Master Your Pushups and Core Strength With This Technique
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
As most of you know I’m a huge fan of using horizontal band resistance and various forms of RNT (Reactive Neuromuscular Training) to improve body mechanics and optimize movement patterns. I’ve employed this technique on a variety of lifts including deadlifts, presses, squats. rows, lunges, hinges, and more. However, I’ve also found the horizontal band technique to be highly effective when applied to pushups and planks (read more about Proper Pushup Form Here). Here are several of my awesome clients including Leslie Petch, Ben Lai, and Elizabeth Yates demonstrating them.
Adding in an anti-rolling component by employing medicine balls, Swiss balls, and barbells in conjunction with the horizontal band resistance provides several unique benefits for enhancing pushups and plank mechanics. Here’s how.
1. It eliminates the sagging hip syndrome as it reinforces a tall hip and hollowed core position. In essence the amount of anti-extension is exponentially magnified due to your body continuously resisting extension forces created from the band pulling on the ball(s) or bar. Even a momentary lapse in core activation will result in sagging hips and loss of control with your body collapsing to the ground.
2. Another feature that makes these anti-rolling pushups so effective is that the extension forces (produced from a combination of the band pulling against the ball/bar) not only recruit the core but act directly on the scapula and shoulder stabilizers. If you don’t fully depress and retract your shoulder blades by aggressively firing your lats, your arms will literally pull out in front and away from you leaving you plastered to the floor. In other words you’re resisting overhead/ anterior shoulder flexion for the entire duration of the set.
3. The aforementioned factors teach the lifter to screw the elbows down and back while simultaneously using a pronated grip which is a common problem even for advanced lifters. This does wonders not only for your pushup technique but also for enhancing bench press form as this movement has direct carryover due to the similar hand position (overhand or pronated grip).
4. To further increase the demands of the upper body and core musculature use additional load in the form of bands, chains, or weight plates. This emphasizes the anti-extension factor even further by reinforcing the hollowed core position to a greater degree. The trick for maximizing core activation is placing the weight lower towards the center of mass near the hips and low back rather than placing the load high on the middle and upper back. This has several unique benefits.
First, this 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. In addition, 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.
The fourth and final benefit of this loading method 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.
Before you hop into the pushup variations I recommend starting with plank variations and learning to control your body as demonstrated by my awesome client Michael Horner.
The key here is to resist extension forces by keeping the hips tall (requiring anterior core and hip flexor activation) as well as firing the lats and shoulder stabilizers. It looks fairly simple and harmless but the degree of intramuscular tension throughout your body is incredibly high. Also make sure to position your body at least several feet behind the anchor point rather than too close. This produces significant stretch and tension in the bands, which further promotes anti-extension and shoulder stabilization.
Once you can lock the planks in, progress to the pushup variations by incorporating eccentric isometric variations (slow eccentric followed by a pause in the bottom position). This helps the lifter fine-tune their mechanics through enhance proprioceptive feedback.
You can also perform these pushups and planks in a single leg fashion to work on rotary stability, anti-rotation, and core activation as demonstrated by my awesome client Leslie Petch.
To read more about unique pushup variations check out this article.