Gymnastics Skills with Coach Rachel: Getting Your First Kipping Handstand Pushup

The kipping handstand pushup can be a tantalizing movement for many CrossFitters.  The kip makes the movement seem much more doable, but it often causes more problems than it solves.  Fortunately, Coach Rachel has some pointers to make the kipping handstand push up more doable and less frustrating.

Establishing a Strong Handstand Hold

Prior to working on your kipping handstand push up, it is important that you have stability in the handstand hold.  This means you are comfortable kicking up to the wall and you can hold a strong, stable handstand for at least 30 seconds.  As a part of your effective handstand position, make sure that you are not holding your fingers together but letting them spread apart.  Additionally, the fingers should not be pointing straight at the wall but turned slightly outward so that your thumbs are pointing towards the wall.

These small details will help you get into a more efficient position–one that mimics an overhead press or push press position.  In fact, as you are thinking through the handstand push up, remember that what you are really doing is push pressing your body.  The tips and techniques that help to make for a successful overhead press or push press apply to handstand pushups as well.  Once you’ve established a successful handstand position, you are ready to progress.

Negative Handstand Pushups

Coach Rachel’s first preferred progression is working negative handstand push-ups.  For these, the athlete will kick up into a handstand position and then slowly lower him or herself to an abmat, ending in the bottom of the handstand pushup position.  Negative handstand pushups help athletes develop shoulder strength through the resistance of the body weight on the way down.  If you are positioned properly, as you lower yourself, your elbows will point forward, and your head will come slightly back behind them.  Your finished position will resemble a triangle, with your head as the point at the top.

Your main focus as you work sets of negative handstand pushups is lowering as slowly as possible to build strength and your body position–both starting and finishing.  As you kick up, be sure that your heels are on the wall and that your rear is away from the wall.  You are squeezing your legs, glutes, and core and keeping a neutral spine.  If you were standing up, or hanging from a bar, you would be in a strong hollow body position.  Be sure also to tuck your chin to your chest as you lower to protect your neck from the pressure of having your head on the mat.  Additionally, don’t rely on your head to hold your body weight, but be sure to continue pressing through the floor with your palms to take pressure off your neck.

The Kipping Position

Once you have mastered these positions and lowering yourself slowly, you are ready to work on putting yourself in a position to kip.  Once you are stable at the bottom of the lowering process, basically in a solid headstand, you will let your rear drop to the wall.  This will be the only point in the process that any part of your body other than your heels will touch the wall.  As your rear rests on the wall, you will bring your knees down to the chest.  At the same time, let your belly soften and cave in.

It is important that you get comfortable letting your knees lower as much as possible.  The lower they come, the more opportunity you will have to generate power out of the kip.  This is especially important when you are still building shoulder strength and may not yet be able to press out of the push up without a lot of kip.  Take some time practicing your starting position, negative lowering process, and the pre-kip tripod position at the bottom before actually attempting the kip.  Strength, stability, and comfort in the bottom position are important to establish in order to make the kip work.  If this is a skill you are interested in developing, try working it in pre-class.  Start with 3×5 negative handstand push ups 3 times a week.  You can do them before class.  Try to work them around days that have similar movements, and try working on them when you are fresh.  Give yourself a minute to two minutes between sets.

Kipping Up

Once you have a strong kick up and negative handstand push up and have become comfortable in the pre-kip tripod position, you are ready to work on kipping up.  If you are new to the movement start with an abmat on top of two 15 or thick 25 lb plates.  As you get more comfortable, you can work down in plates and abmats to the RX’d level.  The basic movement is fairly simple.  Once you are in position with your knees on your chest and your belly caved in, you will drive your heels up towards the sky and then push press.  Although the movement will happen quickly, it is important to note that you kick first and press second.

This is very much like the push press we do with the barbell when we dip and drive, then press.  A strong kip will lift your body off the ab mat and drive you up.  This means that when you press with your arms, you will be moving less weight over a shorter distance, which is what we are looking for.  If you try to press before or at the same time as you kip, you may not be able to move your body or lock all the way out.  Proper timing of the kip—kip first, press second–will help your HSPU be successful.

Drive up and IN

As you kick your feet towards the sky, drive your heels up and back into the wall.  As you press, drive your head through your arms just as you would in a push press.  At the top of the movement, press your palms through the floor and tighten your core, legs, and glutes, just as you practiced in the handstand kick up.  Also, be sure that you are looking at the opposite wall, now down.  This will help you keep a neutral spine and strong hollow body position.  If you find yourself not being able to get your heels to make contact with the wall, it may be because you are kicking up and out away from the wall instead of kicking up and back towards the wall.  Videotaping yourself or getting a coach to watch can help you diagnose this issue.

As with the negative HSPU, work in practice on your kipping HSPU by trying 3 sets of 5 to 10 three or four times a week, working on them before classes when you aren’t doing a similar pressing movement in class. For a video representation of this process, see Coach Rachel’s video here.  Also, stay tuned for Coach Rachel’s next video and the accompanying blog where we will discuss some ways to make your HSPU more efficient.  If you have any questions or would like some help, reach out to Coach Rachel or any of our coaches.  Happy Handstanding!