One Exercise To Rule Them All

One Exercise To Rule Them All: Eccentric Accentuated Push Press

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

I frequently run into a scenario where a client, athlete, or social media follower asks me the age-old iron game question. 

“If I could only choose one exercise and one exercise only (for whatever reason), what would it be?”

This is always a difficult question to answer because inevitably most people will not agree with your response.  In addition, you’re inevitably forced to eliminate some of the most effective exercises in existence just for the sake of choosing one movement.  With that said, lets start with my top 5 choices, narrow it down to my number 1 selection, then I’ll explain my reasoning in the following paragraphs. 

My top 5 in no particular order would look something like the following:

  • Reeves trap bar deadlift
  • Eccentric isometric Zercher squat
  • Hang snatch below the knee
  • Eccentric accentuated push press 
  • Overhead squat

With that said if I had to choose only one exercise from this list it would be the eccentric accentuated push press.   Here’s what that looks like

However, if I had to get even more specific I would probably chose a single arm eccentric accentuated version of the push press as it literally targets nearly every performance attribute and biomotor capability in the body. 

Yes, I know many of you won’t agree, but allow me to explain my reasoning in more detail.

The push press is one of the all-time great strength and power movements.  However, the single arm dumbbell version, particularly when combined with an eccentric accentuated protocol, turns this classic move into one of the most effective full body exercises there is.  Think of these as heavy negatives for the upper body but instead of having a spotter help you lift the weight on the concentric phase, your legs will assist you instead. Few if any lifters employ this protocol, which is unfortunate as every type of trainee including bodybuilders, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, strongman competitors, CrossFit athletes and even weekend warriors have much to gain from this.  Here’s why:

By combining explosive leg drive, core stability, and upper-body strength, the push press effectively targets the entire body from head to toe. When performed as a unilateral movement this creates a strong stimulus for anti-lateral flexion and rotary stability as the entire core must work overtime to stabilize the offset loading.  In essence it feels like you’re performing a side plank and Pallof press all while performing a dynamic overhead movement. This can pay dividends not only in terms of improving spinal health and posture but also in terms of teaching you to lock your core in on other heavy compound movements.

Furthermore, because the entire lower body is recruited to assist only one arm this typically allows greater overload to be used even in comparison to a double arm dumbbell push press. As a result this produces significant levels of functional strength and hypertrophy throughout the entire upper body including the shoulders, traps, upper back, and arms.  In addition, because the load should be greater than what you would typically handle under strict press conditions, performing these with a controlled negative will only enhance the growth-inducing benefits even further. Simply put, the single arm eccentric accentuated push press maximizes all 3 mechanisms of muscular hypertrophy namely muscle damage, mechanical tension, and metabolic stress.

The single arm eccentric accentuated push press also provides the perfect blend of full body stability and shoulder mobility as the lifter must learn to stabilize and control a supramaximal load in an overhead slot position.  This can do wonders for improving shoulder function and reducing the risk of injuries to the entire shoulder complex. In addition, once you return to traditional barbell push presses you’ll feel incredibly dialed in with a greater capacity to not only lift heavier loads but to control the entire movement as well.  Similarly Olympic lifters can benefit greatly from these as they’ll find significant transfer to the snatch and jerk.

The single arm eccentric accentuated push press also exposes and addresses a multitude of asymmetries and imbalance.  Don’t be surprised if you find the movement to be substantially more challenging on one side of the body.  However, consistently performing this movement and mastering the mechanics will do wonders for cleaning up various imbalances and asymmetries not to mention build herculean strength.

As an added bonus, these are inordinately brutal from a conditioning standpoint as you’ll feel like you just ran several max effort sprints after just one set.  As a result these can be used not only to build strength and muscle mass but also to improve work capacity, conditioning, body composition, and even mental toughness.

Lastly, the single arm eccentric accentuated push press is one of the most user friendly and easy-to-teach full body power movements there is.  In contrast, the barbell push press, snatches, overhead squats, and other barbell movements tend to require a greater learning curve making them less conducive for certain populations.  The single arm push press can be taught to a relative newbie literally in a matter of minutes.

So there you have it.  Yes, most of you reading this probably won’t agree with my selection, however the above explanation should at least somewhat convince you as to why the single arm eccentric accentuated push press is a movement you should periodically incorporate into your routine.   With that said I’m curious to hear what other people’s top exercise would be.  Feel free to comment below.