A “kipping” handstand push-up is a handstand that employs an explosive hip and leg thrust (kipping) that is intended to generate momentum to more rapidly launch the handstand. It is an exercise activity frequently observed in CrossFit training and competitions. It enables this community of exercisers to perform more repetitions, with more speed than would be otherwise possible by performing conventional handstand pushups in strict form.
The following instructional video link was produced by a California CrossFit facility and describes what is considered to be the proper technique for performing a kipping handstand pushup:
This instructional video clearly indicates that it is acceptable for the trainee to rest or make contact with the head (on a mat/ or directly on the floor) at the bottom position of this handstand push-up.Thus, the kipping handstand push-up involves a headstand as well as an explosive handstand.Therefore, the injury risks from both of these components warrant serious consideration.
A strong upper body and plenty of practice is necessary to perform a headstand posture, alone, in a safe fashion. The shoulder, arm, chest, and upper back muscles should support your body weight when performing a headstand. If they are not strong enough to hold you in a stable posture, there is risk of damaging the cervical spine because most people’s necks are not designed to bear all or even a portion of the body weight . This damage could involve bones, discs, facet joints, muscles, ligaments, nerves, or some combination thereof. Needless to say, if you have an existing neck injury, doing a headstand or handstand pushups is unwise.
The following is an image of a normal neck x-ray:
The following is a flexion x-ray image of a normally healthy person, experienced in the performance of headstands, who sustained significant neck injury and instability from performing the simple headstand:
Of course, one would expect that many CrossFit aficionados will vociferously take issue with this presentation and respond with the general argument that the described risks are overstated and that kipping handstand push-ups are completely “safe” when performed with “correct form.” Unfortunately, the reality is that CrossFit participants often perform exercises rapidly, in increasingly higher repetitions, and to a point of exhaustion, or momentary muscular failure. Even under the best of circumstances, musculoskeletal training injuries are certainly possible under such demanding conditions. Moreover, training form is almost always compromised when exercises are performed rapidly or to the point of exhaustion. Repetition speed up or, particularly, down may not remain under control. Under these conditions the likelihood of situations ranging from a simple strain type injury to landing out of position, or coming down too fast or too hard onto the head and neck is a very real possibility. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t take a full-on crash onto the head and neck to cause a serious injury. Much lesser forces can certainly accomplish this.
But the risks of injury do not end here. Additional risk factors include high blood pressure and glaucoma. The inversion associated with headstands and handstands can increase intracranial blood pressure significantly. A person with high blood pressure can experience increased pressure in the blood vessels supplying the brain and eyes. This can lead to ruptured blood vessels in the eyes, retinal tears or, in very rare instances, stroke. In glaucoma, pressure builds up within the eye, impairing vision. Inversion of the body exacerbates this pressure. Also, if the blood vessels in your eyes have burst or if you have ever seen “floaters” then headstands, handstands, or handstand push-ups are not for you. The consumption of anti-inflammatory medications may also be an added risk factor, in regard to strenuous activities involving inversion.
Therefore, when everything is taken into consideration kipping handstand push-ups are not advisable for most people other than, perhaps, the “genetic elites.” They certainly cannot be endorsed for the general population seeking to pursue an exercise activity.
For those seeking to engage in kipping handstand push-ups anyway, the following opinions and recommendations are in order:
- Do not engage in any strenuous activity involving inversion of the body (i.e. headstands, handstands) if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, ruptured blood vessels in the eye(s), an active neck injury, or a past history of significant neck injury.
- Avoid taking anti-inflammatory medications immediately prior to performing strenuous activities involving inversion of the body.
- Make sure you have an adequate strength base in the shoulders, arms, chest, upper back, and neck before attempting any handstands, or even a headstand.
- A minimum strength “benchmark” of 15 strict handstands pushups or 10 strict overhead barbell presses with 1.25 times bodyweight should be demonstrated before proceeding with kipping handstand pushups.
- Do not perform kipping handstand pushups alone or without someone nearby to assist you if you experience an injury.
- Direct strengthening exercises for the neck are strongly recommended. Exercises such as those depicted in the following link are suitable, if carefully performed: