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Technique and Training

Whole-Body Tension for More Speed in the Water

Mastering the art of the push-up and beyond: horizontal pushing progressions

Chris Ritter | September 18, 2015

To properly perform a push-up, you must keep complete tension throughout your body. There aren’t many exercises that require this tension. This type of movement isn’t just about developing the chest or upper body strength—it’s also about learning to integrate your whole body into a movement and accessing strength through whole-body tension. When you learn to activate your whole body at that level, you’ll become more streamlined and faster in the water.

Review

If you’re unfamiliar with the different categories that your strength program should cover be sure to review, Strength Training: A Balanced Approach.

Here are the categories that you should train consistently for a balanced program with a focus on injury reduction and performance enhancement:

In this article, we’re reviewing the first bullet point, specifically, pushing movements done in a horizontal position. I’ll explain how you can progress to doing a “full” push-up and even more advanced versions.

Important: Before you begin, review the videos of all of the exercises and progressions so you can be sure you understand all of the movements and variations. Be sure to consult a qualified trainer or strength and conditioning coach if you are new to strength training.

Assessment

To assess your ability in a pushing movement such as the push-up, start in the up position of the push-up. Pay attention to how long it takes you to perform up to five reps—pushing as slowly as possible while moving continuously. Stop the time if you complete five reps, fail on an attempt, or stop continuously moving. If you weren’t able to make it to 40 seconds or longer on this test, start with the Level 1 exercises. If your assessment test took more than 40 seconds, you can begin at Level 2, but bear in mind that starting with Level 1 will still be beneficial.

Level 1

In the beginning stages, you’re learning to not only develop strength and control your pushing movements, but you’re also incorporating your core and whole-body tension while you perform the movement.

  • Single-arm Chest Press + Dumbbell. Lie on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. While keeping your back and hips on the bench at all times, push the dumbbell up from your shoulder—pushing up toward the ceiling—until your arm is straight overhead. Lower the weight back down slowly, all the while trying to keep the weight over your shoulder.
  • Dropdown Push-up. Start in the up position for a push-up and then slowly lower yourself as slowly as possible until you’re all the way down on the ground. Once there, you can use your knees and raise yourself back up to the starting position. You’re only working on the lowering part of the movement. Keep your hips, shoulders, and head all in a straight line throughout the movement. Your head should always be in front of your hands and fingers during the movement. Perform four to six reps as slowly as possible.
  • Push-up. Start in the up position for a push-up and then slowly lower yourself until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Then, push your hands through the ground to get back to the starting position. Keep your hips, shoulders, and head all in a straight line throughout the movement. Your head should always be in front of your hands and fingers during the movement. Perform six to 15 reps.

Level 2

Once you’ve mastered proper push-up technique, you can start increasing the intensity with these exercises.

  • Single-leg Push-up. Start in the up position for a push-up with one foot off the ground about 6 inches and then slowly lower yourself until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Then, push your hands through the ground to get back to the starting position. Keep your hips, shoulders, and head all in a straight line throughout the movement. Your head should always be in front of your hands and fingers during the movement. Perform 6 to 15 reps with each leg up in the air.
  • Push-up to Twist. Start in the up position for a push-up and then slowly lower yourself until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Then, push your hands through the ground to get back to the starting position. As you’re nearing the top position, twist so that you raise your left hand off the ground and have a straight line from your right arm through your head and into your left arm. After holding this position for a second or so, return the hand back to the ground to perform another push-up. Keep your hips, shoulders, and head all in a straight line throughout the movement. Your head should always be in front of your hands and fingers during the movement. Perform 12 to 30 reps total alternating sides.
  • Chest Press + Dumbell. Lie on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. While keeping your back and hips on the bench at all times, push the dumbbell up from your shoulder—pushing up toward the ceiling—until your arm is straight overhead. Lower the weight back down all the while trying to keep the weight over your shoulder.

Remember to watch the videos of all of these exercises to ensure that you’re performing them correctly.

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About the Author—Chris Ritter

Chris Ritter is the founder of RITTER Sports Performance online training programs and the author of the e-book, SURGE STRENGTH, which details how to strength train specifically for swimming performance. Ritter, a swimmer himself, has a degree in kinesiology and exercise science and he specializes in training athletes of diverse abilities, ranging from beginners to Olympians. Follow him on Twitter @RITTERSP or like his Facebook page for updates and training tips.

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