Starting Simple: The Ultimate HSPU Progression

Written By Ben  |  Handstand Push-ups 

Remember the day when handstand push-ups showed up in a WOD for the very first time in your CrossFit® life?

You want me to do WHAT?! A push-up, upside down?  

And you thought push-ups were already hard enough…

HSPU’s can be intimidating at first. But if we take a step back and strip down the movement, get comfortable with being upside down, and work on strict HSPU’s before kipping… it can become a movement that you truly learn to love.

How to do HSPUs

Along with most CrossFit® gymnastic movements, it’s pretty crucial to develop the strict version of the HSPU before you develop the kipping version. If you try to learn kipping HSPU’s first, you can end up putting a ton of stress on your cervical spine since you haven’t developed the strength yet to support yourself upside on the mat. Then add the compression and explosion upwards in the movement, and it can be a bit dangerous to try prior to getting strict HSPU’s first.

So, how can we develop strict them?

Let’s walk through some HSPU drills.

#1. Box Handstand Push-ups

First, I recommend getting off the wall all together, and starting with a box. Box HSPU’s are a great progression towards eventually getting on the wall.

But remember, form is still super important here.

Correct form: Put your feet on the edge of the box, and walk your hands in so that your torso is as vertical as possible, with your head neutral, looking forward towards the box. From there, lower down, touch your head to the floor and push back up.

Strict HSPU

Scaling for this movement could mean adding a mat under your head to reduce the range of motion, or walking your hands out a bit so that you aren’t quite as vertical.

#2. Seated Dumbbell Press

Another great drill to help you work towards strict HSPU’s – that can be supersetted with box HSPU’s – is a seated dumbbell press.

Start sitting on the ground, with your legs straight out. Have a set of dumbbells that are a fairly challenging weight, and then do a press with them from your shoulders. Keep your core tight, and lock the dumbbells out at the top. Control the descent back to your shoulders (don’t just slam them back down) and repeat.

DB press - HSPU

A progression for this to make it a bit harder is to add slow negatives into the seated press.

Once you lock out at the top, slowly lower the dumbbells back down to your shoulders (try counting 1, 2, 3 on the way down). This mimics the same movement as if you were upside down, lowering your head to the mat, and develops that exact same strength that you need for when you move to the wall!

Speaking of the wall – let’s head there. 

#3. Handstand Holds

For the first drill on the wall, I would recommend first simply kicking up and practicing handstand holds on the wall for a few seconds at a period of time (working towards longer periods as you get more comfortable) or repeating a few sets of wall kick-ups, which helps you to get more comfortable with actually getting up onto the wall.

For more handstand hold progression ideas, check out our past post on handstand walks here.

Once you get comfortable with being on the wall and have your bearings, we can start working on scaled HSPU’s.

#4. Scaled​ H​SPU

The last HSPU progression drill is to actually do strict a handstand push-up on the wall, with ab mats or pads under your head to reduce the range of motion as much or as little as you may need.

Try first starting with three pads, and then reducing the amount of pads based on your comfort and strength…. eventually working down to zero ab mats, which would be a strict HSPU!

strict HSPU's

A key here (just like with the seated dumbbell presses) is to scale enough so that you can control the descent, and not just lower down completely uncontrolled (and likely slamming down onto your head).

Remember; strict HSPU’s before kipping is important, safe, and will help your strength game in the long run.

Think you’re ready to move on to kipping HSPU’s?

I’ll leave you with a simple yet efficient tip to keep in mind when you’re hanging out upside down against the wall.

One of the most common errors I see with athletes is that they tend to lock out incorrectly when attempting HSPU’s. So to simplify things, let’s flip the HSPU upside down (or right side up), and think of it as a similar movement to a push press.

What is one of the biggest keys to doing a push press?

Pushing your head through at the top, as you lock your arms out.

The exact same thing can be said when doing handstand push-ups. Push your head through as you lock out your arms; it will give you more ‘lock-out power’, and will also help you to stay on the wall as you kip through HSPU’s.

HSPU correct form

Like we mentioned in our last post, HSPU’s have made an appearance in the Open the past three years running, and I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if they show up again this year. Be prepared, and start practicing HSPU’s now!

Try out the drills and comment below. Let me know what your favorite HSPU drills are – what works for you, or what may not.  

More of a visual learner? Check out our video on the HSPU progression: 

Comment below with any questions you might have on HSPUs – we’re here to help!

  • Thanks Ben; These progressions seem very attainable and a great way to help. I look forward to trying these to get my first handstand push up.

  • Great article Ben. Even though I have been training for many years, I also quickly rushed to the kipping part, definitely with completely wrong technique. One question though. Despite having done my share of standard mobility training (I am 38 years old), I simply can’t sit with my torso/legs in a 90 degree ankle. I don’t know whether it is my hamstrings on something else. This implies that I arch my back whenever I try to do seated dumbell press, box HSPUs etc. In addition I can’t stretch my arms straight above my head with a pair of dumbells due to limited OH mobility. What do you recommend me to do here?

  • I appreciate the article for it’s brief, yet simple explanation. HSPU are a killer for me ast this time. I have been able to get much better at the box hspu, yet need to develop more shoulder strenght. All the steps you have mentioned, I have implemented during our wods. I will need to get ready for the upcoming games in October!
    Thanks again for the info.

  • Awesome video. First I have to say excuse my english. Im from Argentina, 7000 miles away . Which is the distance between the wall and the foot? Thank you Lane Bowers for share with me this video. And excuse my english again. Best regards and congrats for the video.

    • Hey Jorge! I think you are maybe asking how far your hands should be away from the wall? If so, I like to have my hands about 10 inches from the wall (about 25cm). This length changes depending on the person. I would practice to find the right length for you! 🙂

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