Puppy press to handstand is a great first step on the way to straddle and pike presses. Plus, it’s a lot of fun and feels great to weave into your yoga practice.
Not only does puppy press give you a taste of what it’s like to float up into handstand, it also utilizes some of the same mechanics as the straddle press. For that reason, it’s a great preparatory skill as you progress to straddle.
Many students of the handstand press find the puppy variation easiest. Its relative approachability is thanks to the top leg shifting your center of gravity into place before lift off even happens.
Let’s get you there! Use these five steps to get into your puppy press.
1. Warming Up: Heat, Activation + Openness
Don't skip these 3 parts of your warm-up
You can get very efficient and scientific about which body parts need a kickstart before practicing the puppy press. I recommend devoting between five and 60 minutes to your warm-up. I personally find that 45 minutes is a sweet spot where my muscles are ready and I’m not totally exhausted.
Of course, we don’t always have 45 minutes, so do at least the following warmups in your progression to press handstand.
Focus on building:
- warmth in the shoulders and the wrists;
- activation in the traps, glute medius (outer hips), hip flexors, and ab wall;
- and length/openness into the wrists, hamstrings and inner thighs.
By bringing blood flow to these areas and addressing any tightness before you get going, your press attempts will be more successful and your recovery will involve less soreness.
You can use the following sequence, at a minimum:
- Roll the wrists and shoulders, 10x in each direction
- From downward dog, do 10 trap shrugs (shoulders up by the ears and release)
- From all fours, spin your fingers toward your knees and rock backward for at least 5 breaths
- Plank pose, shoulders slightly forward of the fingers, belly button strongly lifting upward, 5-10 breaths
- L-sit practice. If tough, use blocks and do one leg at a time. 10 seconds
2 - Nicely Aligned Handstand at the Wall
Focus on the verticality of your line
Establish the bodily imprint of the press handstand “finish line” by hopping into an exaggeratedly vertical handstand at the wall.
In this step of the progression, we shift the gaze up toward to the toes in order to hammer home the importance of complete shoulder flexion and trapezius engagement.
Allow the shoulders to come up by your ears. Imagine lengthening your arms from the base of the shoulder blades, and squeeze your elbows toward each other.
Hold for 10 breaths.
You won’t always have to do handstand this way, but this alignment goes a long way to providing you a good-habit set point to aim for when you are pressing up to handstand.
How long will it take you to get your press?
3 - Puppy Press at the Wall
Head to the wall using a block (or a chair)
I’ve heard some people talk about how the wall wasn’t helpful to them at all on the journey to press handstand. That may certainly be the case for some people. It just didn’t happen to be my experience.
In fact, it was this very wall drill that gave me my first taste of what it would be like to float the feet up instead of leaping them up.
No doubt, this drill feels strange at first, and many students have described feeling frustratingly stuck on the ground as if they were cemented.
Still, as with most things that are tough, enough practice will eventually yield fruit.
Here’s how to do the wall version of puppy press:
Give yourself a good bit of space from the wall — think two hand lengths (experiment with this!). You will need your shoulders to move farther forward than your fingers, so enough space is essential.
Step one foot on a block (or chair). Then, lift the other knee and hip as high as you physically can.
Now, press the back of your head into the wall (it’s weird at first!) and then use the placement of your top hip (UP and FORWARD) to drag the rest of your weight up.
If you find yourself stuck, try these two tricks:
- Internally rotate your bottom foot.
- With the bottom leg, instead of thinking “up,” think “out to the side” (as in a straddle). It’s far more accessible this way, and many first attempters will naturally do this.
If you want to get the mechanics of straddle press using forearm stand, follow along with this progression free on YouTube (as soon as you finish the article of course):
4 - Puppy Press with a Prop
Use a block or a chair
The toughest part of pressing lives in the first few inches between the floor and your toes.
So give yourself a boost by pressing from a block. If a block isn’t high enough, try a chair. If a chair is too high, try an ottoman (seriously), or your lowest stair, or 2 blocks. The more scenarios the better.
Two keys for unlocking puppy press on a block:
- Allow your shoulders to go significantly farther forward than your fingers. (Record yourself from the side if you’re not sure if you’re doing this.)
- Think about compression. Specifically, ask: “For how long can I keep my bottom thigh attached to my belly?” (It should remain attached through lift off.)
Remember to allow the bottom leg to drift wide (a la straddle press), and finally…
Use the negative to start building strength and muscle memory in those few inches between your toes and the floor!
5 - Puppy Press Handstand
No props or move from chair to a block
Time to lower the height or lose the prop altogether.
Be willing to flail and fail.
Three keys to unlocking puppy press handstand with no props:
- Shoulders move farther forward than most people think (like in planche)
- Use compression. Keep your bottom thigh on your belly for as long as you can.
- Resist the urge to hop!! (Hopping is the killer of progress in the press.)
If you are stuck, try shifting your gaze farther forward.
If that still doesn’t work, there’s always summoning Aaliyah and repeating the mantra, Dust yourself off and try again. (Did you just hum it?)
To Conclude: What Comes Next?
Why, Straddle Press Of Course!
Notice that the bottom leg in a puppy press — when it flies wide — mimics straddle press. That’s why puppy is such a great first milestone on the way to more challenging press handstands.
If you are working toward straddle press, your next step — after you’ve mastered puppy press — is the straight-leg puppy press (below). Do everything as described in the progression above except keep your top leg straight out to the side. When you do that you’ll really get the feel for straddle pressing.
The journey to press handstand is in large part physical, to be sure. But what separates those who nail it from those who keep it forever on the horizon has everything to do with mindset.
It takes determination and incredible focus to stay the course and unlock the press. I believe in you!!
If you’re ever looking for camaraderie, don’t hesitate to sign up for classes on my membership site.
New classes weekly. 14 days free, then $18.99. Cancel anytime.
Finally… Let’s not forget that the puppy press is itself an amazing accomplishment and a super fun way to “elevate” your yoga flows (quite literally). I’d love to know how yours is coming along.
Keep having fun!
p.s. We do a variety of adventurous yoga inversions in my weekly flows here at Leigha Butler Yoga — in an encouraging, no-pressure kind of way. Claim your free 14 days if you’re not already a member!