Whether you are looking to add variability to your overhead pressing routine, achieve your first handstand push-up, or are a CrossFit Athlete needing to return to and build capacity in this skill; we will guide you! This is a challenging movement requiring commitment to achieve but as we know the greater the challenge the greater the reward! Follow along to learn how to work your way from the beginning all the way to mastering handstand push-ups!


Returning Or Attempting Handstand Push-Ups Checklist

You’ve reached the point where your shoulder pain is now gone and you’re feeling pretty strong, well done! Next step, you want to get back upside down for the ole arm squat aka handstand pushup but are afraid to attempt or do not have a plan of how to achieve this goal.

If you did not come from rehabbing your shoulder and are just curious about how to do a handstand pushup or are skilled in this movement and want to improve your foundation to improve the skill further, no worries the main route is the same, the initial intersections to the main route are where the difference lies.

Before merging onto the main route let’s hit the pre-trip checklist!


Pre-Reqs Before Returning To Handstand Push-Ups

Below we will discuss the prerequisites that are required prior to returning to handstand push-ups.



If you don’t have the mobility, you will forfeit appropriate stability, and at best your return to a handstand pushup is starting with a no rep and increased risk of a shoulder injury. Make sure this bag is fully packed before getting upside down, make your judge hang on to those no rep calls for other athletes!

Want To Learn How To Master Other Overhead Movements?

overhead crossfit performance program handstand push ups prehab guys

Overhead stability requires multiple moving body parts working together in synchrony. Without adequate motion, stability, strength, and power in the right places, you run the risk of exposing other body regions to excessive strain. As a result, you may be limiting yourself to reach your true performance potential as a fitness athlete. With that being said, addressing overhead stability requires a multi-dimensional approach, while taking out the guesswork and truly identifying your limiting factor to performance. We have blended science with our clinical expertise to provide you with the ultimate proven solution, we know it will help you too! Get started HERE!


Foundational Capacity

Once mobility is earned, lock it in long term by conditioning the shoulder complex and ensuring symmetrical overhead pressing symmetry. Are you allowed to have one arm outperform the other? Yes! However, if the difference is greater than 10 percent, you got some work to do. The benefit of the long sitting overhead press test with a kettlebell in a bottoms-up position is we can better look at shoulder stability vs strength. We also take the legs out of the equation to get a true test of what your core and pressing capacity is!

For vertical pressing, specifically a handstand pushup we need vertical forces. To achieve vertical forces, all the other horizontal and rotational forces need to cancel each other out via a balanced shoulder complex (read more here). Once those forces are able to cancel each other out we now turn our focus to symmetrical overhead pressing stability and later on strength. Research has shown the dominant arm to be 2.3x more likely to become injured compared to the non-dominant, we will revisit this point again and hammer it home later (Sayampanathan et al 2017).

Prone Y Endurance Test

Sample Overhead Stability Program Assessment Video


Long Sitting OH Press Capacity Assessment


Want To Lean How To Assess Your Own Overhead Mobility? Check This Out!


In addition to shoulder mobility, our thoracic spine mobility is also an important component of a successful handstand push-up. If your mid back is feeling tight and/or stiff, check out this blog post for some awesome exercises you can easily implement into your routine!


mid back pain exercises handstand push ups the prehab guys


Foundational Vertical Pressing Strength

Once you have earned adequate and symmetrical shoulder stability we now can move along the training continuum to strength. As stated earlier, the dominant arm is more likely to get injured compared to the non-dominant arm. A long sitting heavy dumbbell 5 RM test is a very humbling and objective measure you can use to take your legs out of the equation and see if you have one side that is vertically pressing dominant (greater than 10 percent compared to the other side). If so, you can bet one side is outworking the other during your handstand push-ups and you will be constantly fighting the awkward not falling sideways off the wall into the other athletes!

Long Sitting Single Arm Overhead Press – Dumbbell

Sample Overhead Crossfit Performance Program Exercise Video

Once you have established your 5 RM for both sides and trained for that less than 10 percent difference, it’s time to build up resiliency, strength, and endurance with vertical pressing. This happens before going upside down! Why? If you fail a rep you drop the dumbbell, if you fail upside down in a handstand push up you tumble onto your head and neck, one is for sure safer than the other.


Overhead Press – Dumbbell

Why use dumbbells vs a loaded barbell? Research has shown deltoid and shoulder complex activity to be the highest when using Dumbbells in a standing position (Saeterbakken & Fimland, 2013). Furthermore, the dumbbells will help to provide you with further feedback on vertical pressing asymmetries compared to a loaded barbell. Also appreciate you are moving on from sitting to standing because we are working towards the end goal of a handstand push-up; it’s time to get vertical and learn how to squeeze the butt, brace the core, control breathing, and press overhead simultaneously. The goal in this phase is to reach anywhere from 50-75% of your body weight with strict overhead pressing!


Overhead Press – Earthquake, Dumbbell

Sample Overhead Crossfit Performance Program Exercise Video

If you’re looking to mix up your training a bit while still working towards a return to handstand push-ups you can use earthquake presses as accessory work!


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Return To Handstand Push-Ups

Pre-trip checklist complete! Was it long? Yes! Was it worth it? Yes! If something goes wrong we revisit the pre-trip checklist and figure out the limiting factor and address it, meaning we don’t get on the main route until the bags have been fully packed. If you do not take this path, it’s not if; it’s a matter of when you will be turning around to go pick up what was left behind.

Getting upside down is a skill within itself. It requires graded exposure to gain confidence and motor control. To get there we start by using Pike variations, headstands, wall walks, handstand holds, and then variations of handstand pushups. Typically, we will want to start each progression with isometrics and then move towards concentric/eccentric movements.

Pike Shoulder Tap – Legs Elevated

The pike position is great to begin the journey of getting upside down and having the arms support you! Spend as much time as necessary where you can comfortably complete pike handstand pushups with integrity and confidence. How many? If you’re a CrossFit athlete we will use Diane as our benchmark; a couplet of Deadlifts and Handstand Pushups with a rep scheme of 21-15-9. or a total of 45 reps of each movement.


Pike Push Up – Legs Elevated

Next, you will begin to increase the demands of the handstand pushup by taking the hips from a flexed pike position to a hip extended or straightened position. This step can be a bit scary, luckily we can use graded exposure to decrease the fear and keep the hunger alive! We recommend using supersets of wall walks progressing to isometric handstand holds super setting with free-standing headstands. Why free-standing headstands? Athletes get used to quickly flicking their legs up and allowing the wall to catch them. This is a strategy to use, however, we like our athletes to own skills and show grace vs Kool-aid man slamming into the wall to get upside down.


Wall Walk



Handstand Push-Ups

Finally, it’s time to put everything you have been working on to the test! Before you get upside down, let’s talk about the last coaching cue. Think of how you brace your core when you are completing a strict overhead press or when squatting. We want that nice braced core position with glutes squeezing the help maintain core integrity leading to an efficient force transfer during the actual push-up! Using a weightlifting belt as a tactile cue can be helpful when first learning!


weightlifting belt prehab guys podcast handstand push ups


Handstand Push-Up


Advanced Drills: Handstand Push-Ups

Earlier we talked about the importance of near-symmetrical vertical pressing and utilizing the above-mentioned overhead press tests to identify limb dominance. Now, that you are upside down and pressing the brain may want to go back to old patterns and use the dominant arm. We know if we add volume on top of this we can be looking at future injuries. Below are a few drills you can use the fully own near symmetrical pressing in the handstand push-up movement!

Handstand Push-Up Asymmetry Assessment


Handstand Push-Up Asymmetrical


Last Stop: Kipping Handstand Push-Ups

If your using handstand push-ups for variability in your overhead pressing training, stick to strict and skip to the closing thoughts. If you’re a CrossFitter or Fitness athlete we need to talk about the kipping handstand push-up and integrity under fatigue. The kip now transitions the handstand pushup down the training continuum to a power-based movement.


Handstand Push-up – Kipping

The kip is used to allow more reps to be completed in a shorter duration of time, it adds complexity to the handstand push-up skill and requires further coordination and agility. Another point to consider is it allows you to overreach your current pressing capacity. Think of a push press or jerk vs a strict overhead pressing. Adding those powerful hips into the equation allows you to get more weight overhead compared to strict pressing.

The takeaway here is again to not skip steps! If you don’t have a strict handstand pushup you should not be kipping. Strict strength is the armor that will protect you from injury when busting out kipping handstand push-ups in competition and will also make you more efficient with the skill! As stated by (Cormie et al 2011), “a fundamental relationship exists between strength and power, which dictates that an individual cannot possess a high level of power without first being relatively strong”.

The last factor to discuss is integrity under fatigue! In workouts or competitions, handstand pushups are going to at least be coupled with another movement. Your body is attempting to clear lactic acid via the lactate shuttle but if deadlifts are coupled with handstand pushups it makes it really hard to clear (learn more about this from Chris Hinshaw). What we are left with is fighting through the fatigue, reaching new athletic potential, and attempting to maintain the integrity of the skill with everything in our body is saying stop! Learn more about fatigue and overhead stability in this podcast


Closing Thoughts

Handstand push-ups add great variability to your overhead pressing routine while testing your coordination, motor control, and strength. The destination of achieving the full handstand push-up is incredible but make sure your bags have been fully packed and you did not skip steps along the journey! Once you have developed the skill of a handstand push-up look for new challenges to keep your routine fresh and keep progressing towards the outcome you want. Ready for the extra challenge?

Handstand Push-Up – Strict, Deficit


Handstand Push-Up – Parallettes


Become A More Efficient Overhead Athlete!

overhead crossfit performance program handstand push ups prehab guys

The overhead strength demands in a CrossFit program will be sure to test your character. You are making the choice to respond vs react to the overhead challenges this sport creates by owning this movement pattern! First by gaining full access to overhead positions by using strengthen to lengthen concepts for those powerful Lats and Pecs. In the next 4 weeks, you also earn foundational core strength and start to access authentic overhead positions using bottom-up positions of the kettlebell.



Dr. Dillon Caswell, PT, DPT, SCS

[P]Rehab Audio Experience Host & Head of Programs

Dillon is a Sports Physical Therapist, performance coach, and adjunct professor residing in Syracuse, NY whose passion is providing holistic solutions to improve all aspects of human performance. Along with working with clinical athletes across the lifespan, he provides on field coverage for youth and semi-professional teams.

After his undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, he earned his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from SUNY Upstate Medical University, where he now serves as an Adjunct Professor. He is the founder and owner of AP3T: Action Potential Performance Physical Therapy practicing wellness, prevention, and solution-based health care. In his free time, he enjoys family dinners, playing with his dog, and competing as a CrossFit athlete.

Dillon honors the opportunity to join the [P]rehab guys to influence and educate in a people first system!






About the author : Dillon Caswell PT, DPT, SCS

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