he Handstand Push Up (HSPU) can make or break a WOD performance. If you are one of the few people in the gym that can do them then chances are you’re going to be one of the few that day who put an RX next to your name. If you’re not yet one of the lucky few then it’s going be a rough WOD for you.
This HSPU Cross-Training progression guide is here help you be to be one of the few people in the gym who can bust out handstand push-ups in the daily WOD. The goal of this guide is to help people progress from zero to many strict HSPU’s using step-by-step intelligent workouts that can be done in addition to your current Cross-Training training.
Intro to the HSPU Guide
The H.S.P.U. is one of the more challenging bodyweight movements to master. It requires significant upper-body strength and endurance while being upside down. Often, it is the difference between completing a WOD or not. This progression guide will help with a hspu in no time!
This article is part of my RX progression series. Each article tackles a different movement to be well rounded in Cross-Training Gymnastics. This article outlines a general Handstand Push Up Progression
- Pull Up Progression Guide
- Ring dip Progression Guide
- Handstand Pushup Guide (you are here)
- Pistol Squat Progression Guide
- Muscle Up Progression Guide
If you’re only looking to improve your hspu, then this article will get you there. You’ll learn how to get your first strict HSPU.
Free Preview of the Cross-Training Gymnastics Online Program
Originally launched in 2013, the RX Gymnastics Online Course has helped thousands of fitness enthusiasts to improve their Kipping Pull-Ups, Muscle Ups, Handstand Pushups, and Ring Dips.
What is a HSPU?
Or more specifically, what does HSPU mean for some who follows a WOD program at an affiliate? HSPU stands for Handstand Push Up. To perform an HSPU, you would complete these three steps:
- Flip up to a handstand against the wall. There are also a free handstand pushups without the wall, but those are uncommon for our type of training
- While inverted, bend the elbows and lower your head till it touches the floor. It should be the top of your head and not the front or back!
- After the top of your head make contact with floor then press until your arms are straight.
That would be one rep. Here is a quick video I made that shows how to a proper strict HSPU..
What To Expect
With the HSPU progression, you can expect to be guided through the different levels of handstand pushup. The first level assumes you are not at the point where you can complete a strict HSPU. As you progress, the goal is to get your HSPU strong enough achieve the WOD Diane. Diane is a classic CrossFit benchmark WOD that is 21-15-9 of HSPU & Deadlifts. In total, you complete 45 HSPU’s.
The Level Up Method
The HSPU progression uses my Level Up method. The Level Up method is a framework to organize each of the RX Gymnastics programs. You can read more about it here.
For HSPU progression there are five levels. Each level has a goal to move to the next level. Each level is designed and programmed to fit the needs of athletes within that level. Once someone graduates to a new level the programming are adjusted to help reach the goal of the next level.
Below, you can see the goals for each of the five levels.
How to get started with the HSPU Guide
It is simple to get started on using these HSPU progressions. There are five levels.. Each level has a Current Ability section. First, you should locate your current ability.
For example, let’s look at level 1.
- Can perform ten pushups
- Cannot kick up to a handstand against the wall.
- Cannot do an HSPU.
For this athlete, they would be at level 1 for HSPU. They have enough coordination and strength to do pushups but cannot get inverted against a wall. Once you’ve identified the level that you are at, then you begin doing the programming for that level.
For example, let’s assume that you are in level 1 for your HSPU. A workout would look something like this:
- Class: This will take 60-90 minutes. Do your usual class. If there are pull-ups in the WOD, then scale as needed but if possible do a few strict pull-ups. Here, you’ll want to pick the most appropriate progression from the Pull-Up Movement Library as possible.
- Cool Down exercise 1: 10 Incline inversions with the highest box possible. Feel free to do more than 10 reps. Make sure to focus on small tiny steps and move slowly. This drill is about control and getting your hands as close to the box as possible.
- Cool Down exercise 2: Practice kicking up to a handstand against a wall safely and holding handstand position against a wall. Treat this as fun play. Do as little or as much as you feel like for the day.
You would also check the HSPU movement library for how to do the movements with good form.
Prerequisite to Level 1
Before getting inverted in an HSPU, you should have some fundamental upper-body strength. This is to handle stability while inverted. If you cannot complete ten strict push-ups, then that is your first goal. Do not go to level HSPU if you are under ten good push-ups. For reference, this is what a proper push-up looks like.
- Current ability: Less than 10 standard push-ups.
- Goal: 10 standard push-ups
Prerequisite Phase 1 – You Cannot Complete a Pushup
The first phase is when you can’t do a push up yet. Your goal is to do sets of 12-15 at the most challenging progression you can do. Once you are getting past 15 reps for a sequence, then move to the next difficulty level.
In Phase 1 you can benefit from a concept called greasing the wheel. Greasing the wheel means do as much and as often as you like. Greasing the wheel will allow you to get your first push up much faster than if you were only to do push-up sets at the gym.
Greasing the wheel is the concept of practicing the movement as much as possible which can mean before, during, or after your workout. For example, you can do reps while watching TV or waiting for the water to boil. Think of all those 30-second gaps in the day and those would be great opportunities to grease the wheel and get some extra reps in.
There are ten push up variations. At a minimum, every other day you will do three sets of 12-15 reps with 3 minutes rest at the hardest progression you can do. Remember, with this phase you can move quicker by greasing the wheel! Don’t just limit yourself to those three sets.
You’ll notice that in step 7 below is the ability to do one standard pushup. Once you can one push up then move to phase 2. The remaining steps in the pushup difficulty progression will later be used in phase 2. In phase 2, the goal will be to get to 10 pushups.
- Wall push up – Adjust body angle to make more/less difficult
- Incline push up on 30″ box – vary body angle to make more/less difficult
- Incline push up on 24″ box or bench – vary body angle to make more/less difficult
- Knee Push up with three ab mats under the chest
- Knee Push up with two ab mats under the chest
- Knee Push up with one ab mat under the chest
- Standard knee push ups
- Standard push up on the way down, knee push up on the way up. Switch to 4×8-12 rep scheme for this progression.
- Standard push-ups one on the minute for 10 minutes. Work your way up to 3 on the minute for 10 minutes.
- Standard push-ups three sets of max reps with 3 minutes rest between sets. Once you can do ten push-ups on the first set, you are all set to start phase 1 for HSPU’s.
Prerequisite Phase 2 – You can do at-least One Pushup
You can start this phase if the most amount of push-ups you can do is in the range of one to ten push-ups.
In phase 2 we will progress from one pushup to 10. Wonderful!
All you do is rotate through the days in this microcycle below. Once you complete Day 3, then its back to Day 1. You keep this rotation going until you can complete ten standard pushups. Once you can do ten push-ups with good control then you can move to Level 1 HSPU.
|WHEN||DAY 1||DAY 2||DAY 3|
|COOL DOWN or WARMUP||3-5 reps EMOM for 10 to 12 minutes. If you do more than 5 reps than move to a more difficult progression. If you get to the point where you can't do 3 when the minute comes up then move to one of the easier progressions for the remainder of minute intervals||As many reps as possible in 5 minutes. Move up :15 each time until you reach 5 minutes. Use any pushup difficulty you want||Accumulate 100 reps throughout the day. Do them at work.The bank. Kitchen. Bedroom. ect. Do not do them all at the gym. Grease the wheel!
Level 1: HSPU Progression
Congratulations on starting out on your HSPU progression journey! This will be a healthy mix of fun, challenging, and rewarding. You are at level 1 of 5 for the handstand push up progression.
Are you unsure if you’re in the right place? Check the current ability bullet point below. If its too easy, then jump to level 2 to see if that’s a better fit. Too hard then check the prerequisite programming about push-ups.
- Current ability: You should be able to do ten standard push-ups but not be ready to kick up to a handstand against the wall comfortably. If you are not able to do 10 push ups yet then goto Prerequisite to Level 1.
- Goal: In this level, the goal is to comfortably kick up into a handstand against the wall, hold a position with tight abs and no arch in lower back for 20 seconds, and comfortably come back down. In this level, we do
- Notes: If you cannot touch your toes with straight legs then you’re encouraged to do hamstring stretches daily till you can. Hamstring inflexibility is something many people have to deal. In the case of an HSPU, it makes coming up into an inverted position more difficult. The more range of motion you have in the hamstring the easier it will be. It will also be helpful for other movements and injury prevention.
- How to: The progressions for Level 1 does not require a lot of time to recover since more skill based rather than strength based. You can go through Level 1 workouts 4-5 times a week if you would like to push through this level quickly.
- Tips: Once you can get into a handstand position against the wall you can complete Level 1 quickly. This can be done by practicing handstand holds throughout the day. Since this is an isometric contraction in a stable locked out overhead position the risk of doing too much on your shoulder musculature system is fairly small. The risk from this movement will come from a sudden increase in volume in wrist flexion. If your wrists begin to hurt or swell, then ice them (20-on-20-off three times) and take 3-7 days off from handstand training.
|WHEN||DAY 1||DAY 2|
|COOL DOWN or WARMUP||10 minutes practice of wall climbs to handstand facing the wall. Try to get as close to the wall as possible. Feel free to practice for more than 10 minutes if you are so inclined||10 Incline inversions with the highest box possible. Feel free to do more than 10 reps. Make sure to focus on small tiny steps and move slowly. This drill is about control and getting your hands as close to the box as possible.
|Practice kicking up to a handstand against a wall safely and holding handstand position against a wall. Treat this as fun play. Do as little or as much as you feel like for the day.||Practice kicking up to a handstand against a wall safely and holding handstand position against a wall. Treat this as fun play. Do as little or as much as you feel like for the day.
Level 2: HSPU Progression
In level 2 we finally start working on your first handstand pushup! Pretty exciting stuff. By now, you should feel comfortable popping up to a handstand against the wall and can knock out some pushups.
- Current ability: Comfortably kick up into a handstand against the wall, hold the position with tight abs and no arch in lower back for 20 seconds, and comfortably come back down.
- Goal: 1 strict handstand push up. To do this, you should be able to kick up to handstand against the wall, touch your head to the ground, and push back up again.
- Objective: Develop more overhead pressing strength.
- How to: Rotate days 1-4 until you can do a strict HSPU. Once you can do one strict HSPU any day of the week, then you can move to Level 2.
Level 3: HSPU Progression
Wow! If you are here, it means you can do at least one strict handstand pushup. That’s impressive in-of-itself. Congrats on making it this far.
The goal now is to build on top of that base of strength. There aren’t many WOD’s out there that call for only one HSPU! It’s not time to start stringing them together.
In level 2 we worked our way up to our first strict HSPU. In level 3, we build on top of that by getting working on string multiple together.
- Current ability: 1 strict HSPU.
- Goal: 3 strict HSPU and ten kipping HSPU
- Suggested scale during WOD’s: Knee-on-box handstand push-ups.
Level 4: HSPU Progression
Now we are building to our ultimate goal! By now, you’ve been able to string at least three strict handstand pushups. We are on the grind. Level 4 isn’t that much different than 3.
- Current ability: 3 strict HSPU and ten kipping HSPU
- Goal: 6-8 Strict HSPU & 20 Kipping HSPU
- Suggested scale during WOD’s: At this point, we will begin integrating HSPU’s into your WOD’s. You may not be able to do them all yet but that’s perfectly normal. The prescription is to do as many as possible before not being able to get back up. If you begin to get failed reps, transition into doing negative HSPU’s from the ground or one ab mat.
Level 5: HSPU Progression
Wow, here we are at the last level. Does that mean once you hit your goal capacity you can stop? No, not really. Remember, the singular goal of the RX Gymnastics program is to get you to RX WOD’s. By this point, you are either their or almost their. If a WOD has 25 HSPU’s you might be able to do it, but it may take a while.
Where you take it from here is entirely up to you and your ambitions in Cross-Training. If you to RX most WOD’s that come up, you will need to cycle through the HSPU progressions below a few times a month to maintain. Something along the lines of completing a Microcycle every ~2-3 weeks would do it.
If you have competition ambitions, its time to start thinking about custom programming based on your needs.
If you’ve fallen in love with being inverted, there are other handstand progressions to explore. You can work on a free handstand hold. You can try a free handstand pushup to the ground or full ROM. Maybe some handstand walking or handstand canes? There is a lot to explore!
- Current ability: 6 Strict HSPU & 20 Kipping HSPU
- 10-20 Strict HSPU in a row
- 30-50 kipping HSPU in a row
- 1 Full ROM Strict HSPU
Free Preview of the Cross-Training Gymnastics Online Program
Originally launched in 2013, the Cross-Training Gymnastics Online Course has helped thousands of Cross-Trainingters to improve their Kipping Pull-Ups, Muscle Ups, Handstand Pushups, and Ring Dips.