Explosive Pushups to Increase Your Bench Pressing Power and Pectoral Definition

February 22, 2008

I am a big fan of including ballistic movements to break through strength training plateaus. For the most part I like the slow and steady approach with heavy weights, but including explosive movements is a way to shock your nervous system into delivering more voltage to your muscles. If you are at a sticking point with any of your pressing type movements, you are going to love this technique!

explosive pushups to develop pressing power
[True strength training is “nervous system” training. An efficient nervous system will send stronger electric signals to your muscles, generate stronger contractions, allowing you to lift heavier weights. This is how someone can get stronger without getting bigger.]

Your Body is Capable of Lifting Really Heavy Weights

Your muscles and skeletal structure have the ability to lift a serious amount of weight. You have a lot of strength that you have yet to “access”. Know what a “speed limiter” chip is? High powered sports cars sold in the US have microchips that make sure the cars only reach a certain speed. The car may have the horsepower to reach 200MPH, but the “electronic chip” insures that the car only reaches 128MPH. Your body is just like this. Your nervous system is like a “speed limiter” to your muscles.

Why Does Our Body Limit The Power Our Muscles Generate?

If our muscles flexed 100% they would rip off the bone! The body limits our ability to contract the muscles 100% as a protective mechanism. The problem is that this protective mechanism is way too conservative. Most of us aren’t lifting anywhere close to a level that is dangerous. What we need to do is let our body know that it is “okay” for a muscles to contract hard. How do we do this?

Avoid “Training to Failure” is a Key to Gaining Strength

Training to failure is a great bodybuilding technique, but a poor strength training technique. The problem with training to failure is that it reinforces your “speed limiter”. I know this sounds “spacey” and a bit out there, but hitting failure will teach your nervous system to send “weaker” signals to your muscles. Forced reps are just as bad, if not worse. What you want to do is create a serious “surge” to your muscles, without hitting failure.

How to Send Increasing “Voltage” to Your Muscles

If you stop short of failure, you are telling your nervous system that what just happened was “okay and normal”. Whatever action you took was well within the abilities of your muscles. If hitting failure sends negative feedback, stopping short of failure give your body positive feedback. A great example of this is the squats vs bench pressing…I’m not a big fan of squats, but people typically gain strength for years when squatting. The same people hit sticking points all the time when bench pressing. One of the big differences is that most lifters stop short of failure on squats but go to failure all the time while pressing. Something to think about.

Literally Shock Your Muscles With Explosive Movements

An explosive movement is created by a jolt of electricity to the muscles. The nervous system tells your muscles to contract hard at a quick rate. The more efficient your nervous system becomes, the quicker the muscle contracts and the more explosive the movement becomes. The key is to perform explosive movements stopping well short of failure, if you want to get better at hard and quick contractions. You want to avoid muscle fatigue, because that will limit your ability to perform your best at an explosive movement. Think of a boxer. His punches are the most explosive at the beginning of a boxing match.

So Lets Talk About Why Pushups Will Help Your Bench

The best weight to create a good explosive movement is about 50-60% of the weight you would use for a heavy set. If you go too heavy it won’t have the desired effect on your nervous system, plus I’m against going heavy on ballistic movements for safety reasons. When you are lifting heavy, go slow and steady. If you go too light, your muscles won’t have to contract hard to lift the weight. The problem with benching a weight in an explosive manner is that you have to “hold back” a bit. At the midway point of the lift you can’t continue to explode, otherwise your elbows will lock-out really hard. With pushups you don’t have this problem. You can explode as hard as possible throughout the entire movement. Once you reach the end of the movement your hands jump off the floor a few inches. When you do pushups, you are typically only lifting 60% of your body weight. Pushups are the perfect ballistic exercise for your upper body.

How to Do Explosive Pushups for Maximum Power

Keep your hands shoulder width apart, drop down to the floor, once you reach the bottom push as hard as possible. You want to explode off the ground. I like to think of this as a vertical leap with my arms, shoulders, and chest. Once your hands make contact with the floor, drop down in a quick manner and explode off the floor again. Do this for 3-5 reps. Instead of doing just a couple of sets with 20-50 reps like normal pushup routines, you are going to want to do many sets of low reps. Remember…higher reps are going to cause muscle fatigue, which will limit the amount of voltage you can deliver to your muscles. I like to do 6-8 sets of 3 reps and focus on how far I can make my upper body jump off the floor on each set.

Do This After Your Strength Training Routine

I work chest and back on the same day. I like to do chest first, then back. I have been finishing off with this explosive pushup routine after I work my back. You can certainly experiment with doing these before or after lifting. I like to do it at the end of my workout, because I feel like my muscles and joints are warmed up and ready to do this without pulling anything.

You Will Notice an Immediate Increase in Muscle Definition

I have been doing this for the past two weeks and I have already noticed a dramatic increase in upper body muscle definition. My triceps are looking better than ever and the line down the middle of my chest is much more pronounced. To be honest, my abs and shoulders look sharper than normal as well. To get a maximum explosion of the floor, you need to make your body stiff as a board. Without even trying you will tense up your entire mid section to make this happen. I did this exercise a few years ago, but completely forgot about how effective this is. Pretty amazing at how something so basic, is so effective.

Note: You still want to lift slow and steady when you do your pressing movements. What you will find is that these weights will feel lighter in your hands after doing this pushup routine a few times. Did incline dumbbell presses today and my normal weight felt way lighter in my hands. It was a crazy feeling!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

tarun May 4, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Hey rusty aren’t explosive push ups such as clap push-ups really harmful, as well as guaranteed to cause elbow and/or nerve damage. I’ve read that

” it is extremely high-impact in nature and if done consistently over a long period of time it may lead to elbow and nerve problems – such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Nerve Compressions, Ulnar Nerve Damage or Tennis Elbow – among others. Take my word on this, if you regularly do explosive press-ups, with hand claps in the middle, you will get wrist, nerve or elbow injuries – eventually.”

So are jump push-ups safer explosive push-ups or do they fit into the same category as explosive clap push-ups.

tarun May 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm

hey rusty apart from doing lower sets and reps for strength training, can you please explain to me how exactly you stop your-self from getting bigger in size. Do i just have to eat the same amount of food i eat normally or what? Because i really want to get super strong and speedy like Bruce lee and i can’t sacrifice speed for size. Also i heard that to get stronger you should do the heaviest weight you can lift with small sets and doing only 1 set to failure (research proven) or none at all.

Secondly i am also looking at having a greatly toned and tightly packed muscular body (Strong tissues and fiber). How will i have a good hard toned body and will i need to put on a bit of muscle mass first, because i am fairly skinny.

tarun May 4, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Hey Rob what exactly do you mean by i rep max, in that context.

conor October 3, 2012 at 11:20 am

I was wondering how long should I rest between each set.

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