Fix Your Pushups with This Unique Barbell Exercise

Fix Your Pushups With This Unique Barbell Chest and Core Exercise

Dr. Joel Seedman

If you’re looking for a unique way to overload your pushups and clean up your pushup technique you’ll want to give this a try.  Simply load two smaller plates on a barbell (one on each side) then perform pushups on a slicker surface such as smooth pavement or wooden platform.

Besides being a highly challenging core and pushup variation, the anti-rolling barbell pushup provides several unique benefits.   

1. It eliminates the sagging hip syndrome as it reinforces a tall hip and hollowed core position.  If you’re hips sag or drop or you lose core tightness the barbell will immediately begin to roll away from you.  In other words you’re required to resist extension forces as even the slightest lapse in core activation will result in extension particularly in the lumbar region. 

2. Another feature that makes the anti-rolling barbell pushup so effective is that the extension forces produced by the barbell attempting to rollout away from you are not only acting on the core musculature but also acting directly acting on the scapula and shoulder stabilizers.  If you don’t fully depress and retract your shoulder blades the bar will literally pull out and away from you leaving you plastered to the floor.  In other words you’re resisting overhead shoulder flexion.  

This component teaches the lifter to screw the elbows down and back while simultaneously using a pronated grip – a commonly problematic issue for many lifters. This does wonders not only for your pushup technique but also for bench press form as this movement has direct carryover due to the same gripping mechanics.  In fact, to stay locked in you may involuntarily feel like your pulling the bar apart- a common coaching cue used by elite level powerlifters to dial in their bench press form. 

3. The instability provided by the barbell is also another significant factor the lifter will be required to deal with.  Although there are significant anti extension forces that are attempting to pull the bar away from you, there are other smaller and more subtle stabilization components involved.  For example, if you use excessive momentum, cheat, shift, press asymmetrically or lose even the slightest degree of tightness the bar will begin to move and tilt in a very uncontrollable and unpredictable fashion often times with one side shifting more than the other depending on the asymmetry or muscular imbalance.  

In fact this same exercise can be performed with a band pulling horizontally on the barbell to create even greater extension forces on the spine (read more here).  However eliminating the band actually causes the barbell to be more unstable and unpredictable as the bar can roll and deviate in a variety of directions not to mention the larger and more obvious anti extension component still involved (but to a smaller degree than when the horizontal band resistance is used). 

4. To further increase the demands not only of the upper body but also of the core musculature try adding weight.  This emphasizes the anti-extension factor (instilling the hollowed core position even more) even more so.  However, there’s a trick for maximizing core activation.  Rather than placing the load high on the middle and upper back, the weight should be placed lower towards the center of mass near the hips and low back.  This has several unique benefits.  

First, it forces the lifter to keep the hips tall as a sagging hip position will cause the weights to slide down and off of the body.  The direct loading near the lumbar region also promotes greater anti-extension and activation in the core musculature as a means of resisting intense vertical forces acting directly on the spine. 

The low back and hip region also provides a perfect groove for the load to sit in without shifting especially when the individual is incorporating optimal spinal alignment with slight yet natural lumbar curvature. 

Another benefit of this loading is that the low back position tends to represent a slightly narrower area of mass than the upper back for most individuals.  Any lateral shifting of the hips, asymmetrical pressing, unilateral dipping of either hip, or wiggling of the torso produces a greater likelihood of the weights tilting and sliding off the side of your body.

To maximize the effects of this movement I recommend performing them in an eccentric isometric fashion (slow eccentric followed by a pause in the bottom position) to emphasize both intramuscular tension and movement mechanics.  Several sets of 4-8 reps will leave your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core feeling like you just did a massive workout with high volume and high intensity.  However the ensuing growth will be more than worth it.