View Full Version : Upper body strength: developing the pushup.

Jason Barrow
05-07-2009, 03:08 PM
Hi all,

I'll start with a thank you offered to no-one in particular: if you post here, then I'm talking to you! Been visiting the forum for a number of weeks and there's so much solid information/discussion flying about- I figured I should express some gratitude as I've pretty much been feeding of the site!

Anyway.....I'm a trainer/coach currently working out of a fairly generic gym. It's my first position out of university, I've been there around 18 months and it's safe to say it's been a fairly steep learning curve. Especially after discovering CF which led me here (and to the hybrid training thread!) and then paleo, IF etc, etc. My point is that I don't view training/fitness the way I use to and I definitely don't approach my clients in the same way!

On that note, I've taken a real interest, particularly with my female clients, in developing better competency with bodyweight movements. I'm curious, however, as to the best approach to developing the pushup?

Currently my colleagues and I are playing around with a tiered approach, using boards to reduce the depth/range of movement. Once a client is strong at a particular depth, we remove a board. Depending on their starting point, we'll work this from kneeling progressing to full extension on the toes. But a concern is that we're working in a shorted ROM and therefore the transference to a fuller ROM will be somewhat negligable? I wonder if full ROM worked at an incline and then getting progressively lower would be better?

I've also begun to form the opinion that, when working towards competency wth the pushup I would say 10+) working under load i.e. bench press, is best avoided? IMO there's no point working with external resistance as it were if we can't press our own body off the floor?! We've got all the resistance we need to work with right there!!!

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated! (and apologies for the long-winded post!)


Dave Van Skike
05-07-2009, 03:23 PM
i've seen a lot of trainers using blast straps or rings to get women working the pushup becuase:

1) they are harder than pushups BUT

2) the angle of inclination and thus load can be adjusted from something slightly less than full vertical all the way to full horizontal.

3) they really reinforce scapula stabilty which is the key to any press.

Sara Fleming
05-07-2009, 03:50 PM
I prefer that my ladies use their entire body, not go to knees, so I have them do their pushups off an Olympic bar raised on pins at different heights. My main reason is to challenge the core more. Holding the body completely rigid during the pushup is a core challenge and it is often the exhaustion of the core that drives them to their knees or a higher bar. At home, I instruct them to use their stairs and move down a step when they get stronger.

If you are at a gym with a Smith machine, this is the perfect use for it, the easily adjusted bar for a variety of heights. Another advantage of the bar is that it allows them to hook their thumb around it which puts less stress on the wrist as well. Full pushups can aggravate a newb's wrist's pretty quickly. Likewise, the Smith machine is a great tool to hang from for adjustable height bodyrows.

Steven Low
05-07-2009, 04:29 PM
Try both (rings, bar) of the above approaches with your clients and see which one they prefer. Both are effective.

I personally like rings... I think it brings up strength faster because of more overall neural activation required in stabilization.

Garrett Smith
05-07-2009, 04:35 PM
Elevating push-ups while still using full ROM is one of the best uses of the Smith machine, that and for horizontal/body rows...

Also, with newbies to push-ups, don't let them build the bad habit of "high elbows"...keep the elbows 45 degrees or less away from the torso.

Patrick Donnelly
05-07-2009, 05:13 PM
A set of stairs also works well for adjustability when a client wants to practice push-ups at home.

Darryl Shaw
05-08-2009, 06:25 AM
The much maligned Swiss ball can be a useful tool for teaching someone with poor upper-body/core strength how to do push-ups as the inherant instability forces them to activate their core. You just start them out with the ball under their hips or thighs until they begin to get a feel for the exercise then it's simply a matter of encouraging them to work towards resting their feet then toes on the ball.

Mike ODonnell
05-08-2009, 07:21 AM
Angular is the way to go with whatever you have access too (rings, boards, smith machine bar)....kneeling is not.

Also tell them to practice on their own but only doing sets of 5 or less around the house on the stairs, back of the couch...whatever it is, but stress full ROM....let them GTG (grease the groove as Pavel would call it).

Jason Barrow
05-22-2009, 06:23 AM
Apologies for taking a while to post a response guys, in the process of moving to a new apartment, things have been a bit hectic. Add to that the fact that my laptop starting emitting smoke whilst using....bad times!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks to all who took the time to post. I've made a move towards weaning people of their knees and onto more angular progressions. So far, so good!

Thanks again,

Craig Brown
05-22-2009, 08:11 AM
Jason, I've also had good luck with just getting people doing planks on hands or forearms- the middsection 'droop' eats a ton of energy which makes it harder to do push ups. Also why I like the angular approach.

Ben Reynolds
07-14-2009, 07:03 AM
It seems to me that isometrics would help. I would start with planks for 30 seconds, work up to planks on hands, and ultimately train holding the pushup in bottom position right above the floor.

Knee pushups are somewhat of a problem in my experience. Bad knees can get injured by strain on the knee cap.