Friday 4 January 2019

Kipping handstand push-ups

Kipping handstand push-ups (HSPUs) are something I have seen more and more of over the past few months in my part of world. Sadly this is another exercise that gained popularity thanks to CrossFit.

Why sadly? Kipping HSPUs are supposedly for building hip and shoulder power, however for most people it is simply a cheat way to perform handstand push-ups. What is so wrong with this? From most clips of people performing kipping HSPUs I have seen from my locality and on YouTube, there is an incredible lack of proper instruction by trainers on form and the prerequisites needed to even contemplate performing such a high-risk exercise.

In the perfect world everyone would perform exercises with perfect form and their personal trainers would ensure that they do. However this is not the case, and as with many other CrossFit inspired exercises, they are performed poorly and are ultimately best avoided. Indeed kipping is a sign of muscle weakness especially when you kip or swing unintentionally as many people do when performing pull-ups, as it signifies you lack the proper strength in the required muscles to perform it properly.

Video examples

The lack of form and proper technique is clear and obvious to see from the following YouTube clip where CrossFitter's sacrifice it for how many reps they can do. The guy to the left especially seems to like banging his head off the floor. What long-term damage doing this repeatedly for months or years does to your neck and shoulder girdle I wouldn't even want to think about. Poor form contributes to increased injury risk and degradation of tissue health.

Here you can see a kipping HSPU performed with better control on the descent however the rest of the form lets it down especially the shoulder/chest/hip movement. You wouldn't be advised to perform shoulder presses with a heavy weight in such a manner, so what makes doing an inverted version with your bodyweight, which may weigh more, alright to perform so poorly?

On the other hand look at the great control and balance that can be achieved by building up following a proper pregression to strict freestanding HSPUs:

What you need before even contemplating performing them

The HSPU is an incredibly difficult exercise to perform properly and involves almost all of your muscles. It requires amongst other things:

  1. Kinesthetic awareness, also known as proprioception it is the ability of your body to sense the sum of its parts in the space around it and the force and movements needed to maintain your balance. It is also vital when you are in an inverted position, i.e. upside down. Many people start off with the kipping HSPU and fail to develop this proprioceptive ability meaning they are not in full control of the movement.
  2. Shoulder flexibility: many people have poor shoulder flexibility, which inhibits their ability to perform handstands properly never mind a HSPU. It contributes greatly to over-arching of the back, also known as "banana back", as the body tries to compensate.
  3. Shoulder strength: the ability to control your descent in the HSPU is paramount to prevent serious injury especially to your head and spine. Kipping HSPUs create explosive force, which if you can't control can result in you coming down to quick and too hard for your liking and resulting in you headbutting the floor.
  4. Core strength: this helps greatly in keeping you balanced as well as in keeping yourself in a constant state of isometric tension to prevent excessive "banana back".

Now personal trainers should tell and show you that form, or technique, is vital when performing exercises especially with the big exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press etc. Surprisingly for quite a few personal trainers they seem to think that this does not need to be the case with bodyweight exercises! However it is just as important if not more so especially when you are in an inverted position, which can lead to serious injury!


If you haven't spent time building up to maintaining a strict wall handstand for at least a minute or performing a decent freestanding one for any amount of time then you shouldn't be performing kipping HSPUs. At the end of the day strict is best and performing strict HSPUs over kipping ones will help you develop your shoulder strength far better and far safer. You will also develop greater kinesthetic awareness, which is always good.

If you have any questions feel free to comment below or send me some feedback!

Lyle Richardson,
Gym Pal - Your Friend In Fitness


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