If you’ve missed any of the previous installments in our Strength Training Staples series, you can find their links below:
Today, we’ll be covering upper push movements, which target the front of the body. We’ll discuss four exercises: two bench press variations, a cable press and push-ups.
As I noted above, upper push movements focus primarily on strengthening the anterior (front) of your body. From an aesthetic standpoint, people like to work out their chest and shoulders because that’s what stands out in the mirror. In other words, it’s how we develop our “beach body”.
The challenge for some is not overdoing it at the expense of our health. Our shoulders tend to get pretty cranky when stressed repetitively or when placed under excessive load. Combined with desk jobs that cause us to round forward and lose valuable mobility, and we have a recipe for chronic pain. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do upper pushing movements, quite the contrary, but it does mean we need to be judicious about our selection and application of them. When used properly, we’re able to promote good shoulder strength, stability and health.
As in life, we have a risk/reward ratio that we can employ when deciding which movements to include in our program. For example, the barbell bench press is widely considered the gold standard for upper push exercises because of its capacity for strength development. However, it may not be for you! Consider the following factors when deciding which exercises to include in your program:
Shoulder Injury History –Have you suffered a labrum or rotator cuff tear? Have you had shoulder surgery?
Current Shoulder Health – Are you currently dealing with shoulder pain? Do you have pain with a particular exercise or position?
Shoulder mobility –Does your scapula (shoulder blade) move freely, or do you feel like your shoulder is always “locked up”? Can you reach your arm overhead or are you restricted?
Experience – While the barbell bench press seems simple, looks are quite deceiving. The movement tends to quickly highlight right to left strength imbalances. As a result, I’ve seen many novice lifters dump the bar the first time they try it.
Necessity – Quite simply, do you need the exercise in your program? If you have concerns, build your confidence by using other exercises to create the desired training effect.
Keep in mind, this is a list of things to consider – everyone is different. If you experience pain during the bench press, then we should look at other alternatives. It’s also possible that you have a shoulder injury history, yet experience no issues when bench pressing. In that case, the bench press is probably OK for inclusion in your program.
While we have a plethora of upper push exercise options, I’m going to keep it simple and focus on four options that provide a great training stimulus and are easy to execute in any gym:
1. Barbell Bench Press – As I mentioned before, this is the gold standard because of its capacity to develop strength. We’re typically going to move the most weight, but we also have a higher degree of injury risk if the factors discussed above are not carefully considered.
2. Dumbbell Bench Press – I really like pressing with dumbbells. First, you get a stabilization challenge that isn’t present with the bar because the dumbbells move independently. Second, your pec muscles are most active when your arm is moving toward the midline of the body in an action called humeral adduction. When compared to a barbell, you have greater range of motion is this action and the opportunity to further develop your chest.
3. Standing Cable Press – The standing cable press allows our scapula to move freely versus either of the bench variations because it’s not pinned to the bench. Our core is more active here, because we’re upright and the weight pulls against us. Lastly, pressing something from a standing position has a great deal of carryover to athletics and normal daily activities, that pressing from your back does not.
4. Push-ups – One can never go wrong including push-ups in their program, as they’re a practical, full-body exercise you can do anywhere. Like the cable press, the push-up promotes free movement of the scapula, shoulder stabilization and core strength. We also have several ways to regress or progress the movement. Hand switch push-ups are one of my favorite progressions:
Regardless of your age, experience or ability level, upper push movements should be included in your weekly program. At Vitalifit, we create challenging full-body workouts by using these and many other strength training movements. Whether you’re a novice who’s just learning to strength train or a more seasoned lifter who’s in search of new challenge, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.