HSPU CrossFit Progression Guide

What is the HSPU CrossFit Guide and why is it here?

I spent 6-years as an instructor at CrossFit One World in the Bay Area. During that time I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of clients in our classes over the years. We also hosted dozens of seminars and was able to see observe and talk to those people as well.
 
I learned so much in that time and one of the themes I observed is this. Many people know how to progress with barbell training. This is because it’s intuitive and linear.
 
Less know how to progress with the HSPU.
 
This handstand pushup progression guide is here to help solve that problem. To help people progress from zero to many strict HSPU’s.

Intro to the HSPU CrossFit Guide

The H.S.P.U. in CrossFit 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 crossfit hspu in no time!

This is the third article in my CrossFit progression series. Each article tackles a different movement to be well rounded in CrossFit Gymnastics. This article outlines a general Handstand Push Up Progression

CrossFit has four foundational gymnastic oriented movements that are often tested. There are five foundational bodyweight movements. They are the pull-up, dip, handstand push up, pistol, and the muscle up. Yes, there are other bodyweight movements, but these five are the foundation.

If you’re only looking to improve your crossfit hspu, then this article will get you there. If you want a more comprehensive approach then checkout a demo of the RX Gymnastics Program. This program combines the progressions of the foundational movements into a comprehensive program.

What is an CrossFit HSPU?

Or more specifically, what does hspu mean in crossfit? HSPU stands for Handstand Push Up. To perform a hspu you would complete these three steps:

  1. Flip up to a handstand against the wall. There are also a free handstand pushups without the wall but those are uncommon in CrossFit.
  2. While inverted, bend the elbows and lower your head till the it touches the floor. It should be the top of your head and not the front or back!
  3. 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 hspu.

This post contains a progression through the different levels of handstand pushup levels. The first stage assumes you are not at the point where you can complete a strict hspu. As you progress, the goal is get your crossfit hspu strong enough complete the WOD Diane. Diane is a classic CrossFit benchmark WOD that is 21-15-9 of HSPU & Deadlifts.


The reason why a hspu is useful is that getting from 0 to 21 is not a clear path. With linear barbell strength training, you can add 5lb a week and get pretty strong. Its a simple and not complicated.

It’s much different for the foundational gymnastic movements in CrossFit.
There are dozens of drills and repetition schemes to build gymnastics capacity. How many people do you know who have a decent back squat but can’t do a hspu?

The Level Up Method

The hspu crossfit progression uses my Level Up method. TheLevel Up method is a framework to organize each of the RX CrossFit programs.

For hspu crossfit 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 is adjusted to help reach the goal of the next level.

How to get started with the CrossFit HSPU Guide

It is simple to get started on using these hspu progressions. There are 5 levels below. Each level has a Current Ability section. First, you should locate your current ability.

For example, let’s look at level 3.

  • Can do 10 pushups
  • Can kickup to a handstand against the wall.
  • Cannot do a hspu.

For this athlete, they would be at level 3 for hspu. They have enough coordination and strength to get inverted but not enough to push out of a hspu. They are using hspu crossfit scaling.

 

On their first workout, they accumulate 20 knees on the box handstand pushups. Not sure what that looks like? Take a look at this demonstration video on how to handstand pushup from a box on your knees. If you end up finding this useful, you may consider purchasing the paid course. The paid course has over 90 HD video clips like this for all of the movement progressions

If you cannot complete 10 standard strict pushups then you should work on that first. Before jumping to level 1 go to the prerequisite to level 1 section first. Once you have your 10 pushups then move to Level 1.

Prerequisite to Level 1

Before getting inverted you should have some basic upper-body strength. This is to handle stability while inverted. If you cannot complete 10 strict push-ups then that is your first goal.

  • Current ability: Less than 10 standard push ups.
  • Goal: 10 standard push ups

 

Phase 1 – 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 difficult progression you are able to do. Once you are getting past 15 reps for a progression then move to the next difficulty level.

In this phase you’ll benefit from a concept called greasing the wheel. Greasing the wheel means do as much and as often as you like. We want you to get your first push up as fast as possible.

This means before, during, or after your workout. 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!

There are 10 push up variations. At minimum, every other day you will do 3 sets of 12-15 with 3 minutes rest at whichever progression you’re at. Remember, with this phase you can move quicker by greasing the groove!

You’ll notice that at step 7 is the ability to do one standard pushup. Once you can do that then move to phase 2. The remaining steps in the pushup difficulty progression will be used in phase 2. In phase 2, the goal will be to get to 10 pushups.

  1. Wall push up – vary body angle to make more/less difficult
  2. Incline push up on 30″ box – vary body angle to make more/less difficult
  3. Incline push up on 24″ box or bench – vary body angle to make more/less difficult
  4. Knee Push up with 3 ab mats under chest
  5. Knee Push up with 2 ab mats under chest
  6. Knee Push up with 1 ab mat under chest
  7. Standard knee push ups
  8. Standard push up on the way down, knee push up on the way up. Switch to 4×8-12 rep scheme for this progression.
  9. Standard push ups 1 on the minute for 10 minutes. Work your way up to 3 on the minute for 10 minutes.
  10. Standard push ups 3 sets of max reps with 3 minutes rest between sets. Once you can do 10 push ups on the first set you are all set to start phase 1 for HSPU’s.

 

Phase 2 – Can do at-least One Pushup

In this phase we will progress from one pushup to 10. Wonderful!

All you do is rotate through the days in this microcycle. Once you complete Day 3, then its back to Day 1. You keep this rotation going until you are able to complete 10 standard pushups.

Microcyle for Phase 2 Prerequisite CrossFit HSPU
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Volume Intensity Volume
3-5 reps EMOM for 10 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 3 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: CrossFit HSPU Progression

Congratulations for starting out on your hspu progression journey! This will be a healthy mix of fun, challenging, and rewarding. This is level 1 of 5 for the handstand push up progression.

Not sure 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.

  • Current ability: 10 standard push-ups. If you are not able to do 10 push ups yet then scroll up to Prerequisite to Level 1. If you already have 1 pushup then you should be able to get to 10 within a few weeks. If you have less than 1 pushup then it may take a few weeks to a few months. No problem at all! We are all at different points in our journey and I’m excited for you no matter where you are.
  • 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 a 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. 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 are able to 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 3 times) and take 3-7 days off from handstand training.
Programming | Microcyle for Level 1 CrossFit HSPU
Day 1 Day 2
Volume Volume
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.

 

Day 1 Movement Demo | Wall Climbs

Day 1 & 2 Movement Demo | Kicking up to handstand

Day 2 Movement Demo | Incline Inversions


Level 2: CrossFit 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 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 overhead pressing strength.
  • How to: Rotate days 1-4 until you are able to do a strict HSPU. Once you can do one strict HSPU any day of the week then you can move to Level 2.

Level 2 Programming and Video in RX Gymnastics Program


Level 3: CrossFit 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 10 kipping HSPU
  • Suggested scale during WOD’s: Knee-on-box handstand push-ups.

Level 3 Programming and Video in RX Gymnastics Program


Level 4: CrossFit 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 10 kipping HSPU
  • Goal: 6 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 4 Programming and Video in RX Gymnastics Program


Level 5: CrossFit HSPU Progression

Wow, here we are at the last level. Does that mean once you hit your goal capacity you can just 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 totally up to you and your ambitions in CrossFit. If you to RX most WOD’s that come up, you will just 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
  • Goal(s):
    • 10-20 Strict HSPU in a row
    • 30-50 kipping HSPU in a row
    • 1 Full ROM Strict HSPU
  • How to: Complete

Level 5 Programming and Video in RX Gymnastics Program


Upgrade to RX Gymnastics Program

Benefits of upgrade:

  • All Handstand Push Up progression programming. This Includes Levels 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
  • Also Includes progressions for Pull-Ups, Ring Dips, and Muscle Ups.
  • Demonstration videos for each progression.
  • Progress tracker.
  • Weekly templates to combine all movements into one program. This allows you to progress at all of the foundational movements in concert with each other.
  • Full Email Support
  • Read more about CrossFit Gymnastics.