Even though we have been doing push-ups, crunches, squats, and partner resistance for many years, this form of exercise is re-emerging as a popular and exciting form of exercise. When these exercises are implemented into the right class, using single and partner drills, the energy in the class goes sky high and our clients have a blast.
Almost any exercise can be done using just body weight and no equipment. However, most exercises are “pushing” movements unless there is a partner involved to perform “pulling” movements. When a partner is involved, any exercise or movement can be done including: multi-joint pushing and pulling of the upper body, vertical and horizontal core training, and compound exercises for the legs.
- Understand how to integrate body leverage exercises into a main stream training program for all clients.
- Explain how to modify exercises for increase or decrease intensity for all clients.
- Demonstrate the different training techniques used for training all muscles including “pushing and pulling” muscle groups.
- Recognize how some of these exercises are important for specific disease prevention such as “pulling” exercises for osteoporosis.
Cogley et al. (2005) looked at the differences in electromyography (EMG) of the pectoralis major and triceps when doing a push-up in three different hand positions: 1) wide base, 2) shoulder width, and 3) narrow base “V-Push-Up.” The results indicated EMG activity was greater in pectoralis major and triceps during narrow base “V” push-up compared to wide base and shoulder width push-ups. As it relates to training clients, a wide base push-up can be used with beginning exercisers or when we want to perform an endurance set of 15 – 20 repetitions. A shoulder width hand placement can be used with more advanced clients or when we want to perform a strength set. And a narrow hand placement can be used for advanced clients or when we want to do power training with fewer repetitions. This push-up can be made even more difficult by having a partner hold the feet in the air or putting the feet on partners back.
García-Massó, et al., (2011) investigated the EMG of three different plyo-push-ups: 1) push-ups performed at maximum speed of movement, 2) clapping push-ups – on toes (or knees), and 3) fall push-ups, kneeling - drop and push-up to return to starting position. Maximum speed push-up achieved a higher maximum force and rate of force. This type of push-up may be regarded as the best for improving explosive force and can be used for power development. However, a clap push-up is a good exercise to challenge athletes and the drop push-up is a good form of upper body plyometrics which can be challenging and fun for clients.
Ebben, et al., (2011) investigated six different push-up variations: 1) regular push-up, 2) flexed knee – “modified push-up,” 3 and 4) feet elevated on 30.48-cm box & 60.96-cm box, and 5 and 6) hands elevated on 30.48-cm box & 60.96-cm box. They used ground reaction forces to determine which push-up was most effective for strength development. They found that push-ups with the feet elevated produced a higher ground reaction force. Push-ups with hands elevated and push-ups from the flexed knee position produced a lower ground reaction forces. These results have a lot of application for different clients. First, we know that we can increase the intensity of a push-up by elevating the feet, and second this research reveals that if a client has wrist or shoulder pain, we can modify a push-up by performing them on the knees or having the client do a push-up on a partners back (while the partner is balancing on all fours). Another modification is to perform a wall push-up.
Push-Up and “Pushing” Variation Exercises
The above mentioned research gives modifications to make push-ups easier for beginning clients or clients with pain in their upper body joints. For many trainers however, we want body leverage exercises that have a higher resistance for our advanced clients or to make Boot Camps more fun and challenging. Following are exercises with modification to make push-ups and “pushing” exercises more challenging.
Partner Resistance Push-up – One partner doing the push-up, the other standing over his/her body (facing the prone partner’s head) putting resistance with hands between the scapulas’s. This exercise is perfect for doing a power set of 3 – 5 repetitions.
Spiderman Push-Up – Done as an individual exercise, the client alternates flexing one hip then the other, bringing the knee to the elbow, every time he/she pushes up. This movement increases the resistance because not only is the client pushing up the body; he/she is also pushing up the leg. To make this harder, bring one leg up for 5 -10 repetitions then bring the other leg up for another 5 – 10 repetitions.
Double Partner Push-up – this push-up adds a lot of resistance to the partner who is on the floor. One partner is flat on the floor in a push-up position; the other partner has his/her hands on the partners back in a push-up position. Both partners will do a push-up; except the partner on top has to wait until the bottom partner has pushed all the way up until he/she performs the push-up otherwise it’s too hard for the bottom partner to push-up while the top partner is pushing down, so-to-speak.
Standing Partner Push-Up – both partners are pushing on each other’s hands with their feet as far apart as is possible. There are two ways to do this push-up: 1) one partner performs the push-up while the other partner stabilizes, or 2) both partners do a push-up at the same time which is much harder.
Partner Dips – one partner is flat on his/her back on the floor with knees bent, the other partner has his/her back to the prone partner with hands on their knees. The bottom partner has to stabilize his/her hips so that the upper partner can perform dips on the knees. The prone partner can do either crunches or a bridge while the upright partner does the dips.
Standing Chest Press – partners are holding opposite hands in a “thumb grip.” Each partner must be in a stable “athletic position.” As one partner pushes on the other’s hand/arm the other partner gives resistance to make the “push” as hard as is required for a strength, power, or endurance set. When the partners are pushing, they are doing the concentric phase, and when they resist the push, they are doing the eccentric phase. Switch hands after the specific number or repetitions are completed.
Standing Partner Row – partners are in the same position as above, including hand/thumb grip. This exercise is the “pull,” opposite of the push/press. While one partner pulls the other partner provides resistance to make the pull harder. When the partners are pulling, they are performing the concentric phase, and when they resist that is the eccentric phase. This exercise can also be modified to perform a strength, power, or endurance set. Switch hands to do both arms. This exercise is very important for our female clients because it is “the” exercise that can help prevent or minimize the effects of osteoporosis of the thoracic spine. When our female clients perform “pulling” exercises the muscles pull on the tendons, and the tendons pull on bone. In the case of a standing partner pull, the scapula adductor tendons pull on the thoracic vertebrae which stimulate bone growth.
Shoulder Press/Front Dip – One partner is seated with his/her back resting on the front of the other partner’s legs. The seated partner will be performing a seated shoulder press, the standing partner will be performing and “Front Dip.” It is best for safety and comfort to have a “thumb grip.” The seated partner pushes up to perform the concentric phase of the shoulder press, and the other partner provides resistance against the shoulder press to perform the eccentric phase of the front dip. Then the standing partner pushes down on the seated partner. The seated partner is now performing the eccentric phase of the shoulder press and the standing partner is performing the concentric phase of the front dip.
Lat Pulldown/Upright Row – the partners are in the same seated-standing position. This time the seated partner, starting with elbows extended, pulls down as the standing partner resists the pull. The pull down is the concentric phase for the seated partner and the eccentric phase of the upright row for the standing partner. The next movement is when the standing partner pulls up on the arms/hands of the seated partner while he/she resists the pull up. When the standing partner pulls up this is the concentric phase of the upright row and for the seated partner this is the eccentric phase of the eccentric phase of the lat pulldown.
McGill (2010) indicates that some trainers believe that repeated spine flexion is a good method to train the flexors (the rectus abdominis and the abdominal wall). However, these muscles are rarely used in this way. They are more often used to brace while accelerating and decelerating. They are also used more often as trunk stabilizers rather than flexors. Moreover, repeated flexing of the spine can put unusual pressure on the intervertebral discs which can weaken the disc and put it at risk for herniating. Therefore, neutral spine core exercises are recommended.
Wall Front Plank – hold for 10 – 30 counts.
Wall Side Planks Right & Left - hold for 10 – 30 counts.
Chair or Desk Bird Dog - raise opposite arm and leg - 10 – 30 repetitions.
- Bird Dog – raise opposite arm and leg - 10 – 30 repetitions.
- Front plank on toes – hold for 10 – 30 counts.
Side plank left and right on toes – hold for 10 – 30 counts.
Challenging and Fun Exercises
Front Plank – “Arm Wrestle” with partner. Wide foot stance, balance on one elbow while trying to “pull” your partner off balance, alternate arms and “wrestle” for 10 – 20 counts.
Side Plank “Arm Wrestle” – same as above except one partner is on his/her left and the other partner is on his/her right and the partners are pushing on each other’s hands. Push for 10 – 20 counts.
Vertical Core Exercises
Arm Chops – Up & Down, Lateral Shoulder-to-Hip, and Side-to-Side. Move straight arms as fast as possible for 10 – 40 repetitions. This causes the core muscles to have to acceleration, decelerate, and stabilize.
Stand Like a Stone – Partners holding opposite hands, standing in an athletic position, they have fun pushing and pulling on each other’s hands to challenge their balance and core stability. For more fun, the trainer can move all the partners into groups of four, eight, sixteen, thirty two until there is one big “Stand like a Stone” line with all students. Perform these movements for 15 – 30 seconds.
Hamstring partner exercise for increasing eccentric strength and injury prevention. (Schaech, 2012). One partner is on his/her knees holding the heels of the other partner who is also on his/her knees. The partner who is in front will use an eccentric contraction to slowly let him/herself down the ground where he/she stops using the hands. Then using a concentric contraction of the hamstrings, pull his/herself up to the starting position. 5 – 10 repetitions.
Partner Leg Press – One Leg or Two. One partner is on his/her back with knees and hips flexed getting ready for the partner to balance all his/her weight on the feet. The “balance” partner, who’s acting as the resistance, will hold onto the partner’s feet for balance. Once both partners are balanced, the prone partner does leg press. With two legs this is not much resistance; as such it could be used as a warm-up exercise or for an endurance set of 15 – 20 repetitions. With one leg there is more resistance and a strength set could be performed of 8 – 12 repetitions.
Partner Squats – partners are balancing back-to-back with arms interlocked. Maintaining good technique, they both move into a squat and up for 5 – 10 repetitions.
Partner Dead Lift – one partner starts lying flat on his/her back, the other partner is at the side of the flat partner, holding opposite hands, and bent at the knees to produce a dead lift. The top partner pulls the bottom partner up with knees, back, and arm while the bottom partner helps by pulling on the arm and lifting with legs. Then this movement is reversed as the top partner slowly lets the bottom partner down onto his/her back. The partners move up and down from pulling up to being let down onto the back. The partner being lifted up can make it more balanced by having one leg straight and one leg bent to get up. Perform 5 – 10 repetitions with one arm then switch.
In conclusion, almost any exercise or movement can be done either as a single or partner drill. Both pushing and pulling exercises of the upper body are much easier to accomplish with a partner. And the resistance can be altered so that the training can be periodized. Core exercises can be done individually or with a partner to add some fun to the training. And compound leg exercises are easy to do with a partner.
Cogley et al., 2005, Comparison of muscle activation using various hand positions during the push-up exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 19(3):628-33.
García-Massó, et al., 2011, Myoelectric activation and kinetics of different plyometric push-up exercises, J Strength Cond Res. 25(7):2040-7.
Ebben, et al., 2001, Kinetic analysis of several variations of push-ups, J Strength Cond Res. 25(10):2891-4.
McGill, S. 2010, Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention, J Strength Cond Res. 32(3):33-46.
Schache A. 2012, Eccentric hamstring muscle training can prevent hamstring injuries in soccer players. J Physiother. 58(1):58.