The Push-up System

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A soldier performs a hand-release push-up during the Army combat fitness test.
Capt. Anthony Duong, 520th Medical Company (Area Support), performs the hand-release push-up event during the Army combat fitness test at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., June 17, 2021. (Spc. Austin Tippit/U.S. Army photo)

I receive at least one email per day from someone seeking to improve their push-up performance. Some may be trying to do 10 push-ups, while others are attempting to get more than 100 push-ups in a two-minute period to ace their physical fitness test (PFT) requirements.

Over the years, I have developed several methods to increase push-ups and have written articles on ways to implement them into your training plan. I always use the shoulder workout (below) as a push-up supplement to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder, which will help you increase your push-up repetitions. The articles below discuss advanced methods and training techniques for beginners seeking to add push-ups to their program:

One of my former Navy SEAL buddies, Alden Mills, has developed a new device that enables beginner and advanced push-up performers to increase strength and PFT repetitions while stabilizing the shoulder joint.

Speaking to Mills about the Perfect Pushup, he stated that "you are only as strong as your stabilizing muscles." In the case of the push-up, the rotator cuff muscles stabilize your shoulder. You also will work your chest, deltoid, and triceps, and your abdominal, upper-back and lower-back/hip muscles will be engaged during a push-up. That is why when people with shoulder or lower-back issues attempt to do push-ups, their form will suffer, which could lead to injuring any of the above muscles or related joints.

The Perfect Pushup allows you to work the stabilizing muscles of the shoulders, and Mills' program sets you on a path to performing push-ups with a new twist. The Perfect Pushup is basically "push-up bars," but they are free-spinning and allow your wrist and shoulder to rotate slightly so you can engage the shoulder muscles better.

I find the Perfect Pushup to be nearly three times harder than a regular push-up. I put the Perfect Pushup to a test in a workout called Swim PT, where I rotate about 5-10 sets of swimming (or running) mixed with PT/weight exercises: 

  • Swim 200-250 meters, jump out of the pool and perform:
  • 40-50 push-ups,
  • 50 abs of choice and throw in some:
  • Military press 10-15 reps
  • Biceps curls 10-15 reps, with a set of dumbbells on the pool deck. 

When doing normal push-ups in this workout, I usually crank out 40-45 reps before fatigue sets in. When using the Perfect Pushup, I have to drop my reps to 15, or sometimes 10, because of fatigue. The Perfect Pushup is great for people who have been doing push-ups for years. The natural rotation of the arms mimics that of throwing a punch where you twist the arm from the shoulder to the wrist nearly 90 degrees to generate more power for the perfect punch.

Related Video:

For beginners, it is strongly advised to start off on your knees so you can build the easily injured rotator-cuff muscles as well as your core muscles carefully over time. Supplemental workouts that can help you with shoulder stability and lower-back/abdominal strengthening can be found in my Military.com Archive links:

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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