Developing Strict Strength

photo by Mark Probst

A New Standard

The 2019 Crossfit Open and Age Group Qualifiers are over and boy did we have a major change. Strict handstand push-ups were introduced to both competitions for the first time. This high skill strength movement stands as one of the most difficult tests for athletes aiming to perform their best in the open, and beyond. The way the competition is structured punishes us greatly for any glaring weaknesses. My intention with this article is to help you understand why strict strength is important, and how to develop it.

Whats with the change?’s daily workouts have always featured strict gymnastic movements as an essential part of the program, and lately more than ever. It is clear that in the last 18 months the training staff at Crossfit HQ has been prioritizing this more than in the past.

Crossfit’s founder Gregg Glassman recently stated that he would “devalue the Kipping Pull-up” if he could, and that if you’re doing Kipping Pull-ups when you don’t have strict pull-ups you’re “wrong”.

The strict pull-up should be mastered before kipping. This ensures we’ve spent enough time under tension and have developed enough strength in positions to move through the movement at full speed. As a general rule of thumb in my coaching practice, kipping is not introduced until athletes can complete 5 unbroken strict pull-ups(females) or 10(males).

Owning strict movements before we move on to kipping is essential for shoulder health and longevity, but convincing athletes to practice strict movements outside of WOD’s can be challenging. Throwing these movements into regular programming AND competition will go a long way to solve this problem.


“If you’re doing kipping pull-ups when you can’t do strict, you’re wrong.”

Gregg Glassman, Founder of Crossfit

How do I develop my strict handstand push-up?

Back to Basics: Fundamentals before Explosivity

A few keys to performing strict gymnastic movements like the handstand push-up, pull-up, or muscle up are

  1. A strong core that connects and controls your upper and lower body.

  2. Strength in tight strict pressing and pulling positions.

  3. The mobility required to move through each phase of the movement ;not just to full range of motion.

Do develop your overhead strength for strict handstand push-ups; try these strict pressing movements. The half-kneeling single arm dumbbell press, and the full kneeling filly press. (Click each exercise for demo videos)

Doing these movements 2-3x a week slow and controlled with impeccable form will help you build the pressing strength you need to get closer to that first strict HSPU.

Add a tempo to develop strength THROUGH full range of motion instead of rushing TO full range of motion. Take your time…… Success here comes from meticulous form and attention to detail, not how quickly you’re finished.

  1. Press normally up,

  2. Hold the dumbbell over head in the lockout position for a full second.

  3. Take three seconds to carefully lower the weight down and hold an active bottom position for another one second pause.

Master these movements for 2-3 months and move up in weight as your form allows.

As you’re increasing strict pressing strength with the exercises above, follow this progression for the handstand push-up. Practice moving through this list and develop mastery in each position before you move on to the next. The first three are static positions that will develop balance and control inverted. Steps 3-6 are dynamic pressing positions building you towards the strict HSPU.

  1. Down Dog Hold < click for demos

  2. Pike Hold from Box

  3. Handstand against wall

  4. Master the pike push-up. Work up to 10 reps unbroken and then move to the next step. .

  5. Add a box to the pike push-up, build to 10 smooth reps.

  6. Attempt a strict handstand push-up!

Don’t get discouraged! This process can take years for talented athletes. Break it down piece by piece by following the steps above and you’ll get a little closer every day.

Have any other questions? Don’t hesitate to comment or send me a question here.