In Part 1 of this series, we effectively set the stage for building and rebuilding the push up. This article will look at how the push up can be incorporated to help build hypertrophy, strength, power, power/endurance and torso stability.
Push Ups for Stability
1. Slide Board Push Up
The slide board push up increases muscle tension around the shoulder joint by forcing the posterior shoulder muscles to contract by resisting the band pulling the hands together. We have found that many people who cannot perform a normal push up due to shoulder pain can successfully perform this variation, pain free. This exercise demands a slippery surface as the friction created by the normal ground offsets the pull of the band. If you don’t have a slide board, simply use socks on a tile floor.
2. T-Stabilization Push Up
The T-stabilization push up was influenced by the spinal stabilization protocols laid out by educator Stuart McGill. It’s great for developing awareness and stability of the torso and shoulders. The key to performing the T-stabilization push up correctly is to keep the pelvis and shoulders rotating at the same time and at the same rate. This exercise can also be used to assess spinal stability and torsional control.
You can further progress this exercise by bringing the feet together. This reduces the base of support and increases the stabilization demand.
Push Ups for Hypertrophy
When training for hypertrophy, we want 1) high volume and 2) constant muscle tension. Here are two unique push up variations that address these two components and therefore are great for building hypertrophy.
1. Swiss Ball Squeeze Push Ups
Normal Swiss Ball Push Up
Squeeze Push Up
In the above images, notice how the hands are placed lower on the sides of the ball than a normal ball push up. This is a small change that makes the exercise more difficult by forcing the exerciser to squeeze the ball very hard in order to avoid falling and continue the exercise. The squeeze creates a tremendous amount of tension on the pecs, shoulders and triceps. A weight vest and/or elevated foot position can be used for increased overload.
2. The Arko Wheel Push/Fly Up
This exercise is just plain tough! The combination push up/fly really allows you to maximize pec and shoulder recruitment. It should be noted that this movement demands a lot of torso strength and control. A weight vest can be added for overload.
Push Ups for Strength
When it comes to building strength, I have not heard many coaches incorporating the push up. This is most likely because they don’t feel it provides enough overload. In general, I would have to agree. However, there is one style of push up that can humble even the strongest athlete, and that is the one arm push up!
1. The One Arm Push Up
The one arm push up is by far one of the best exercises for developing incredible upper body strength and torso stability, and yet it has basically been forgotten. Because of its difficulty, we use a specific progression (see below) strategy to help our athletes accomplish this movement.
Stage 1 - One Arm Plank
- The one arm plank develops the body awareness and torso control required to perform the one arm push up successfully.
- The goal is to maintain a flat pelvis and avoid rotation at the pelvis and lumbar spine.
- The one arm plank actually has its own mini progression. We start with a wide base of support and gradually progress to a closer base, which requires more torso stability.
Stage 2 - Lock Offs
- This exercise builds off of the stability developed in stage one and starts to add some single arm strength. This stage also develops the ability to “lock off” at the top position, hence the name.
Stage 3 - Roll Overs
- Now that a solid foundation of torso stability and lock off strength has been achieved, we can add the roll over push up. The roll over push up can be done in alternating fashion or one side at time.
This exercise teaches correct body positioning and builds the strength required to push out from the bottom of the one arm push up while still allowing some assistance from the other arm. In order to ensure proper strength progression, make sure to gradually use the arm on the side you’re leaning toward (the working side) with increased frequency and the opposite arm (the non working side) less. For example, the below percentages show how to distribute your bodyweight from arm to arm on the roll over push up.
- 70% - 30%
- 80% - 20%
- 90% - 10%
Once you’re able to achieve a 90 to 10 percent weight distribution from both arms for at least six reps, you will be more than ready to start performing the full one arm push up.
2. Feet Elevated Push Up w/Plate
If one arm push ups aren’t your style, then you might want to try this variation. This style push up can actually work to develop hypertrophy or strength, depending on the weight, tempo, reps and rest used. Use a heavy enough plate, and your abs will be talking to you as well.
Push Ups for Power Development
One of the popular push up exercises used for improving power is the clap or plyo push up. This exercise is great for developing explosive pushing power. However, the constant pounding on the wrist from the landing is a concern for some athletes like wrestlers and football players. These types of athletes are constantly being thrown down and therefore having to breaking the fall by landing on their wrists in much the same way as the plyo push up. The last thing I want to do as a coach is use an exercise that replicates something an athlete probably does too much of already, especially something that has a high risk versus benefit ratio.
Here is a great alternative to the plyo push up that we have found to be just as effective at developing explosive pushing power while limiting impact on the wrist.
1. Box Jump Push Ups
We prefer to use a closer, shoulder width hand position on this movement as it has more functional carryover to sports like wrestling and football. This exercise can easily be progressed by increasing the height of the box.
2. Swiss Ball Ricochet Push Up
This is one of my all time favorite exercises and another great way to develop explosive power and speed in the upper body. We prefer to do movements like this for timeframes of eight to 15 seconds at max speed. When performing this exercise, be sure to maintain ideal spinal alignment.
Metabolic (Power-Endurance) Push Ups
The concept of metabolic strength training and power endurance is just starting to be explored in the world of performance training. In most sports, athletes are required to continuously explode and repeatedly produce power, sometimes for hundreds of reps.
This type of power endurance will not be developed with traditional (5x5; 3 mins rest) methods and therefore requires specialized protocols. Below are two push up based metabolic protocols we use to ensure our athletes remain explosive and end up being the last ones standing when the smoke clears. I recommend establishing a proper technical, strength and power base before utilizing these protocols.
1. 20/20/20 Push Ups
This is a great metabolic circuit that is easy to remember and doesn’t require any additional equipment. We normally use this circuit at the beginning of our power endurance phase. It takes one minute to complete.
- Perform with no rest
- 20 sec push ups
- 20sec push up pause (hold bottom position)
- 20 sec plyo or clapper push ups
- Rest 1-3 min
2. The JC Push Up Circuit
This is an awesome metabolic protocol I learned from my good friend and colleague, Juan Carlos Santana. You’re going to need a medicine ball (MB) for this one.
- Perform as circuit with speed.
- 5-10 MB lock offs on each side
- 5-10 MB cross over push ups on each side (alternate sides)
- 5-10 MB close grip push ups
- Rest one to three minutes.
- We normally start with five reps and progress one rep a week until 10 reps is reached.
Both of the above metabolic protocols can eventually be progressed so that the exerciser can complete two to three rounds without rest.
Hopefully, I have provided you with a wide variety of new push up progressions and variations that you can easily integrate into any program. By no means is this an exhaustive list of the limitless possibilities that push up training offers. This is simply a list of my favorite and most commonly used variations. I hope the concepts in this article have given you a new appreciation for the push up and inspire you to be creative in your own training.