Your Journey to a Handstand Push-up: Part 3

You are one step closer on your journey to a handstand push-up (HSPU). If you spent time on the bent-arm strength progression I outlined in part one of this series, and then advanced to working on the straight-arm strength progressions in part two, then you are now ready to begin the pushing progressions.

Note: If you missed the first two articles in this series, I recommend your go through those progressions first before diving into today’s material. Doing this will allow you to properly assess your starting point. If the movements in each of those articles are easy, then reviewing them will just confirm that you have the required wrist mobility and shoulder stability to advance to the progressions I will share below.

Remember Your Foundation

Prior to learning the final three steps, let’s revisit some important elements that are required no matter where you begin. Remember the following technique tips when practicing all your HSPU progressions:

  • Hands should be placed about shoulder width
  • Head should be neutral
  • Eyes should look forward (vs down between hands)
  • Elbow angle should be about 45 degrees to mimic a kettlebell military press (versus a ninety-degree angle like a barbell press)
  • Body should be stacked, as opposed to hyperextending the low back

You will also need to have fairly mobile wrists and fairly flexible hamstrings. So remember to warm-up accordingly and practice appropriate mobility drills.

Progression 1: Piked HSPU


In a previous article, I taught you the pike hold on the ground to help you learn to stack your body over your shoulders and to build stability. Now we revisit the piked position to teach you the proper 45-degree arm angle and begin building your strength in a modified position to pattern proper movement and technique under minimal load.

  1. Start in a straight-arm plank position and walk your feet toward your hands until your hips are mostly stacked over your shoulders.
  2. Make sure to keep your elbows in as you lower the crown of your head to the floor, as you do not want the elbows to “chicken wing” out to ninety degrees.
  3. Your eyes should be focused forward, not down at the floor.
  4. Use a tension breath and press back to straight-arm position.

Progression 2: Feet Elevated HSPU


In part two of this series, we used this elevation to continue building your straight-arm strength and stabilizers under additional load. Now, we will be increasing the load under movement.

It is important to spend time at this progression before jumping to progression three. If you advance too quickly and do not have the required strength to move your entire body, your body will compensate by using inappropriate muscles or improper technique. This could cause bad habits to set in—or even worse, cause an injury.

I recommend being capable of doing 5 sets of 5 with stellar technique before moving to higher elevations. You should advance through several different heights of feet elevation before you attempt to move to a full handstand. For example, start with your feet on a step, then move to a low box, bench, and eventually desk height.

Take your time and own this movement—build your strength slowly. Remember all the technique tips at the beginning of the article apply here. You should be mimicking a heavy kettlebell military press, but inverted. This will allow for the best carryover to other skills.

Note: If you cannot perform the full range of motion in this position, then place a yoga block or something similar under your head to do a safe regression until your strength increases to full range.

Progression 3: Wall-Supported HSPU

You might be thinking, “Wait? This is a still progression? I thought this was the final goal.” Well, for some it might be, but for many this is a progression to freestanding HSPUs. Once you have met the recommendations for sets/reps with proper technique in progression two at each elevation, i.e. getting closer to being fully inverted, then you can begin using the grease-the-groove method to do single wall-supported HSPUs.

  1. Kick up to the wall with your hands shoulder width apart and eyes focused forward.
  2. Lower the crown of your head toward the floor while maintaining the 45-degree elbow angle.
  3. As recommended in progression two, if you do not yet own the full range of movement to reach the floor, you may place a yoga block under your head.
  4. Once reaching the bottom position for your current strength and mobility, use a tension breath and press back up to the starting position.

Wall-supported handstand push-ups are not a fast movement. If performed too quickly, the body most often will compensate by hyperextending at the lumbar and this bad technique could cause injury.

Wall-supported HSPUs take time to perfect and it will take a while for you to build the required strength, so don’t discredit how strong you can get using the progressions leading up to this one. To highlight this for yourself, occasionally test your kettlebell military press to assess how much easier it feels and how much strength you are gaining from your HSPU training.

Remember, as Pavel says, “On a day you are feeling unusually strong, try a harder variation.” Progressions and regressions are key to mastering bodyweight training and allow you to wave the load from day to day. Enjoy the journey, and I promise that mastering your body will take all other modalities to new heights.

In case you missed them:

Karen Smith
Karen Smith is a StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor, and the fourth woman to claim the Iron Maiden title. She has been personal training students of all fitness levels from beginners to elite US military forces since 2000. Karen specializes in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a certified SFG, SFB, FMS, and Battling Ropes instructor.

Karen currently resides in Dallas where she is available for private and group sessions. She is also available worldwide for distance coaching and program design. She travels regularly instructing workshops and StrongFirst Courses and Certifications.

She can be reached at or at her blog, Coach Karen Smith.
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