If you’re using an abmat under your head for handstand pushups then you need to shitcan that habit, today, because it’s holding you back. First, shimming range of motion with an abmat does not constitute a full handstand pushup. By taking out the toughest 2” of the movement, you’ve scaled the movement to something less than a full handstand pushup. That’s absolutely OK when learning and working towards the full handstand pushup. It’s not OK to live there for months and years on end, never trying to progress to the full movement.
Abmats will also deceive you when comparing your performance to others. If you’ve got an abmat under your head during the workout Diane, then you’re not doing Diane—but rather something slightly easier than Diane. And that’s OK—as long as you don’t think you’re doing Diane.
The most egregious use of the abmat is during strict handstand pushups. An abmat under your head teaches you that you can relax in the bottom of the strict handstand pushup, and that’s a lie. If you relax in the bottom, the strict handstand pushup becomes twice as difficult. If you only marginally have a strict handstand pushup, then relaxing in the bottom will make the rep impossible. So what are you supposed to do? If you don’t have strict a handstand pushup yet, then use steel plates to shim range of motion and work towards full range of motion. You have to start high (two or three steel 10 lb. plates) and work your way towards full range of motion slowly. You’ll be surprised at the depth you’re able to achieve by removing one plate at a time or replacing each plate with a thinner plate. You also won’t be as prone to relax in the bottom, because steel is harder than the floor. Eventually you’ll have a strict handstand pushup all the way to the floor with no shim.
Using an elastic band with the “backpack method” is also a great way to work towards unassisted handstand pushups. You strap into a set of bands hanging from a pullup bar and perform full range of motion handstand pushups assisted by a band. This takes a little time to setup and get comfortable, but it’s lightyears better than reducing range of motion via an abmat.
If you already have a strict handstand pushup and you use the ABMAT for comfort, then you need to ask yourself, “Why am I so much more comfortable touching my head to an abmat instead of a hard surface?” The answer is that you’re relaxing in the bottom and using your head for support, when your shoulders should be doing that work. So get rid of the abmat and make your shoulders do the work. You also need to ask yourself, “Am I doing real handstand pushups?” If you’ve got an abmat under your head, but your hands are on the floor, then the answer is “no.”
“But I can’t do handstand pushups without the abmat!” you protest. Are you sure? Have you tried? Not once, half-heartedly, but have you really worked on it? You may be surprised that you are indeed capable of full handstand pushups with just a bit of learning. Also, do you really mean “I can’t do even one handstand pushup without the abmat.” Or do you actually mean, “I can’t do handstand pushups without the abmat as fast as I want. I would have to rest a lot more between reps. During workouts that would make it hard to keep up with my arch rival, Fancy Pants Mendoza, who is also doing handstand pushups to an abmat. And I will not be beaten by Fancy Pants Mendoza!”
Hey, real handstand pushups are tough. It’s absolutely normal to rest between reps—sometimes for extended periods of time. If you have to do one handstand pushup and then rest for a minute, that’s better than repping out ten partial range of motion handstand pushups with an abmat under your head.
You may feel less comfortable when you ditch the abmat. Things may be harder at first. This is called “getting stronger.” But strong people can do strict handstand pushups on any flat surface without running for an abmat, or even a gymnastics mat. I want to be strong, so that’s how I’m going to do my handstand pushups. I hope you’ll choose the same.