The Push-Up might be the most popular exercise in existence.
A bold statement, but then again it seems like everyone has done Push-Ups at some point. They’re simple, effective and require absolutely no equipment. And when an exercise is as popular as the Push-Up is, it’s bound to spawn variations. Diamond Push-Ups, Clapping Push-Ups, Wide Push-Ups, Close Push-Ups, Spiderman Push-Ups, Weighted Push-Ups—these are a few of the numerous Push-Up variations you’re likely to see any time you step into a gym.
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But recently, I came across a Push-Up variation I’d never encountered before, the “Hand Release Push-Up.” As a long-time athlete and an avid fan of Push-Ups, I was a bit surprised I hadn’t discovered it sooner. The more I looked into the Hand Release Push-Up, the more interested I became. Learn how to perform this variation in the step-by-step description below.
It turns out that Hand-Release Push-Ups are tremendously popular in the CrossFit world, and many CrossFit competitions actually require them—the main reason being that they prevent anyone from “cheating” on their reps. To remove your hands from the ground, you must go all the way down. But besides its competition-friendly aspect, I noticed three interesting things about the Hand Release Push-Up that could, perhaps, make it a viable Push-Up variation for anyone looking to change things up.
- It forces you to go all the way down and all the way up on every rep, a much greater range of motion than most people perform with traditional Push-Ups.
- When you come to a complete stop between reps, you’re forced to regenerate your momentum for each Push-Up, as opposed to “riding” the momentum from your last rep or bouncing off the ground with your chest, which is possible with traditional Push-Ups.
- If performed a certain way, Hand Release Push-Ups have a built in “pull” between every “push,” since releasing your hands off the ground and pulling them toward the ceiling squeezes your shoulder blades together.
Is the Hand Release Push-Up a great variation of an old-school classic? Or is it an example of taking a perfectly good exercise and making it more complicated for no reason? STACK talked to our network of strength and conditioning experts to find out more about this intriguing exercise.
Potential Advantages of the Hand Release Push-Up
To appreciate the potential benefit of the built-in “pull” in the Hand Release Push-Up, you need first to understand why you need at least one “pull” for every “push” in your workout.
Due to the modern lifestyle, many people (both athletes and non-athletes) are anterior dominant—meaning they more frequently use the muscles on the front of their bodies than the back. This can cause postural and performance issues.
“A lot of athletes lack strength in their pulling muscles because they sit at a desk with their arms extended, they drive a car with their hands in front of them, or they just flat out Bench Press too much,” says STACK Velocity Sports Performance coach Aaron Bonaccorsy. “So even doing two pulls for every push can be a smart idea, especially for the upper body.”
Although the Hand Release Push-Up might not include an entire pull exercise, the pulling back of the hands and squeezing of the upper back can help balance out all the pushing that’s inherent in Push-Ups. Bonaccorsy says, “Everyone can benefit from the upper-back work. Everyone is so pulled forward all the time, and the advantages here are that it hits the low traps and the rear delts with the hand release.” The key is to be sure to pull your hands back—not push them in front of you—so that your shoulder blades squeeze together.
Another potential benefit with Hand Release Push-Ups are that they require you to “reset” after each rep, which could be good for those who struggle with form.
“I could see it being a potential variation for athletes who struggle to maintain form in a set of traditional Push-Ups, experiencing issues such as lumbar sagging,” says Kasey Esser, CSCS and certified personal trainer. Often an athlete whose form isn’t ideal sees his or her form degenerate throughout the course of a set.
The first couple of reps might be performed with solid form, but by the end of the set, the athlete’s form could have devolved into something significantly worse. Partly this is because for most exercises, one rep leads directly into the next. There’s no built-in time gap between reps for an athlete to stop and focus on keeping his or her form perfect. But with Hand Release Push-Ups, an athlete has the time and space to focus on proper form for each and every rep.
Because the next rep cannot use the momentum from the previous rep, there’s an extra degree of difficulty—specifically for athletes who like to rep out their Push-Ups as quickly as possible. “Every rep comes out of a dead stop, so the hand release could be like an added element of difficulty,” Esser says.
Also, performing Push-Ups with a fuller range of motion more actively recruits the core, since keeping your body in a straight line as you go from the ground to the top of the movement might be difficult for some. I certainly have to focus on this aspect when I perform Hand Release Push-Ups—more than I do when I perform traditional Push-Ups.
While the Hand Release Push-Up might have some benefits over the traditional Push-Up, our experts also pointed out some potential drawbacks.
For one, a traditional Push-Up—if done correctly—should already recruit the muscles in the upper-back and lats.
”I always try to keep in mind the purpose of the original movement whenever I see variations on that movement. The Push-Up is a total-body exercise and one that should already be incorporating the upper back and lats to begin with,” Esser says.
In addition, Hand Release Push-Ups eliminate the constant tension of traditional Push-Ups. Since you never really “rest” during a set of traditional Push-Ups, the muscle groups involved are constantly under tension. And since increasing “time under tension” is regarded as a good way to build strength and muscle, this could be seen as a drawback of the Hand Release Push-Up.
“The hands play a key role in maintaining tension in a Push-Up. They should be screwed into the floor, as if you’re trying to pull the floor apart. By bringing them off the floor between each rep, you lose that tension and have to re-establish it every rep,” Esser says.
RELATED: Time Under Tension: The Secret to Building More Muscle
Bonaccorsy also points out that performing the “hand release” portion of the exercise incorrectly could eliminate any benefits of the built-in “pull.” “If an athlete or person is ‘upper trap’ dominant, they will shrug their shoulders up instead of back. I think athletes should be cued to keep their shoulders retracted and depressed during the hand release,” Bonaccorsy says.
Should You Perform the Hand Release Push-Up?
The Hand Release Push-Up has advantages and disadvantages compared to a traditional Push-Up. But is it worth including in your routine?
Esser says, “I would need some time to experiment with it, but right now, I’m indifferent to this one. It seems like a perfectly fine exercise, but I just don’t know if it brings enough to the table to justify including it in a program.”
If you’d like to give it a shot, Bonaccorsy recommends using it as a warm-up exercise. “As far as when to perform the exercise, I’d say use it as a warm-up. Or, if you’re a younger athlete who isn’t ready to Bench Press, this could be your ‘push exercise,'” he says.
How to Perform the Hand Release Push-Up
Although our experts are not 100 percent sold on the Hand Release Push-Up, you can certainly give it a try if you are so inclined. Performing it as a warm-up exercise before a heavy press movement, such as Bench Press, would be a smart way to incorporate it.
- Begin at the top of a traditional Push-Up position, with your hands on the ground slightly wider than shoulder width. Your hands should be creating tension by “spreading” the floor.
- Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your feet. Your butt should not be too high or too low.
- Keeping your core tight and your butt clenched, lower yourself to the floor, keeping your elbows close to your body.
- Once your chest is firmly on the ground, release your hands from the floor and pull them toward the ceiling. This should cause your shoulder blades to squeeze together.
- Place your hands back in the correct position and use the same form you came down with to push yourself back to the starting position, focusing on keeping your core tight and your body in a straight line.