Use This Eccentric Pushup For Massive Strength and Size Gains

Use This Eccentric Potentiation Pushup For Massive Strength and Size Gains

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

Here’s one of my NFL Combine athletes Michael Montero performing an eccentric potentiation weighted pushup protocol using the ledge pushup technique.  The total weight on the eccentric phase (bodyweight included) is just over 500 lbs. while the concentric phase is slightly over 400 lbs. (external loading on the eccentric phase is well over 200 lbs and the concentric phase is 135 lbs.).

If you’ve read some of my latest articles then you know I’m a huge fan of negatives and eccentric training.  In fact one of my recent articles in which I outline the Power Rack Eccentric Potentiation technique (PREP) deals with applying negative or eccentric training to powerlifting movements such as squats and bench press.  As a recap, the PREP technique simply involves lowering a supramaximal load on the negative phase to pins set in a power rack, then having training partners strip weight off to allow a lighter and more explosive concentric phase to occur.  This technique can be applied almost identically to the pushups by having a partner place a dumbbell, kettlebell, or sandbag on your back during the negative phase of the pushup then immediately pulling that weight off to allow powerful completion of the concentric phase.  This does wonders for building functional strength and size.

When it comes to maximizing size in the pectorals the key is to take advantage of all three key mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy, namely mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.  However mechanical tension and muscle damage are arguably the most important mechanisms as these are the ones that involve overloading the fast twitch muscle fibers which have the greatest potential for strength and size gains.

To exploit the muscle damage and mechanical tension factors, the single most effective method you can employ is heavy negatives.  This is commonly done on heavy barbell movements like flat bench press however it’s just as effective when applied to pushups.  In fact by applying the concept to pushups, not only are the chest, shoulders, and triceps crushed, but the core and spinal stabilizers get pummeled as you’re essentially holding an incredibly heavy plank.

Numerous forms of research have shown that heavy negatives produce greater increases in size and strength than perhaps any other training protocol.  This is most likely because of the inordinate levels of muscular overload they force on the body thereby requiring the highest threshold motor units to fire at near maximum to support the load. 

By familiarizing the nervous system with supramaximal loads this also does wonders for increasing functional strength.  That means more size through myofibrillar hypertrophy.  In addition heavy overload typically maximizes the testosterone response associated with strength training.

Several sets of 3-5 repetitions will more than suffice as excessive muscle damage can actually impair recovery and growth.

On a side note you’ll want to make sure your pushup technique is spot on as heavy eccentric overload can spell disaster for your joints and connective tissue if your mechanics aren’t dialed in.

Once you’ve used heavier loads to trigger myofibrillar hypertrophy (functional growth due to the increase in number and size of the contractile units within the muscle) you’ll want to contrast this with lighter loads and continuous tension. This exploits sarcoplasmic hypertrophy through metabolic stress and cellular swelling.  In other words you’ll be pumping the muscle full of blood. 

Although there are a number of exercises that can be done to accomplish this (including higher rep sets of pushups and pressing exercises), movements that involve continuous or constant tension such as squeeze presses, cable flyes, machine flyes, constant tension partial presses, ring dips, and eccentric isometrics will be ideal.  To maximize this response you’ll want to use several higher rep sets to failure of 8-20 repetitions to engorge the muscles with as much blood and metabolites as possible.  You can also expect a nice hormonal boost with natural increases in growth hormone and IGF-1 levels from this form of high intensity training.

Eccentric Isometric Potentiation Hand Clap Pushups

The same method described above can also be applied to eccentric isometric hand clap pushups as shown here by NFL receiver and Atlanta Falcons player Julian Williams. 

For this exercise, Julian performs a controlled eccentric isometric pushup then after a 2 sec hold (which creates increased neural potentiation & motor unit recruitment), I take the plate off his back allowing him to explode up with max power.

Besides increasing power on the concentric, it’s also a great way to combine an explosive movement with a hypertrophy-inducing stimulus as eccentric overload is phenomenal for enhancing functional strength & hypertrophy not to mention injury prevention. Essentially we’re tricking the body by hyper-activating the CNS with the eccentric ultimately making the concentric feel that much lighter.

Another benefit is that this hyper-activation & increased neural drive transfers exceptionally well into the catch/landing phase where the lifter has to decelerate their body & absorb the impact of the catch. The extra load on the back also wakes up the core & spinal stabilizers reinforcing the idea of keeping the core tight & locked in on the catch phase which is where most lifters struggle with excessive lumbar extension.

Ledge Pushup Technique

The ledge pushup technique is a subtle modification however it’s incredibly effective at improving pushup mechanics mainly because the lifter does not have to concern themselves with knocking their face into the ground while using the standard hand-to-floor placement.  Although the upper torso and face should stop millimeters above the surface at the bottom of a standard pushup, you’ll often see individuals either pull the head up, sink their hips, or shorten their range of motion as a means of subconsciously avoiding any harm to their face. 

The ledge pushup eliminates that fear altogether allowing the individual to comfortably hone in on the ideal pushup mechanics without the concern of spoiling their good looks.  

Training Protocols

The eccentric potentiation pushup protocol can be quite intense therefore I recommend 2-3 sets of 4-5 reps per set as any more could produce excessive muscle damage and micro trauma.