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Kipping Handstand Pushups and Neck Pain
7 Reasons to get Stronger Instead of Doing Kipping HSPU
The content of this article will strike a nerve for some people, so let me preface it by saying this: I was a crossfitter before I was a chiropractor. I am not here to tear down crossfit and uselessly criticize it. This article is about kipping handstand pushups and neck pain.
So here are my top 7 reasons why you should get stronger instead of doing kipping handstand push ups.
- Your first cervical vertebra
- Your second cervical vertebra
- Your third cervical vertebra
- Your fourth cervical vertebra
- Your fifth cervical vertebra
- Your sixth cervical vertebra
- Your seventh cervical vertebra
... and all the connective tissue, discs, ligaments, and nerves associated with those vertebrae.
Let's talk a little anatomy so we understand the importance of this.
See those blue things? Those are nerves that come off the spinal cord, go through that hole that is circled in green with an arrow pointing at it, and then go into the arms. That hole can change size depending on the forces that are put through the neck. The holes get bigger if someone pulls on your head and smaller if someone pushes down on the top of your head.
Guess what happens during kipping handstand push ups when people crash down on their heads? With all of their bodyweight, they press down on the top of their head and close down those holes, which can be irritating to those nerves. Most likely, nothing will happen from a few reps, but prolonged pressure, high repetitions, or sudden closing (dropping on your head) can irritate or damage those nerves.
In the picture to the left, I highlighted the disc between two vertebrae. Guess what can happen to that disc if you put enough pressure on the head? It can start to bulge, tear, or herniate over time. When that happens, that can create neck pain, compress the nerves, and/or create tingling, numbness, or weakness either down the arm or along the shoulder blade. Clinically I see a lot of people with "pain near the shoulder blade that feels too deep to touch" that is being referred from the neck.
Guess how I test for cervical spine nerve irritation and disc herniations in patients? I have them sit down and I press down on the top of their head. Why are we doing exercises that mimic clinical tests that are designed to irritate these sensitive structures? That is like blowing in a dog’s ear and expecting not to get bit.
Disc herniations and nerve damage don’t make us fit. Our goal is to be fit, right? Good luck competing with a cervical disc herniation.
We have to stop doing this to ourselves and to our athletes.
Training vs Competing
There is a big difference between training and competing in my opinion. In training, you are doing things that you need to do to become stronger and improve your weaknesses. If you can’t do a lot of strict HSPUs, is kipping them really training or are you competing to see how fast you can go in your class WOD? Who got through the HSPUs the fastest at regionals this year? I think it was Dan Bailey and he did most, if not all, of them strict. hmmmm….When you workout at your box, are you training or competing?
How long are you going to limp along doing kipping HSPUs instead of getting strong enough to do them strict and protect your neck? You will be a better athlete by training the strength of your upper body through alternatives to throwing your legs up, crashing down on your head, and destroying your neck. Spend time developing strength and then do kipping HSPU in a competition if you have to. Getting that rx by your name in a WOD is NOT as good as developing the strength necessary to do strict HSPUs and avoiding a serious neck injury.
And to the coaches, maybe we shouldn’t allow kipping HSPU to be an option during training unless that person is going to do a competition and HAS to be decent at them (in which case the minimum number necessary to have the kipping pattern down is the number that should be trained and zero more). People will do anything to get that rx by their name, so why make something rx that, for most people, isn’t going to benefit their strength AND has a high risk of injury? Oh and don’t try to tell me this shit doesn’t happen. If you aren’t seeing it, you are missing it. I guarantee you.
Alternatives to kipping
If they can do strict:
- Have them do strict! Strict should be "rx".
If they cannot do strict:
- Doing kipping won't get them strong enough to do strict
- Strict barbell press is an option
- Single arm kettlebell press is an option
- Double arm kettlebell press is an option
- Single or double kettlebell press in a lunge position is an option
- I typically prefer kettlebell pressing to barbell pressing to develop strength for handstand push ups because of the stability challenge you get using a kettlebell vs a barbell
Don’t let kipping HSPU count as rx or be an allowed sub. Make the sub one of the above recommendations and watch your athletes improve and not complain about their necks hurting.
Let’s save people’s necks. If you have met an athlete who has injured their neck from this, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, I hope you don’t. It changes peoples lives, for the worse. For what cause? 5 seconds on a wod? Not worth it. TRAIN during TRAINING and compete to win.
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