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 Load. A 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.