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Nailing Your Push-Ups

“How many push-ups can you do?!” 

Is there any more mainstream measure of fitness? I remember the hold Bill Murray movie “Stripes” where he and co-star Harold Ramis bet about their fitness. The test? Could Bill Murray knock out ten push-ups! Oh, he struggled, he struggled, and just about about collapsed. His first reaction? “Man, I gotta get in shape!”

There is good reason for push-ups to have some a sense of importance in our culture. Push-ups teach a lot about good movement habits, combine strength, stability, and mobility. They can be done pretty much anywhere and have almost infinite variations.

So, why then do people STILL struggle so much with the push-up? We assume everyone knows how to do a push-up, just like we assume everyone knows how to run. It seems like a rationale conclusion but with our culture becoming less and less active, the need to teach proper movement skills has never been higher! Where do we start then?

While most will spend time discussing, “do we teach from the knees or other positions?” Everything HAS to begin with how we engage the ground. A simple rule we use in our Dynamic Variable Resistance Training (DVRT) system is, “what ever is contact with the ground must be actively used.” That is most often thought of when we discuss the feet, but goes for anything. In a plank it means forearms, toes, and hands, in the push-up it will also refer to your hands and toes.

Why? How you engage the ground causes a chain reaction up the entire body. It will impact your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Far too many times, the reasons people have issues with push-ups is NOT a function of just weak muscles, but more so how we interact with the ground.

The Bird Dog

Often we think of the Bird Dog as a core stability exercise. That in its own right would be a good reason to use it complimentary to the push-up as you need core strength to perform push-ups well. However, there are some other less obvious benefits to using the Ultimate Sandbag Training Bird Dog progressions we are covering in today’s Metabolic Stability video.

The first goes back to that concept of ground engagement. Both the feet and hands have to be pushing properly into the ground to create a stable foundation for the body to create the necessary actions. When we lift one leg and arm off of the ground, it SHOULD force our body to drive HARDER into the ground to maintain that stability we require. In order to RESIST extension and rotation, we have to be developing force through the stance arm and leg to provide linkage to our lat, core, and glute chain. This IS one of the most fundamental needs of ALL functional movements.

Archer and Plank-up Push-ups

Once we establish the qualities of a pattern, we can progress it numerous ways. There two outstanding and often overlooked means of push-up advancement. The Archer Push-up on a suspension unit teaches us how to keep tension on both sides to maintain our plank and being able to use different levels simply by the position our body makes this a great way to progress the push-up or teach foundational principles of better movement. 


We’ve already talked about Lateral Drags, using a push-up to combine with the Lateral Drag isn’t just a cool party trick. Like the Archer Push-up, using the Lateral Drag then push-up is teaching how keeping tension on both sides gives us stability and power. Best of all, this is an awesome way to progress to move single arm push-ups where we build incredible full body power.

Lateral Drag w: Push-up from Josh Henkin on Vimeo.


Military Press

While most wouldn’t typically think of an overhead press as a push-up progression. Pressing overhead can be  seen as either a problem solving strategy and/or progression to standard push-ups. An advancement in the sense that as we stand we have less contact with the ground, forcing us to take the principles that we have learned from our ground work and apply them to other movement strategies.

Using the military press can also be a possible solution due to the fact we aren’t supporting our whole body. Trying to make alterations in one’s body position (such as moving to an incline) for a push-up can be problematic in getting an angle that is going to teach proper movement concepts. Since a military press shares so many similarities to a push-up, it might be the PERFECT way to begin many on learning how to progress more effectively.

The goal of understanding what makes up proper movement is so that you can break it down to fit the needs of the individual. There are always many exercises, but understanding concepts allows you to truly provide better solutions and to, nail that push-up!

Find out more about how DVRT is far more than just “sandbag training” it is the most comprehensive system of real world strength! Find out more with our upcoming DVRT live events HERE or save 30% on our DVRT Online programs for a VERY limited time with coupon code “memorial” HERE (does not apply to live events!)