Revitalize Your Pushup: #2 – Change Tempo

This post is a sequel to Revitalize Your Pushup: #1 – Add Load and discusses changing tempo to breathe new life into an old favorite.

2. Change Tempo

A) Increase Power Output

Recruiting more type II muscle fibers can also be achieved through increasing speed of movement at lower percentages of a one repetition maximum. Utilize low reps of explosive pushups to increase your upper body power output. Maintain quality in favor of quantity and ensure your strength, technique and shoulder health allow for safe absorption of force upon landing. Medicine ball chest passes can provide a great alternative for those not suited for plyometric pushups. An explosive concentric action can also be performed without actually leaving the floor.

B) Slow Down

Slowing down the pushup often exposes a slew of technical issues masked by speed of movement during faster reps. Compensations such as forward head posture, anterior humeral glide, poor scapular humeral rhythm, upper trap dominance, anterior tilt of both the pelvis and scapula, and many more typically surface when an athlete is forced to control his or her tempo. You can even take note of postural mistakes I unconsciously made during a deliberately slower eccentric component in Revitalize Your Pushup: #1 – Add LoadA pushup is a core exercise first and an upper body strength exercise second. No population has butchered this concept more than the military. Since leaving the service for coaching I would rather watch my own open heart surgery than witness the pushup portion of the PT test.

Slowing down the pushup also increases time under tension, an essential variable to increasing strength, endurance, and size. Be prepared for the impending pump and soreness. Combining a slow eccentric (lowering) with an explosive concentric (raising) yields the benefits of a slower tempo without cannibalizing strength and power. For a novice, slow pushups likely facilitate strength development, particularly during the eccentric phase. Meanwhile, a more experienced athlete can achieve longer time under tension to develop sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and endurance.

C) Add Pauses (Isometrics)

When an athlete struggles with specific positions, he or she will subconsciously (or consciously) blow through them because they are difficult or uncomfortable. Prescribing a pause in these positions forces an athlete to either demonstrate total command or learn an appreciation for his or her weak points. Pauses also allow time for a coach to correct postural errors while the athlete remains static.

A major proponent of systematically using tempo focused lifts is the University of Minnesota’s Cal Dietz, as discussed in his book Triphasic Training (written with Ben Peterson). Part of the coach’s recipe for success has been the layering of eccentric, isometric, and concentric components of weight training. The pushup represents only one of infinite lifts that can capitalize on this approach.


Revitalize Your Pushup: #1 – Add Load

If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always got

While I’m not a proponent of implementing variety just for the sake of variety into a training regimen, adding variation to timeless exercises forces further adaptation to a stimulus to which the body has otherwise grown stale. Perhaps the most classic example of an exercise in desperate need of revitalization for many athletes and fitness enthusiasts is the pushup. While there are many silly ways to make a pushup appear sexier, the options discussed below focus on training and not entertaining. None of the following variations exist in a vacuum and your desired training effect should always dictate exercise selection.

1. Add Load

A) Increase Resistance

For whatever unfortunate reason, people pride themselves on an ability to handle a large volume (number of reps) while often dismissing the value of increasing intensity by adding weight to their pushup. Throw on a vest or have a training partner place a couple of plates on your back next time pushups appear in your program – That shock you feel is the awakening of type II (strong, explosive) muscle fibers, something likely missing from your overused body weight routine. Ironically, your new found strength will increase your ability to handle higher reps too.

B) Implement Accommodating Resistance

Best popularized by Louie Simmons and his famous Westside Barbell gym, the concept of accommodating resistance loads an exercise in a way that corresponds with the strength curve, with less resistance applied during the range of motion where the athlete is weakest and more where he or she is strongest. Chains and bands are two excellent means of implementing accommodating resistance during a pushup. Both more aggressively load the lockout than they do the less advantaged bottom portion of the movement.

Check back in for future posts where I discuss four more options for revitalizing this classic training staple.

Revitalize Your Pushup: #2 – Change Tempo

Specializing in Specific Specificity

Nothing is more sport specific than the sport itself 

Perhaps the biggest mistake made by amateur and tactical athletes as well as young, well-meaning coaches is to obsess over recreating the physical demands of the sport or job by overloading identical movements in the weight room. While a need for specificity certainly exists, there are both appropriate and inappropriate ways and times to incorporate this necessary element of training. Specificity can prove crucial to carrying over the weight room to the field of play, but often overlooked is the importance of offsetting or undoing the damage done by these movements to increase longevity and stave off injuries commonly caused by their repetitive nature. Discussed below are two times to consider dialing down specificity in supplemental physical training.

1. Technical Breakdown


A) Due to Excessive Overload

One time when breakdown occurs is when an excessive load can not be moved with technical proficiency. Under these circumstances, compensatory movement replaces the neuromuscular efficiency necessary to achieve the desired training effect. Baseball pitchers with smart coaches only implement weighted baseballs once they have command of their technique, and even then the weighted ball is never heavy enough to alter their pitching mechanics. Coaches can more aggressively overload similar movements instead of identical ones. A baseball example would be medicine ball throws that incorporate rotational patterns and hip drive but are different enough not interfere with the skill of pitching itself.

This breakdown due to excessive overload also occurs when ego outweighs ability in arenas such as novices in Olympic weightlifting and power lifting. Lifting an inappropriate amount of weight haphazardly might impress your Facebook friends but it’s detrimental to true strength and power gains, not to mention puts you at unnecessary risk of injury.


B) Due to Fatigue

Another occurrence of technical breakdown typically occurs as a result of fatigue. Sports such as Crossfit have popularized the perils of what can happen when task completion becomes more important than execution. I fully understand the importance of mental fortitude in tactical and athletic environments but there are smarter ways to train it without degrading the quality of central nervous system intensive exercises. Be careful not to confuse training with competing or testing. The means is not an end in itself.

2. While in Season 


The “season” can be defined as just that for traditional athletes or a deployment / busy season for the tactical variety. When the skills enhanced by weight room activities in the off-season or training cycle become utilized by the sport or profession, it’s time to scale back those skills in the weight room. Decrease the load volume (number of reps x weight per rep) and maintain intensity (load, speed of movement) to keep your strength and power output high without emptying the tank. You would not want to knock out a training session with 10 sets of 10 weighted lunges the day prior to a 12k infil over mountainous terrain. Instead, load 3 sets of 4 heavy squats and call it a day. You’ll keep your strength as well as spare your stamina for the impending physical demands. Similarly, a pitcher would not want to throw a high volume of explosive medicine ball work in anticipation of pitching six innings. Stopping after a couple of short sets just to maintain power would be more appropriate.

In Closing

Famous Soviet hammer thrower and coach Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk discusses the undeniable value of specificity in exercise selection in his book Transfer of Training in Sports. While the contribution of specificity proves indisputable, its application must be infused intelligently with a prioritized respect for the bigger picture. Do not grossly overload movements identical to the skill an exercise aims to enhance. Heed caution when risking technical proficiency for the sake of task completion while fatigued. Finally, reduce the implementation of specificity off the field when there are competing demands on the field. Now that you know what you shouldn’t do in the realm of specificity, I will soon discuss what you should do in the upcoming blog Offset Wisely with Off Field and Off Season Training.

Maintaining Movements

Inverted Split Gymnast

As the blog title “Movement Project” obviously implies, I highly value the capacity and quality of movement in my coaching philosophy. Many famous, modern advocates of a movement based approach to athletic and fitness development such as (but certainly not limited to) Mark Verstegen, Alwyn Cosgrove and  Michael Boyle have contributed to its popularization. I admittedly follow their lead and appreciate the foundation they’ve provided me in my approach to training (big thanks to David Wheeler of SUP Strength for initially steering me in the right direction). However, the more specific a sport/fitness goal or the closer an athlete gets to competition, the less additional exercises facilitate success. In fact, high volume and intensity of additional movements can sometimes prove detrimental to achieving the desired result. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to maintain critical human movements without interfering with the primary purpose of training.

1. Bodyweight Warmup or Cooldown

Deloaded movements executed during a warmup, cooldown or recovery day can help keep the mind body connection necessary to easily reintroduce them in higher volumes and intensities when deemed more appropriate to the program. Single leg movements such as hip hinging, lunging and squatting can easily be plugged into a warmup that precedes or follows a session dominated by lower body bilateral movements such as squatting and deadlifting. Deloaded upper body exercises can also help maintain mobility and stability of the shoulder complex (to include t-spine). Eric Cressey uses exercises like yoga pushups and wall slides to maintain an overhead training effect in his overhead athletes without putting million dollar shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands at risk.


2. Light Complexes

For athletes with a solid foundation of strength, technical proficiency and work capacity, light complexes offer an excellent warmup opportunity for maintaining movement proficiency. Kettlebells, medicine balls, dumbbells, body weight, and several other tools offer dynamic means of incorporating every conceivable movement into a training session without negatively impacting the more CNS intensive activities with bigger payoff.


3. Conditioning

Short conditioning sets to finish a training session offer an excellent opportunity to plug in movements that typically take a backseat to the primary emphasis of training, especially when improving body composition can contribute to athletic success. Rotational and primarily concentric exercises (ropes, sled, medball) are a couple of my favorites for integrating dynamic movements often dismissed in favor more result driven exercise selection. Concentric exercises have also been shown to create less residual soreness, an important consideration prior to competition or another demanding day of training.


In Closing

Whether training for a powerlifting meet or closing in on a half marathon, maintaining “functional” human movements can help you avoid injury and set you up for future training success. The three suggestions above are just a few of the techniques available for plugging in auxiliary training components without negating the hard work you or your athletes are investing in more sport specific skills.

What are some ways that YOU find effective for maintaining capacity and quality of movement while training toward a skill intensive goal?

Value of a Workout


“If you want pain, learn Muay Thai. If you want to learn about failure, play golf. If you want to vomit, drink syrup of ipecac. If you want to become stronger and more fit, train appropriately”

– Brian Petty, RKC (extracted from Easy Strength by Dan John and Pavel)

All strength coach’s (as worth their salt as McDonald’s french fries) passionately share Petty’s disdain for confusing the nearsighted approach of exhausting workouts with the intelligent farsightedness needed to achieve peak performance. Any fool off the street can reach into a bag of sweaty tricks, pull out a random assortment of soul sucking exercises, assign an insurmountable amount of sets and reps to them, start the timer and name his newborn coaching genius after his 7th grade girlfriend. However, not all “workouts” are extreme – some are simply random or possibly mundanely routine. Other than caloric expenditure, what value could any of these workouts possibly lend to athletes of any type? Most coaches would argue none. To play my own devil’s advocate, I’m going to admit that there is some value in the occasional gut wrenching sweat session or return to a lame routine, so long as these are very few and far between, and the athlete and coach alike recognize the high risk involved in earning such little reward. The more an athlete has at stake and the closer to competition, the less appropriate these shortsighted workouts become. Understand that there are HUGE asterisks attached to these observations and proceed with caution.


Caloric Expenditure

Not every average Joe athlete that strolls into the gym is training for any purpose beyond burning some calories by moving more than he or she does during their 9 to 5. WODs, the elliptical, or even prancercise increase the heart rate and at least get people moving, a concept becoming increasingly foreign to today’s sedentary society. I’ll take stupid movement over none at all.


While coaches choose specific metrics to measure the training progress of our athletes, many of our athletes prefer to evaluate themselves through their ability to handle the mental, physical, and emotional demands of challenging workouts. They like to see how they stack up against fellow athletes as well as themselves from a former life.

Routine Restoration

Athletes find comfort in performing workout staples from before the days when they learned how to train smarter. This theory helps explain why Monday is International Bench Press Day and why many who’ve missed a significant amount of training time begin again with old favorites.

Stress Relief

Athletes battle stress daily. They don’t always want to stare down the barrel of a program loaded with sets, reps, and performance outcomes. Sometimes they just want to breathe heavily and sweat profusely to help them breathe easier and sweat less in response to the negative stresses of their personal and professional lives.

Mental Fortitude

5th quarter conditioning does not necessarily make an athlete more physically prepared to handle overtime or unpredictable circumstances. But pain is the brain’s interpretation of a stimuli and positively changing how this stimuli is perceived when it is received can encourage a more favorable physical response to future occurences.

Relationship Building

It’s no secret that CrossFit style gyms thrive on their sense of community among the members, not only within each facility but among geographically separated ones as well. They maintain this transcendent comradery because of benchmark workouts such as Murph (see above), Fran, and Helen. The collective suffering forges friendships in similar manner to basic military training. Social media now facilitates the sharing of these experiences.

In Closing

Sometimes a workout is in fact an end in itself, particularly in less athletic populations. Workouts for all of the above stated purposes can be executed safely. Coaches must establish left and right limits based on the risk tolerance of the population they train. I am not as much promoting their existence as I am seeking to understand it.