Most outdoor athletes lack upper body pushing strength. That not only hinders performance, but can also lead to imbalances and injury. The simplest way to remedy the problem: pushups.
Sure, you could do the classic military-style move. But you'll get a more bomb-proof physique faster by performing more effective variations. In fact, the following five alternatives—courtesy of Marco Sanchez, the assistant strength and conditioning coach of the San Jose Sharks—will not only help you build strength in areas where it counts out in the field, they’ll also improve your mobility. The result: You’ll perform better, no matter your sport.
Lateral Crawl Pushup
This pushup tasks you with crawling side-to-side between reps. “To do that you have to use your core to fight rotation,” says Sanchez. “And you also have to stabilize your shoulders.” Locking down those two areas is key to avoiding injury while moving fast.
The exercise also forces you to do a movement you probably haven’t done in years: crawling. It might feel awkward at first, but it gives you a new movement stimulus, which can improve your athleticism by forcing your brain to make new connections with your muscles.
Form tips: Keeping your body perfectly straight, do a pushup. Then crawl two “steps” to the right, “stepping” with your opposite hand and leg. Do another pushup, then repeat, this time going left.
Pushup with Hip Flexion
“Most people can’t dissociate flexing their hips and flexing their back,” says Sanchez. And bending at your back instead of your hips can set you up for low back injury in a ton of athletic movements, such as skiing, climbing, or even just picking up gear.
This variation teaches you to extend your hips, while locking down and stabilizing your core and back, keeping you pain and injury free.
Form tips: Get into pushup position with your right foot on a Valslide or paper plate (do this exercise on carpet). Perform a pushup, keeping your body perfectly straight. Keep your back straight as you slide your right foot forward so your right knee is under your stomach. Return to start. That’s one rep. Do all your reps on your right, then repeat with your left leg.
Blame sitting too much, but your hips are probably tight. And that can throw off nearly any lower body movement you do, whether you’re lifting or running.
This pushup tasks you with moving your legs and pelvis in a way that improves your hip flexibility, says Sanchez.
Form tips: Perform a pushup. Then step your right foot just outside your right arm. You should feel a stretch in your hips. Reverse and repeat, this time moving your left foot outside your left hand.
Shoulder Tap Pushups
If you want to build balance and stability from the hips up, try this variation. It works because you have to pack your shoulder and lock down your core so you don’t twist, says Sanchez. That makes it especially great for climbers.
Form tips: Perform a pushup, your body perfectly straight throughout. At the top, lock down your core, and slowly touch your right shoulder with your left hand. Return to the pushup position and repeat, this time touching your left shoulder with your right hand.
Renegade Row Pushup
One you’ve mastered the shoulder tap pushups, progress to this killer variation. It not only works your core and shoulders to a greater degree, says Sanchez. “But it also works the pulling muscles in your back.”
That makes it more of a total body exercise—one that’s especially great for sports that require strong back muscles, such as climbing and paddling.
Form tips: Do each rep deliberately. Perform the pushup, then lock down your core and slowly bring the dumbbell in your right hand up to your chest. Pause, then return the dumbbell to the ground and repeat, this time lifting the dumbbell in your left hand.
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