4 Push-Up Variations to Strengthen Your Kinetic Chain

By Brandon Richey

I think we all can agree the almighty push-up is a solid go-to for developing foundational strength. Despite the thought that the push-up is primarily an upper body movement there is a lot more of your musculoskeletal system involved in order to pull this movement off.

Your body’s muscles are connected to form what is referred to as a kinetic chain. If you can imagine links in a chain. The relationship of how each of these muscles activate and function in this link to produce movement is how you develop strength. Like the old saying goes: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

And the strength—or weakness—of your pushups comes from what’s called your kinetic chain.

The point of this, is that once you build up your push-up foundation you now need to turn your attention towards building a more solid kinetic chain. You need to find other ways to strengthen those links, eliminate any weak spots, and accelerate your push-up strength to the next level.

So in this article, I’m going to give you four ways you can bolster not only your kinetic chain, but your overall push-up strength and form. You can apply these tips to all variations of push-ups.

Variation #1: Slow Your Push-up Speed

Keep in mind that when you perform any given strength movement there are three muscular contractions involved. These consist of the following…

Eccentric contraction: This is the lengthening of the muscle during movement.

Isometric contraction: These are static contractions where you create tension on the muscle without changing the joint angle, or creating movement for the muscle.

Concentric contraction: This is the shortening of the muscle during movement.

So what do I mean about slowing the speed of the movement? Well when you lower yourself in the descent of the push-up you are performing the eccentric portion of the muscular contraction.

This is the phase of the push-up where you’re actually placing the greatest amount of stress onto your muscles during the movement. So knowing this you can really stimulate your kinetic chain and build some next level strength by slowing your descent into the movement.

One simple protocol that I like to use with myself and my students is the 5 count. Simply count down from 5 from the top of the push-up to the base of the movement as you lower yourself down.

Variation #2: Increase Your Push-Up Speed

So in the previous example I talked about slowing your push-up speed to build strength. In this example I want to talk about how to stimulate your body in the push-up to make your kinetic chain more reactive.

The goal here is strength, or more specifically speed strength. Speed strength is where you create more speed for a movement in conditions pertaining to strength.

The reason for doing this is to build upon your athleticism and reaction time. This would benefit you in a fight, or athletic demanding scenario.

To do this here you can simply make your push-up more ballistic in nature by performing a plyometric push-up. This simply involves you performing a standard push-up, but upon your ascent out of the base of the movement you want to produce enough force to elevate your body up off of the ground.

Your hands should come up off of the ground and upon landing you’ll want to absorb the impact by immediately lowering into the next push-up to recoil your body to prepare for the subsequent repetition.

As a standard protocol here the objective is to perform the movement with as much force as you possibly can and keep your repetitions limited between 3 and 7 reps per working set.

Variation #3: Elevate Your Feet

One sure fire way to strengthen your kinetic chain is to adjust your weight distribution. For the sake of argument let’s assume you’ve got a good handle on the standard push-up exercise.

If this is the case and you are in need of a simple, but effective way to challenge yourself in the push-up movement then just simply elevate your feet. You can do this by putting them up onto a bench, or chair when your perform your push-ups.

By elevating your feet you’re distributing more of your bodyweight to your arms and taking less off of your feet and legs. This will present a new challenge and you’ll find out in a hurry that this simple adjustment can make all the difference in the world.

Of course, to intensify this movement even further you can apply the first example of slowing down your push-up speed just like you did with the standard push-up.

Variation #4: The Lalanne Push-Up

This push-up is definitely going to put your kinetic chain to the test. In order to perform this movement you’ve got to have a strong kinetic chain and you’ve got to be capable of maintaining rigidity throughout your body as you elevate yourself in this push-up.

To perform this push-up variation lie belly down flat on the ground with your arms extended directly out in front of you. You should resemble superman in this position.

From here, brace your midsection and create tension throughout your entire body to push yourself up off of the ground. In order to make this a success you need to understand how to initiate the hollow position as you start elevating your body.

To initiate the hollow position, make sure you perform a posterior pelvic tilt. To do this imagine yourself lying on the ground to begin the Lalanne push-up. Next, simultaneously tighten your glutes and brace your midsection. You will want to angle your belly button to point towards your chin as you perform the posterior pelvic tilt to get your body into the hollow position.

Make sure you get into this position as you begin your ascent with the Lalanne push-up. Make sure to maintain strict rigidity throughout your torso and hold this position as you execute the movement. It will test your ability to maintain tension.

If you lose tension you will find out in a hurry just how quickly your kinetic chain will breakdown and you will fold up like a tent.

The Takeaway

If you have a solid handle on your standard push-ups, then make sure you start incorporating these modified push-up variations into your training to strengthen your kinetic chain. Remember that you can’t afford to have any weak links.

Have you included any of these into your current push-up workouts?

Which one of these do you need in your training?

Post up and share in the comments.


SEALgrinderPT coach Brandon Richey is a certified strength and conditioning coach, author, and founder of Brandon Richey Fitness.

He has worked with thousands of athletes over his 17 years of experience, developing fitness training programs for beginners to professional and D-1 level collegiate athletes at the University of Georgia.

Brandon also trains MMA and Muay Thai athletes, both professional and amateur.


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