I’ve noticed that scaling handstand push-ups to a box seems to be looked down upon among athletes, but when done properly they are a very effective strength exercise that will ultimately lead to wall handstand push-ups. In fact, I would even say that I know a lot of athletes who can do them on the wall that should still go back and spend some more time on the box practicing. As with any movement though, we need to be able to do it properly in order to reap the benefits.
One of the largest faults I see with handstand push-ups on the box is body position right from the start. Remember, we’re trying to mimic a handstand push-up where our body is going to be completely vertical, so when we setup on the box that is what we need to recreate. There is no “set” distance of how far your hands should be or where your toes go, because it’s all in relation to each other. The proper setup should have your shoulders over your wrists and your butt over you shoulders, in as straight of a line as possible. This position is often validated by an “oh-shit I’m about to fall” thought in your mind, but obviously you’ve got to be able to hold it so don’t go too far.
As far as mechanics go I still need to hit that tripod position in the bottom so I initiate my descent by pushing my head and shoulders out in front of my wrists as I bend my arms. I should end up with the top of my head out in front of my hands so that I can see both my hands clearly in front of my face. You’ll notice that now my torso is slightly angled rearward and that has to happen in order to counterbalance my weight on my hands as my head reaches forward. This same thing happens in a true freestanding handstand push-up but we don’t experience it when we face out from the wall because the wall is holding us up to some degree: if it weren’t there we would fall on our backside. In some ways the box handstand push-up better simulates a freestanding version which we’ll be seeing very soon!
As we finish the movement we need to drive our head and chest towards the box so that we finish with the shoulders completely open and the ears between the arms, where we started. This engrains a more full range of motion and again has more carry-over to the real handstand push-up, and all pressing movements overhead.
Here is a bad setup and resulting finish and you may think that it doesn’t look that different, but small differences in body position can be a huge difference in the ability to control. Notice that my torso is now beginning in a leaning position rather than completely vertical. My hips and shoulders are aligned in a less than vertical position and my shoulders and wrists are aligned at a different angle still short of vertical. The shift of my hips rearward puts more of my bodyweight on my toes demanding less of my arms as well as reinforces bad overhead positioning. You’ll notice that I never really reach an open shoulder position in my start and finish. As in our example above my torso angles rearward more as I lower which makes the bottom position more in-line with a modified regular push-up, makes the movement much easier overall, and has less carry-over to the actual handstand push-up because I’m no longer pushing in a vertical plane.
Performing them from the knees still needs the same thought process in the setup as from the toes. Place your hands and knees in a close enough distance so that your butt, shoulders and wrists all aline in a vertical line and you swear you’re going to fall-over but you won’t. As you lower you’re still looking for that tripod position in the bottom and you need to keep your elbows from flaring out wide.
So next time handstand push-ups come up don’t turn your head in shame from the box, use that time wisely and walk away with an increase in fitness and understanding of the movement. If it feels easy, call over a coach and make sure you’re in a good position. Work from your knees until you can do 10 reps completely vertical and then try out the toes. Yes, you can bend your legs if you’re working from your toes because your hamstrings are tight, but that doesn’t change your torso position or the mechanics. Have fun upside down!