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


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?