Interesting article in a recent Strength and Conditioning Journal article that reviewed the research pertaining to “The Biomechanics of the Push-up: Implications for Resistance Training Programs.”    A  couple of takeaways:


Table of Push-up variations for novice, intermediate, and advanced exercisers:

Novice variations
:  Wall push-up; Torso-elevated push-up; knee push-up

Intermediate Variations: Standard; Wide base; Narrow base; Rapid countermovement;   Torso-shifted forward; Torso-shifted rearward; Feet-elevated; Upper-body suspended (e.g. TRX); Hands on stability or BOSU ball; Perfect Pushup; Handle grip; Fall (from knees); staggered base; alternating side-to-side; one legged; between-bench

Advanced Variations: Clapping; Self-assisted one-arm; One arm; Weighted vest; Weighted
(plates on back); Elastic band-resisted; Chain (draped over back)

Interesting tid-bits:
Wide base activates the pectoralis major to a greater degree than other positions, narrow base optimizes activation of the triceps.

It’s more challenging and demanding for shoulder girdle stabilizers to perform push-ups with feet elevated on a bench and hands on ground than with hands on stability ball and
feet on floor.

Hands on the stability ball significantly increased activation of triceps, also increased pec, rectus abdominis, and external oblique activation compared to pushups on a bench from
same angle.

The “Perfect Pushup” handgrips do not seem to increase muscular recruitment when compared to standard pushups.  (If you buy these, you should probably by a Shake Weight to go with it).

Clapping pushups outperform standard, slow eccentric, 1 hand on med ball, staggered hands, hands on 2 balls, 2 hands on 1 ball, rapid countermovement, 1 arm, and alternating
plyometric variations in pec major and triceps activity.  

Bottom line is that you only probably need 3 variations for maximum effect – standard, hands and feet on the ground; feet elevated on a bench; or Clapping push-ups if you’re really advanced.   All the other equipment, balls, handles and gizmos are interesting variations to keep things from getting stale (and help sell corner-filling dust-gatherers), but they aren’t necessary if you’re just looking for results.  Sure it’s not sexy and awe-inspiring to just drop down and bang out sets of pushups on the floor, but very few things in life are.  Keep it simple.

(Original article can be found in the Strength and Conditioning Journal, Vol 34, #5, Oct 2012, www.nsca.scj.com)

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