Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pull to Push, Push to Pull

Your brain will tell you a pushup is a pushing exercise. Why not, right? You push up from the floor. You can't pull yourself to the floor. Or can you?

When I coach these, I cue the opposite.

When doing a pushing exercise, I teach people to "pull" the weight in to them, or themselves to the floor or bar.

For example, the barbell pushup. I cue people to "pull the bar to your chest" and "don't lower yourself or try to slow your descent, pull the bar forcefully to your chest."

You can see the people who do pushups by lowering themselves to the floor or bar. They flare out their elbows, the back gets loose, the chest gets tight, and they pick up their hips. They lower their head to the floor and drive their hands forward to avoid any extra elbow bend. It's not a natural motion. Think "pull yourself to the floor" or "pull the bar to you" and suddenly it's easier to stay rigid and complete the motion.


You engage the back muscles, who's job it is to pull things. They also function effectively as brakes, because you won't just go into free-fall towards the bar. They control your descent and stay stiff and strong as you do so.

Keeping the back muscles tight also allows them to act as springs, making the actual pushing portion of the exercise easier to do. You've loaded them up with tension in order to have a solid base to push off of. Keep them loose and you're pushing a rope - keep them tight and you're pushing a rigid pole.

Give this a try sometime. Consciously do it "wrong" - lower yourself to the floor or bar, using your chest and arms to do so. Then push away, without a tight back. Not fun, right? Hard exercise - and in the sense of "difficult to do" not "strenuous."

Then, try it with the cue to pull. Grab the bar or grab the floor with your hands. Pull yourself down, squeezing your upper back and biceps to get down there. Then spring back up to the top with your chest and triceps.

The difference should be night and day. You'll find you do stronger, smoother pushups (although they may be harder at first!) You will progress rapidly because you are engaging more muscles, in the right order and correct fashion, to complete the movement.

Try it and let me know how it works for you.

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