Push ups are not only the nemesis of many a female athlete bound and determined to be able to crush an awesome looking push up, but also the punishment of choice for many coaches outside of gassers (if you don’t know what gassers are, ask a friend who played a high school sport, they will explain!).
Needless to say, they get a bad rap. And push ups need love too!
It’s an exercise that, when done properly, is a great demonstration of total body strength. And that is often the misconception or challenge with a push up: we don’t have to (or don’t choose to) activate our entire body to do it. Using the chest and arms in isolation, for many people, will not provide enough strength to do a push up. More importantly, a good push up is one of the best trunk stability exercises out there.
And, despite the positioning of a plank being very similar to a push up, I have seen more effective trunk activation on push ups using a different exercise…
The hollow hold
Now the hollow hold is effective for three reasons:
1) You can engage the body with the floor getting constant feedback on effective tension creation
When your entire back and your butt are on the ground, you can feel when your body has created tension and more importantly, when you are losing it. It can be easy to pace yourself in isometric exercises like hollow holds and planks. In the version I demo and the application for you in your training, short and hard AF is much more effective.
That tension is necessary to push through the ground via your feet in a push up and have that force transfer all the way to the arms and chest to assist in the full body push up we have been discussing.
2) Complete body tension is easier to feel in a hold with your back on the ground than with a plank because you can use perturbation as an assist
Perturbation, what the heck is that? When you are doing anything that you haven’t mastered yet, there is a good chance part of your body isn’t firing the way we intend to make the exercise as effective as possible.
Coaches can see this often and use a method called perturbation. We will actively poke or cause pressure via things like bands on an area that is laying dormant. When that happens, the body has a natural reflex to shorten the muscles or concentrically contract them (picture tickling a little kid, then shorten up into a fetal like position).
However, when you are doing a hollow hold and feel that your right oblique isn’t working hard enough, you yourself can “perturbate” or push on that area creating a reflexive concentric contraction.
That same area is likely laying dormant in your push up and causing a lackluster effort during your push up training.
3) There’s usually a lagging oblique sling that can be identified and corrected easily on your back
I mentioned the right oblique previously because, from years of observation, I have noticed that the right anterior oblique sling lags with almost all individuals and specifically with those who struggle to do a quality full body push up. The right anterior oblique sling consists of the internal and external obliques on the right side, adductors on the left side and the adductor abdominal fascia that connects them.
When you do the hollow hold, you can focus on engaging the right oblique due to the connection with the ground and then actively tie in the left adductor via tension in the legs. Again perturbation here can be an asset.
Having the inside muscles of the legs active is CRITICAL for someone trying to do a push up for the first time and certainly necessary if you want to crank out a series of really effective push ups.
So make it simple on yourself. Do hollow holds for 20 seconds. NO MORE!
During that 20 seconds, brace everything towards your midline as hard as possible. Try to keep the neck somewhat relaxed and your face with minimal tension.
As you improve on this exercise, I want the sets to get shorter. I want you to be able to create massive tension quickly and then HAVE to release it due to cramping or fatigue. Then you will have control of your body and push ups will just be a demonstration of that 🙂