You know you’ve truly acquired the mindset of a Crossfit athlete when you begin to ask yourself what it would take to lift another person over your head. If you’re not quite there yet then maybe you HAVE wondered how to get stronger or more defined shoulders.
Everyone you meet in the gym will have some exercise that they’ll swear by for improving the size and strength of their delts, but few of them work to improve as many aspects of pressing strength as the Crossfit handstand push-up.
Benefits Of Handstand Push Ups
Amongst Crossfit athletes, it’s common knowledge that if you can perform an exercise with your bodyweight, you should include it in your training. Handstand push up (or HSPU) are no exception to this rule and offer a number of the unique benefits that bodyweight training brings.
1. Strengthen Weak Points
Obviously, pushing a weight away from yourself is different from pushing yourself away from a stationary surface. Your body handles the forces involved in these two forms of exertion very differently, and moving your body weight away from something forces your body to utilize very different muscles than it uses when pushing a weight away from you, such as an overhead press.
The muscles used while performing the HSPU in Crossfit are often underdeveloped because of this neglect, and are often the weak point of your max overhead press or bench press.
2. Improve Balance and Core
When you start doing the HSPU Crossfit uses you’ll quickly notice how much your body shakes when you’re upside down and trying to stay upright. This is because your core and stabilizer muscles must work very hard to keep you balanced in this position. Improving your core strength like this will lead to greater balance and athletic performance.
3. Improve Other Lifts
Once you start incorporating handstand pushups into your training you will notice an increase in bench press and overhead press strength almost immediately. The unique way the HSPU works the triceps and shoulders punishes weak points, as mentioned before. What’s more though, is that the improved core strength and balance can even improve your squat and deadlift numbers too.
4. Reduce Injury
To many, this may seem counterintuitive at first, but handstand push-ups are great at preventing injuries to the shoulder and rotator cuff. They help to strengthen weak points, as mentioned before, one of which is often the anterior delt. Anterior delt weakness is what leads to rotator cuff injuries.
How To Perform Handstand Push Ups
The first step of a handstand pushup is, of course, inverting yourself so that your hands are on the ground and your feet are in the air. Most people start with their feet against a wall to support them. There are two options for getting into this position against a wall:
The Easy Way
The easier way to get ready for handstand push-ups is to start by getting into a normal pushup position with your feet against a wall. Then, begin to walk your hands back towards the wall while walking your feet up the wall behind you as your hands get closer.
You may need to use shoes that have a good amount of grip for this method to be successful.
The Quick Way (not for beginer)
The more advanced and quicker method that you’ll often see used in Crossfit boxes is to simply do a sort of “flip” to throw your feet over your head and against the wall. Start by facing the wall, a little more than an arm’s length away, and have your hands out in front of you.
Lean forward, placing your palms on the ground, then kick and use your momentum to propel your legs all the way over your head and against the wall. It’s very uncomfortable at first to be upside down like that and this method takes some people a while to master, so don’t feel bad if you can’t get it right away and be persistent.
Once you’re in this position all you have to do is simply bend your arms in a similar manner to a normal push-up to slowly lower yourself, then press yourself back up to where you started.
How To Incorporate Handstand Push Ups into Your Training
The HSPU in Crossfit is most often used in conditioning focused workouts, usually featured in conjunction with pull-ups, deadlifts, or some other pulling exercise to really get the blood flowing.
This means the rep ranges are often on the high side and if you already aren’t the strongest at this movement you’ll be having a hard time keeping up.
Beginner HSPU Training
The best way to gain strength in the HSPU is to use a variety of rep ranges until you can do sets of 10 or more with your bodyweight.
Get into a push-up position while using a box or a bench to elevate your feet, and bend at the hips to make your torso even more vertical. By adjusting how vertical your body is you can adjust how much weight is being put on your shoulders.
Use this technique to do sets of 8 to 12 while also doing lower rep sets the normal way to gain strength.
Intermediate To Advanced Training
Once you can perform three sets of 10 handstand push ups then you are ready to start using handstand push-ups to their fullest, as a heart-pounding, shoulder swelling, lung burning, pump inducing conditioning tool.
The 21-15-9 rep scheme used in a lot of Crossfit benchmark workouts is very effective when used on handstand push-ups. The higher rep sets get a good pump and noticeable burn worked up in the shoulders, while the progressively lower reps will keep you moving and your blood flowing.
Pairing the HSPU with a pulling movement will not only allow the pressing muscles a chance to recover while the pulling muscles are being used, but these movements will also synergize to provide better results.
Muscles that work in opposite directions are called antagonistic muscles, and it is critically important for both athletic performance and injury prevention that these opposing muscles are worked together and remain in balance.
Take Away Points
The handstand push up is an amazing tool to have in your training arsenal. It can help in developing shoulder strength, is effective at building bigger more toned delts, and is a powerful addition to a conditioning oriented workout. It can help improve your balance and will start to increase your bench press, overhead press, and other lifts if done properly.
Doing the actual exercise is easy, the hardest part is getting into position. There is a slightly easier way and a quicker but slightly frightening way.
If you’re new to handstand pushups there are ways to make the movement easier by elevating your feet. Perform the exercise this way at varying rep ranges as well as normally, with no support, until you can breeze through several sets of 10.
Finally, you can start using them to their fullest potential as not only a strength builder but also a conditioning tool. Handstand push-up are often a game changer for people when they’re first introduced to them, and hopefully, you’ll give them a chance and see their usefulness as well.