The hard part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle. Now that you’re there, what are you going to do? This is where a lot of people get stuck but don’t worry, I’ve got your back.
This is part three of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that gives you the biggest bang for your buck in and outside the gym. If you need to go back in time, click on the links below.
Part Three- Pushing
This move is already installed in our hardware before you were born. You already know how to push yourself away from the floor when lying face down or push our friends and family out of the way when they are bothering us, without a second thought.
Pushing is a movement that we do daily so it makes perfect sense to strengthen this movement so we can remain injury-free and push aside anything this world can throw at us, just like Chuck Norris.
The pushing variations below are broken up into horizontal and vertical movements and are listed from easy to more difficult. When doing the following exercises, only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next progression.
The incline push-ups take gravity out of the equation and helps make push-ups easier when you’re starting out. This exercise allows you to build upper body and core strength while perfecting your pushup form. This exercise is made easier or harder by increasing or decreasing the incline. When doing this, use an incline that allows you to do 8-15 reps for 3 sets.
Single arm cable chest press
This exercise is performed with a band or cable machine. With a narrow base of support while lifting one side at a time, this exercise trains your core strength, balance, and irons out any strength imbalances you may have between your left and right sides.
But be careful when first doing this move because it’s easy to lose your balance. Use a weight that allows you to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps on both sides with good form.
Dumbbell bench press
Dumbbell and barbell bench press are similar movements with a few crucial differences. Pressing with dumbbells allows you to adjust your pressing angle by changing your hand position, giving you more freedom of movement.
This freedom means more instability which engages your rotator cuffs more. And this is a good thing if you have achy shoulders. Pressing with dumbbells makes it easier on your shoulder joints.
Barbell bench press
The barbell allows more resistance than dumbbells because the barbell is more stable. Both movements are great, but it depends on your comfort and strength level. Try both and see what works for you. The barbell locks you into a certain range of motion while the dumbbells allows you a little more freedom. If you have any shoulder issues, go with the dumbbell press before trying the barbell.
For both exercises, using a weight allows you to do 12 -15 reps for 2-3 sets. When you are feeling confident with your form, go heavier and perform between 6-12 reps for 2-4 sets
Please watch this video because there is more to it than meets the eye because push-ups are a moving front plank unlike any of the exercises above. That is why I feel push-ups are more difficult exercise than the bench press. All the regressions above help you build the required upper body/core strength to do push-ups with good form.
When you can perform more than 20 push ups with good form, adding resistance (in the form of bands) or difficulty (reducing stability, changing angles, or increasing tension) will keep you progressing.
Before attempting an overhead press, you need to be able to go overhead without compensations from the ribcage or lower back. To see if you have the required shoulder mobility for overhead pressing do the test below.
Back to the wall shoulder flexion 2 sets of 8 reps
If you’re unable to touch the wall without compensations, do a combination of weighted deadbugs, landmine presses and the above exercise to improve your ability to go overhead.
Weighted deadbugs 6-8 reps 2-3 sets
Single Arm Landmine Press
This is a hybrid movement, somewhere in between a vertical and horizontal press. Most gyms have a landmine but if they don’t, you can shove a towel and a barbell into a corner like below.
The trick of this exercise is to reach at the end of the movement. This will help improve shoulder mobility and health. If you’re new to this movement, start with a weight that allows you to do 8-12 reps for 3 sets.
Standing single arm shoulder press
I like the neutral hand position (palm facing inward) when pressing dumbbells overhead because it is a little safer for the shoulders and it targets the triceps more. Make sure to stand up straight and to press until your biceps by your ears.
A good rep range to start with is 3 sets of 8-15 reps on both sides. When you feel comfortable, progress to pressing with two dumbbells.
Half kneeling shoulder press
The half kneeling position makes this press a little trickier because it narrows your base of support. So, if you overarch the lower back while pressing, the floor and you may become one. And you don’t want that.
This is why it’s a good exercise to hone in your form because any hitches will give you instant feedback. Plus, the half kneeling position helps strengthen your glutes and open your hip flexors. Use a weight that allows you to do 3 sets of 8 reps on both sides with good form.
Barbell push press
The barbell push press uses a lower body dip to push the barbell overhead. It uses the triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips, which makes it a total body exercise. Plus, the lower body dip allows you to lift more weight overhead than the barbell overhead press below. More weight=more muscle.
Please do the pushing regressions beforehand to bulletproof your shoulders, core and pressing form before doing this. Start with 3 sets of 8-12 reps at lighter weight and when you’re ready, try 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps.
Strict barbell overhead press
The barbell overhead press strengthens all muscles of the shoulders which is rare with upper body strength moves. If you want bigger, stronger, and boulder shoulders, barbell overhead pressing is necessary for size and strength. The barbell overhead press variations lock you into a certain range of motion while the dumbbells allow you a little more freedom. If you have any shoulder issues, stick with dumbbell overhead and landmine presses.
Sticking with basics and the pushing progressions above will build a strong and bulletproof upper body that will have you leaping over buildings with a single bound. Look out Superman. There is a new sheriff in town.
If you are looking for a sensible exercise program to start after a layoff, I have a 6-week program called ‘Get Back in the Saddle’ that will give you a fantastic foundation to build on. You can buy it here