundational principles and specific drills that can significantly boost your strength, bringing you closer to nailing this challenging movement.

From handstand negatives to dumbbell presses, we'll cover a range of exercises that are designed to hone the required muscle groups and improve your overall technique.

But first: what does HSPU mean in CrossFit®?

HSPU stands for "Handstand Push-Up," and it's a common movement in CrossFit® workouts.  They can be modified to suit different fitness levels, such as by using abmat cushions under the head or performing the movement with knees on a box for support.

Does it take a lot of strength to do a handstand push-up?

Performing a handstand push-up requires a significant amount of upper body and core strength. A handstand push-up is a challenging bodyweight exercise that combines elements of both a handstand and a push-up.

That’s why handstand push-ups are impressive, super hard and require a lot of strength. It involves lowering your body down while in a handstand position until your head touches the ground and then pushing back up.

Why Start with the Strict Version?

Before diving into the intricacies of handstand push-up progressions, it's crucial to emphasize the significance of mastering the strict version first.

Rushing into the kipping version without a solid foundation of upper body strength could lead to an increased risk of injury. You'll also progress much faster and pick up the kipping movement more easily if you can do 1 or 2 strict HSPU first.

The kipping handstand push-up involves explosive movements and compression, which demand a higher level of coordination and control. Therefore, focusing on the strict version is a prudent choice for your overall safety and progress.

To execute a handstand push-up effectively, you need to possess the following strengths:
  • Shoulder Strength: Handstand push-ups primarily target the deltoid muscles in the shoulders. You must have strong shoulder muscles to lift your body weight against gravity while maintaining balance.
  • Core Stability: Maintaining a straight body position while inverted requires solid core strength to prevent your lower back from sagging and to stabilize your entire body.
  • Triceps and Chest Strength: As you push your body back up from the lowered position, you engage your triceps and chest muscles, similar to a traditional push-up.
  • Wrist Strength and Flexibility: The wrists need to support your body weight in an unnatural position, so wrist strength and flexibility are crucial to avoid discomfort.
  • Balance and Coordination: Balancing in a handstand position is challenging on its own. Adding the push-up motion while upside down increases the difficulty and requires good coordination.
  • Progression: Many people build up to performing a full handstand push-up by starting with easier progressions, such as pike push-ups (where your hips are elevated) or assisted handstand push-ups. 

Here’s a bonus drill you can try first to get going:

Handstand Push-Up Negatives

One of the most effective drills in your handstand push-up journey is the handstand push-up negative.

This exercise targets the eccentric phase of the movement, which is essential for building strength throughout the entire range of motion.Here's how to execute it:

  • Begin by kicking up into a handstand position with your hands about 6 to 10 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) away from the wall.
  • Maintain a tight core and engaged glutes throughout the movement.
  • Slowly lower yourself down from the locked-out position, emphasizing control and stability.
  • Aim to descend as gradually as possible, engaging your muscles to resist gravity.
  • Once you reach the bottom, there's no need to push yourself back up. Instead, dismount from the wall and reset.
CrossFit Handstand Push-Up Exciting Variations Alternative and Workouts

Building a Strong Foundation

To begin your journey toward the handstand push-up, follow these step-by-step progressions that prioritize proper technique and gradual development:

1. Box Handstand Push-Ups

Start by moving away from the wall and onto a box. Position your hands on the ground in a way that allows you to achieve a vertical torso. Maintain a neutral head position—neither looking up nor down—while performing the push-up motion.

This ensures that your body maintains a stable and controlled alignment. If necessary, use a mat underneath your head to reduce the range of motion or adjust your hand placement to find the optimal vertical position.

2. Seated Dumbbell Press

Transitioning from box push-ups, sit on the ground with your legs extended straight in front of you. Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height and press them overhead while maintaining a tight core and neutral spine.

This exercise mimics the pressing motion of the handstand push-up and helps develop strength through the full range of motion.

For added intensity and faster progress, incorporate negative repetitions by gradually lowering the dumbbells back to shoulder level, engaging your muscles eccentrically.

3. Handstand Holds and Kick-Ups

Progress to practicing handstand holds against a wall and handstand kick-ups. These exercises help you become comfortable with the handstand position, enhance your balance, and develop the necessary shoulder and core stability.

4. Reduced Range of Motion Strict Handstand Push-Ups

Employing padded mats under your head, perform strict handstand push-ups with reduced range of motion. Begin with a stack of mats, such as three abmats, and gradually decrease the height as you gain strength and confidence.

This progressive approach enables you to build the required strength for the full range of motion without compromising your form.

5. Full Strict Handstand Push-Ups: The Hardest Part

Once you've mastered the reduced range of motion variations, you'll be well-prepared to tackle full strict handstand push-ups. By this point, your strength, control, and technique should be sufficiently developed to support your bodyweight throughout the entire movement.

CrossFit® Handstand Push-Up Progressions, Alternative and Workouts: Putting It All Together

Here are some examples of handstand push-up workouts:

1. Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Up Progression:
  • Wall Plank Holds: Hold a plank position facing the wall with your feet on the wall and hands on the floor. Gradually move your feet up the wall as you become more comfortable.
  • Wall-Assisted Handstand Holds: Kick up into a handstand position against the wall. Hold the position, focusing on balance and stability.
  • Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups: From the wall-assisted handstand, slowly lower yourself down by bending your elbows, then push back up. The wall provides support and control.
2. Elevated Surface Handstand Push-Ups:
  • Pike Push-Ups: Perform push-ups with your hips in the air and your body forming an inverted V shape. This is a great way to practice the movement pattern without being fully inverted.
  • Elevated Pike Push-Ups: Place your feet on an elevated surface (like a bench or box) and your hands on the ground in a pike push-up position. This adds more challenge to the movement.
  • Full Elevated Handstand Push-Ups: Kick up into a handstand with your feet on an elevated surface, then perform push-ups with a full range of motion.
3. CrossFit® Handstand Push-Ups:
  • Handstand Practice: Spend time practicing balancing against a wall handstand position.

  • Partial Range Handstand Push-Ups: Once you can balance in a handstand, practice partial range handstand push-ups, lowering only partway before pushing back up.
  • Full Kipping Handstand Push-Ups: When you're ready, attempt full-range kipping handstand push-ups. This requires a high level of strength, balance, and control.
4. Progressive Volume Training:
  • Week 1: Perform 3 sets of 5 wall-assisted handstand push-ups.
  • Week 2: Perform 4 sets of 5 wall-assisted handstand push-ups.
  • Week 3: Perform 3 sets of 3 elevated pike push-ups.
  • Week 4: Perform 4 sets of 3 elevated pike push-ups.
  • Week 5: Attempt 1-2 CrossFit® handstand push-ups per set, for 3 sets.
  • Week 6: Aim for 2-3 CrossFit® handstand push-ups per set, for 3 sets.

Want to put it all together?
Try this benchmark workout:

“Diane”
21-15-9 Reps For Time

  • Deadlifts (225/155 lb)
  • Handstand Push-Ups

With a running clock, as fast as possible perform 21 Deadlifts and 21 Handstand Push-Ups, then 15 Deadlifts and 15 Handstand Push-Ups, then 9 Deadlifts and 9 Handstand Push-Ups.

Score is the time it takes to complete all 90 reps.

To Summarize

Remember, developing the strict handstand push-up lays the foundation for safe and effective progression to more advanced variations. 

By following these structured progressions, you'll not only enhance your upper body strength but also cultivate the skill and control required for a successful handstand push-up journey.

So, take your time, focus on mastering the basics, and watch your handstand push-up capabilities flourish.

Want to learn more?

Why not download our free guide on how to crush HSPU in your next workout.
You can download the guide here by clicking here.

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