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Handstand Push Up
Plateau Breakers

I love handstand push ups. I love shoulder day at the gym. No matter your form of training, some kind of handstand push up progression can fit into pretty much any workout plan.

If we do something we don’t just want to grind down and do it intensely but especially we want to do it effectively and we want to improve whilst doing it.

The problem with handstand Push Ups is that the road to a free handstand push up is long and the movement is a rather unique combination of raw strength, technique, coordination and of course balancing ability. This makes it very easy to plateau and to stop progressing.

Home | Knowledgebase | CALISTHENICS

Handstand Push Up
Plateau Breakers

I love handstand push ups. I love shoulder day at the gym. No matter your form of training, some kind of handstand push up progression can fit into pretty much any workout plan.

If we do something we don’t just want to grind down and do it intensely but especially we want to do it effectively and we want to improve whilst doing it.

The problem with handstand Push Ups is that the road to a free handstand push up is long and the movement is a rather unique combination of raw strength, technique, coordination and of course balancing ability. This makes it very easy to plateau and to stop progressing. 

Why do we hit plateaus?

A well performed handstand push up requires quite a bit from you. Raw strength, technique and balance are being challenged in a unique way. You need progression appropriate levels of each. If one is lacking behind you will get stuck. This comes with 2 major problems. Number one is that you have to develop 3 separate things at the same time in order to move forward with one skill. Gymnastics based strength is often quite complex but gets extra challenging when handstand balance is involved. Secondly, you will actually have to analyze and understand what your current limiting point is out of the 3. Unfortunately, quite often this is not as clear as one might hope.

Lack of Strength

The first thing that stands out is raw power. We have to be able to overhead press our entire body weight. You will realize that you are lacking power because you are getting stuck at the bottom of the movement or simply collapse down to the floor. A sign that you are just lacking some strength is that you can make it back up on top but you are forced to arch your back.

Lack of Balance

All the strength in the world won’t help you if you simply fall over. In most handstand push up progressions we are able to cut balance out of the equation but for anyone trying to master the full handstand push up or bent arm press to handstand balance and control is a significant limiting point.

Lack of Technical knowledge

Understanding what is correct positioning and how to do the movement is the prerequisite to literally anything. If you don’t understand the position you need to be in balance and strength won’t help you as the position might simply become impossible to balance and you will not be able to apply force with your muscles.

Lack of Timing

Especially timing plays a huge aspect in the handstand push up. If you push in the wrong moment with your weight in the wrong spot you can not apply your force efficiently and you will get stuck. In order to get your timing right you need to have enough resistance strength to wait for the right moment to push, you need to be good enough at balancing your position to not fall before it is time to push and you need to have enough technical understanding to know when to push up.

Expectation management

One of the main reasons why we hit plateaus on the way to the HSPU is expectation management. We expect progress to go quickly. We believe we can simply go from a pike push up to an L HSPU and then straight to the regular HSPU. That’s like thinking you can double your bench or squat weight every second week. It is impossible. Building all the above mentioned aspects of the handstand push up takes time. It should take time. Anything that comes fast goes away just as fast.

How to Avoid Plateaus when
Training for the Handstand Push Up

The main concern when training should always be longevity and health followed by progress and fun. Avoiding plateaus should be one of our main priorities as they will take the fun out of your training leaving you unmotivated and bored.

Isolate the missing link

Above we spoke about the fact that handstand push ups are complex and use a combination of strength, balance, technique and timing. If you are stuck and not able to advance, isolate the part that you are lacking and work specifically on that.

If you realize that you get stuck at the bottom, work on overhead pressing either with an elastic, weights or an easier HSPU progression where you can actually do a minimum of 6 reps. Additionally, isolate your triceps and anterior deltoids with conditioning exercises as they are the prime movers here.

If you lack balance, train your handstands. Work on slide aways at the wall and tuck ups. Always do your balance work before the actual handstand push up conditioning.

Technical knowledge will improve by studying. Reading this article right now will help with that. Watch other people train live or on social media. Analyze other athletes keeping in mind that no one is perfect and there is always something to learn no matter how far their level might be from yours.

Timing is more difficult to isolate as you need strength and balance as a prerequisite. Focusing on isolating the first two whilst studying the technique of the HSPU will help you improve the timing of your handstand push up.

Use more Progressions

The easy, in my eyes most obvious and yet for some inexplicable reason not too often used approach to avoid all plateaus. Imagine training at a gym where you only got 45 pound plates. Advancing in your bench press is going to be hard because the next step is always so very far away. If you have many 5 pound or even 2,5 pound plates you can go a tiny bit heavier every day overloading your muscles one step at the time. This is a logical, healthy and widely known concept when it comes to weight lifting. Calisthenics or gymnastics strength is not different. All concepts that apply to weightlifting should be used here as well.

Adapt your Handstand Push Up
to Break Plateaus

The best way to avoid plateaus is simply by adding more progressions. Taking smaller baby steps towards your goal will allow you to keep walking all the time until you reach your finish line. You won’t have to stop preparing for your next big step. The handstand push up has plenty of ways of how you can adapt your current progression to make it harder, easier or even to combine the two to blast through any plateau you might encounter along the way.

Ways to make your current Handstand Push Up Progression easier

An obvious step when trying to bridge the gap to the next progression is to make that currently unreachable progression easier and with that wishing your direct reach. This can be achieved through various methods. 

Slow Negatives 

The way down is significantly easier than the way up. Lower down as slow as possible. If you can even freeze at the bottom just before you hit the floor. 

The point at which you lose control is called the sticking point. If you encounter a sticking point simply freeze there and resist. Do not think of lowering anymore. Resist and try to hold the position. Gravity will take care of the rest. 

Partial Reps

At the same time start to invest into partial reps. Simply place 2 yoga blocks between your hands, lower down to tap the blocks and push back up. Less range means less strength needed. Additionally, the blocks make it easy to measure progress. 

Over time simply take some blocks or obstacles between your hands away to increase your range of motion. 

Assisted Reps

This is a great option if you have a coach available. A good spotter will be able to judge your daily form and only help as much as needed. If you don’t have a spotter alternatively you can also hang an elastic loop above you. This technique is a bit more fragile and needs quite specific set up. You will have to play around to make it work. 

Ways to make your current Handstand Push Up Progression harder

Another approach is of course also to make your current progression harder in order to inch towards the currently unreachable progression. 

It should be kept in mind that whenever making a drill harder through progression or added weight special attention should remain in proper form to minimize the risk of injuries.

Elevated your feet

Elevating the feet changes the angle of your upper body and ultimately moves more weight from your feet into your hands leading to more pressure and more strength stimulus. 

This way of increasing difficulty is especially beginner friendly as it works best in the pike push up.

Increased Range of Motion

Instead of elevating your feet you can also elevate your hands. This adaptation is for more advanced athletes and will allow you to go deeper. Increased range of motion is obviously harder than regular or especially partial range of motion. Chances are high if you can do extra deep HSPUs in the L Handstand you already have enough strength for partial freestanding HSPU.

Dead Press

One of my favorite adaptations of the handstand pushup to increase difficulty. In each rep place your head on the floor, relax your arms for a moment and then push back up. This will block you from being able to benefit from the concept of muscle elasticity and therefore make the press significantly harder.

Weighted

No matter your current progression. If you add additional weight for example with the help of a weighted vest pressure on your arms increases and the exercise will get harder. 

Combining different concepts

The ultimate way to break through plateaus and to make sure you never get stuck is to really get to know each of these concepts. Learn to use them when appropriate and to combine them to your own benefit. There are far too many possibilities to explain all in this article but here are a few of my favorite go to’s.

Dead Extra Deep & Partials

Dead Handstand Push Ups where you place your head on the floor are a powerful tool. Go extra deep at your current progression and partial at the next one to be best prepared to take the final step to the full rep.

Extra Deep & Assisted/Partial Reps

Picture yourself in an L Handstand with your feet on a box and hands elevated on yoga blocks or parallettes. Lower down like you would in a regular L HSPU. At the bottom position, place your knees on the box and push back up. The push gets significantly easier with your knees on the box as you have to move less weight.

Weighted Anything

If you really don’t know how to move on anymore and simply can not think of any other progression to add to break through your plateau you can always add weight. Make the drill a bit harder every week. Eventually you will have enough strength for the next level.

There is no reason to hit a plateau in handstand push ups. With just a tiny bit of creativity you can find endless progressions to bridge the gap between any exercise. Make tiny, slow and daily advances to make it to your personal finish line.

The amount of progressions there are is only limited by your creativity!

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