How I Learned the Pike Press Handstand

In this detailed post, I share my personal journey to achieving the pike press to handstand as a 6′ 2″ (187cm) vegetarian weighting 90kg, with focus on the exercises that worked for me and those that didn’t.

Brief Summary

It took me about a year of consistent training to get the pike press handstand and about 6 months for the straddle press. This may sound like a long time but bear in mind my height and weight. You might achieve it sooner if you are shorter or lighter. Plus, I’ve never been to a gymnastics class or worked with a gymnastics coach because I’ve been too busy watching YouTube tutorials.

For those who don’t know, the pike is when you press to handstand with straight legs that touch each other, and the straddle is when your legs are open in a side split. The straddle is easier than the pike because when your legs are open, it takes less effort for the lower back to pull your legs up to a handstand.

In relation to training consistency, I exercised between 3 and 5 times a week. My sessions would last 45 to 75 minutes and focus entirely on improving my straight handstand and building strength for the press handstand. Once fully warmed up, I wouldn’t mess about with previously acquired skills but channel my energy into the one thing that needs doing, the press handstand.

The Beginning

I began training for press handstand 2 years ago in June 2016. Since a press from the floor was beyond impossible, the very first thing I did was to try lifting my legs off a 65cm exercise ball. Despite the elevation, it took me quite a few attempts to succeed. I was learning to activate and coordinate my muscles in a challenging new way.

pike press exercise ball handstand

As with all bodyweight skills, there are multiple muscles involved in both the upper and lower body. The main muscles involved in a press handstand are the shoulders, core and back muscles. Two of the secondary muscles are the forearms and hamstrings. To do a press handstand, in theory, you have press your arms and wrists towards the floor and use your core, hamstrings and back muscles (especially lower back) to lift your legs. Please note you can’t train these muscles in isolation with traditional bodybuilding exercises and expect to master the press handstand. It won’t work.

Upon executing the press handstand in a forward bend, the first thing you have to do is shift your weight forward so that your shoulders go past your wrists while keeping your hips as high as possible, and push against the floor. Next, lift your legs to a handstand by simultaneously pushing them away with your compressed core muscles, untuck the pelvis and pull with the lower back muscles. Wrist mobility and hamstring flexibility is imperative.

The Journey

Alongside working with the exercise ball, I did negative straddle press handstands. I would kick up to a handstand and lower my legs down to the floor in a straddle as slowly as possible. I would even try to keep holding my feet off the floor for as long as possible, usually 2 to 5 seconds at the time.

These were the main two exercises that I did. It was all about controlling how high I was pressing from. A much recommended exercise that didn’t do sh*t for me was the one in which you try to press handstand by pushing the back of your head against a wall. It felt unnatural, painful and restrictive.

The seated leg raises were another much recommended exercise which didn’t really help much. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great exercise for the core but not for the lower back which I needed strengthening more. So I stuck to doing negative straddle presses.

seated leg raises straddle core compression

I spent about 2-3 months learning to comfortably press off the exercise ball before progressing to something lower. I used various surfaces like boxes, benches, sofas, and chairs but for the purpose of this video, I’ll use a stepper in a gym environment. The goal was to use as little elevation as possible.

The maximum height of the stepper is 25cm, a difference of 40cm compared to the exercise ball. I learned to straddle press from it first, then to pike press. As time went by, I took it down to ground level. Meanwhile, I’d still be doing negative straddle press handstands.

stepper step elevation pike press straddle handstand

The Take-Off

1 year ago, I got my first pike press handstand after 1 of training. All the effort and discipline paid off, I felt a huge sense of personal achievement. Presently though, my press handstand isn’t perfect and has some room for improvement. Given my height and weight, however, I have all the right to celebrate.

I have no memory of when exactly I achieved the straddle press but I remember it was way sooner than the pike, and that improving my hamstring flexibility benefited me a lot. The press handstand is one of those skills which require not only strength and coordination but also flexibility. Therefore, I would stretch at the end of every session for 15-20 minutes focusing mainly on the seated pancake stretch, the seated forward bend, and the standing forward bend.

Final Words

It’s been a long but rewarding journey for me and I’ve enjoyed the process. The press handstand is a fundamental skills to have, especially if you are looking to perform on parallel bars, not just train on them. If you are working toward the press handstand, my advice would be to stay focused, stay disciplined, work hard, listen to your body and be patient.

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