upper body

Some Female Pushup Goodness

A misconception I would like to blow out of the water today is that women should only perform pushups from their knees.  It seems that when some fitness instructors are working with females, and realize they can't do "normal" pushups from the feet, they resort to placing their knees on the ground. Not that there is never a time or a place for this, but I feel it's a misguided mindset, for two reasons:

  1. I've never seen a correlation between the number of pushups a woman can do from her knees versus the ability to perform a pushup from her feet (ex. even if a woman can do 25 pushups from the knees, she still may not be able to do a full pushup with the knees off the ground).  This is largely do to the heightened lumbo-pelvic stability suddenly required at the hips/torso when the knees are elevated.
  2. While subtle, it continues to perpetuate the notion that women should train differently than men and are destined to be "inferior," if you will, in the weight room.  I think we should set women up for success, and show them what they actually cando with some perseverance and proper coaching.

If we're trying to, oh I don't know, actually improve female's movement quality and help them become stronger (not to mention boost their confidence), we need to stop perpetuating this notion that the majority of women are doomed to eternally fail at the full-range pushup.

Granted, nature hasn't necessarily set women up to learn the pushup as quickly as most men, due to biomechanical factors. For example, females tend to have a higher "lower body mass:upper body mass" ratio compared to men (think of having a weight placed over your hips versus your shoulders in a pushup, this would make it much more difficult).

However, with some careful coaching and persistent practice, almost any female can obtain this. We coach girls who can perform better pushups than most men I see in commercial gyms, and these same girls couldn't do a single perfect pushup when they first started training at SAPT.  My guess is that if we had just resorted to having them do "knee pushups," they'd still be unable to do a proper pushup (not to mention received FAR less improvement in their preparedness for sport).

Below are some videos of a couple of our female athletes performing pushups.  I'm sharing these for two reasons:

  1. To show that it is definitely possible for a girl to do a full-range pushup after proper training (without them being eternally destined to do "knee pushups" as the media will often portray).
  2. These pushups completely destroy 95% of the pushups I see performed by men across the country.  Boys: you really aren't that cool! Let's be real here and save the bench press for when we can perform at least 25 perfect pushups without any technical breakdown.

Below is one of our volleyball players (13-years old, mind you), Kenzie, performing five flawless pushups, and then topping them off with some sandbag walkovers:

Note: when Kenzie first came to us, she had to do pushups with her hands elevated on a high mat, so she has come a long way!

Next is Kaleigh (a track athlete), performing them with a 25lb plate on her back.

Thirdly, is a video of Kelsey performing some awesome TRX pushups, with her feet elevated.

And, last but not least, is Lisa banging out some single-leg, foot-elevated pushups. Strong!

Now, what to do if she can't yet perform a full-range pushup?  One option is to only perform the eccentric (the lowering or "yielding" portion of the movement) as Maggie is doing in the video below.  Focusing on the eccentric portion is actually a pretty key factor in rapid strength gains, especially in beginners.

Now, if someone can't do eccentric pushups them from the floor (as most people can't, initially), then you could simply have them elevate their hands on a mat or bench to make it easier.

You can even have them perform PUPPs, in order to acclimate to the feeling of supporting their bodyweight in full pushup position.


There are many other tools you can use as well, but I trust this is enough to at least give the women in the crowd some motivation, and get you thinking about tools outside the knee pushup to work on your strength and movement quality.


Pushups and Backpacks

About six weeks ago, I made a decision that would be a nightmare for almost any male between the age of twelve and eighty: I nixed bench pressing from my training program. "Why" you ask? There are multiple reasons, but the primary reason being that I've had a pissed off shoulder for quite some time now, and benching (even correctly) certainly isn't going to help my situation. As such, here are just a couple of the things I've ensured to include in my programming:

  • LOTS of horizontal pulling, on top of other various exercises to make sure I'm hammering the external rotators, horizontal abductors, scapular depressors and scapular retractors. My guess is that, over time, via awful lifting technique throughout high school+college, benching too much, and not giving my shoulder enough tender love and care, my glenohumeral joint (where the upper arm bone connects to the shoulder joint) has shifted superiorly into the subacromial space. Basically, this = pain.
  • Made the Pushup my primary "horizontal push" exercise.

For any of you who have read my writing before, you know that I (and the entire SAPT staff) LOVE pushups. However, as the pushup is now my PRIMARY pressing movement, and no longer my accessory lift, I've had to become more creative on how to load it enough in order to achieve the strength stimulus I'm looking for. I don't have a weight vest, and I don't always have a training partner with me who can pile weights on my back.

That's where the backpack comes in. I realized that, conveniently, I have quite a large backpack I use for hiking trips. However, why settle for it being a unitasker? I've already used it for HICT, so why not fill it with some sandbags for some loaded pushups?

In the video below, I'm putting two sandbags (one is 60lbs, and the other is 45lbs) in the pack for a total of 105lbs added resistance. This is the first time I've tried the backpack, so I didn't want to risk falling on my face or having the bag slider over my head.

It ended up working way better than I thought, and I'm really excited to continue to experiment with loading it. Adding band resistance is certainly a viable way to load your pushups (as shown in the pushup article linked above) but I don't like to use it too often due to the eccentric stress it places on my elbows. Also, with the backpack, you have consistent loading throughout the entire movement (whereas the band resistance changes throughout the course of the exercise).

Anyway, for those of you who don't have a weight vest, this may be an option for loading your pushups. The sandbags I'm using in the video were purchased at home depot for just a few bucks, so they're way cheaper than weight plates for those of you who work out at home.


Suspended Pushup (with a twist) for an Added Challenge + Improved Shoulder Stability

The primary function of the rotator cuff (which many people often miss) is to center the humeral head in the glenoid fossa. In order to accomplish this, the dynamic stabilizers of the shoulder need to be on their "A" game. This is of special consideration when dealing with athletes, as the nature of competition is frequently an "open loop" scenario. See the video below for a pushup variation that incorporates some dynamic stabilization of the shoulder girdle. We named it "Suspended Pushup ISO Hold (with perturbations) into Repetitions."


A couple notes:

  1. Having a studly powerlifter give you perturbations during the ISO hold is optional, as the suspension straps inherently provide a stability challenge on their own.
  2. This exercise hits multiple birds with one stone. It will give you a tremendous challenge for your core (you're essentially holding a plank position for the entire time), give you a nice stretch for the pecs in the bottom, improve the ability of your rotator cuff to stabilize the humeral head (where your upper arm bone attaches to the shoulder joint), and develop your upper body strength. Sounds like a winner to me.
  3. As shown in the video, hold at the bottom for 10-20 seconds, and then move into the desired number of repetitions. Stay TIGHT in the bottom. Everything should be braced. Everything....
  4. Using the suspension straps is actually a fairly advanced progression of a pushup (especially if your feet are elevated, as shown). Be sure you master the ground-based pushups first.
  5. (Piggybacking off of #2) If you don't have access to suspension straps (or a partner), no problem! Holding a tight isometric at the bottom of a pushup (on the floor), and then moving into repetitions, can make a great way of taking on a new challenge if standard pushups have become a bit easy for you.
  6. You increase testosterone levels by 50% if you wear a "Do Work" shirt while performing these.

Just don't tear your shoulder in two....Stevo