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The Art Of The HSPU


It’s a common sight:  Many people feel intimidated simply by the concept of doing a handstand.  Fears of falling and/or not being able to support themselves with their arms can be primary hindrances early on when learning how to do a Handstand Pushup.  But there’s hope!  Proper positioning and a gradual progression can take beginners through this learning process safely and quickly.

Bear with me, because this might sound long and boring.  But it’s meant to help!  So read carefully onward…

The first step to a handstand is simply to learn how to be comfortable in a hand support.  A vertical handstand is not necessary to start this process.  Start with a folded yoga mat, plyo box, or other stable raised surface.  Stand in a shallow lunge in front of the object with arms overhead.  In the lunge, the rear leg is the kicking leg, and the front leg is the support leg.  Place your hands on the object, and kick your rear leg up toward the ceiling so that the support leg comes off the ground only a few inches.  Start small.  Getting up into a handstand at this point is not necessary and not recommended.

This initial stage can tell you a lot about the handstand and you can begin to improve handstand technique.  The first thing to look for is proper shoulder angle.  Many people tend to push their shoulders forward past their hands.  This creates a very unstable position!  The shoulders should be completely open and active, with the arms by the ears. The head should be positioned so that your hands are just visible by looking toward them with your eyes (not moving your whole head).  If you can see two feet past your fingertips, then your head is too far out and your shoulder angle likely is “broken.”  Once the proper position has been established, work on kicking higher.  If the handstand is approaching 45 degrees from vertical it’s time to move off of the raised surface.

Practicing a handstand on the ground is the next step for beginners.  Begin as was described in step one, in a shallow lunge with arms overhead. Kick to a handstand by lunging forward and kicking your rear leg up toward the ceiling. When starting to kick to handstand, the kick should be kept low.  Once proper support positions have been demonstrated, the kick can be taken higher.  Simply kicking up and stepping back down repeatedly will begin to bring the hips higher in each kick and train an understanding of the shoulder and arm push required to hold a handstand.  Once the kick leg is reaching vertical, the support leg can be brought up to meet it in the handstand.

Et voila, you’re upside down!

Once a kick to handstand is consistent, shift focus to holding the handstand.  I shouldn’t have to tell you that the only way to improve your ability to hold a handstand is to practice handstands!  Do handstands whenever you get a chance.  Handstands should be practiced against a wall to develop strength in the position and to allow for enough time in the handstand to play with body alignment.  Handstands against a wall should be practiced both with the back to the wall and facing the wall.

Once you are ready for “The Wall, start in a lunge facing the wall and kick to handstand so that your heels hit the wall.  Be sure to place your fingertips only a couple of inches away from the wall.  Start the lunge far enough away from the wall so that you have to stretch forward a bit as you kick to the handstand.  This will force a better alignment in the shoulders and improve the mechanics of the kick!  Once in the handstand, the shoulders should be pushed up toward the ears into ‘active’ position and fully extended.  There should be no angle between the shoulders and torso.  The line between wrists and toes should be as straight as possible.

Proper technique during the HSPU will allow faster progress.  Throughout the HSPU, the body should be kept hollow and as rigid as possible.  (*Note: it is much easier to push a stick than a rope: make your body like a stick!)  The elbows should be kept in close to the body throughout the motion, not flared out to the sides.  In the bottom of the HSPU, your hands should be about six to twelve inches in front of your shoulders and your elbows should be directly above your hands.  Upright, this would be like holding two dumbbells just in front of your shoulders with your elbows directly beneath your hands. Do not allow your elbows to jut out to the sides or your stability will be severely compromised.

From there, the rest is up to your strength and determination!  Play around with the depth of your HSPU for awhile, until your strength builds and you can gradually get lower and lower at the bottom, while still successfully pushing yourself back up.  PLEASE use padding under your head until more strength has developed to keep you from plummeting toward the hard floor!  Keep practicing, and I know you’ll get it.  Good luck!


11 thoughts to “The Art Of The HSPU”

  1. Thanks everyone who made it out to the WEducation seminar! Aside from me not exactly knowing what slides were coming up and getting a bit (or a lot!) off track, I think some useful thoughts were passed around. If nothing else, we’re all amoebas attempting to play Chopin 12x per week at maximum intensity!!!!!

    I promise future sessions will be more coherent – I don’t plan on making a habit of forgetting my fully completed presentation at work 😉

    Be sure to let Dee and I know what topics you would like to see come up in future months. If we’re lucky we might be able to snag Lindsay McCardle for some sports psych stuff.


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