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Isometric Elevated Push-up

Written on January 8, 2008 at 3:43 pm, by Eric Cressey

It’s been a crazy few days, as I made the move to Boston from Southern Connecticut yesterday – into this morning. The last box was taken off the truck at 12:30AM, and we’re now sorting through the madness around the new apartment. Fortunately, however, our Internet was rigged up this morning, so as a true workaholic, I’m sending this email out at 11:50PM on Tuesday night. I promise a Tuesday newsletter, and I’m a man of my word! Congratulations are in order!In the collegiate strength and conditioning realm, a lot of interns come and go. At risk of sounding judgmental, few really do much to distinguish themselves. Maybe they’re just there for college credit, or they just don’t have the passion for taking an athlete’s success to heart. Every so often, though, you get an intern who is a diamond in the rough – and Mike Irr is one diamond with whom I was fortunate to work while at the University of Connecticut. To be blunt, at only 22 years of age, Mike has already shown that he is one of the few people in the industry who really “gets it.” He’s a tremendously hard-working and passionate coach, and just as importantly, he’s open-minded and unconditionally positive. Last week, all those excellent qualities and diligence paid off for Mike. I received a phone call from Mike telling me that his internship with the Chicago Bulls this summer had gone so well that he was offered a position as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the team. Keep an eye out for the Bulls in the months and years to come; they just added one hell of a coach to their staff. Congratulations, Mike!

Syracuse Strength Spectacular RecapFor those of you who missed this fantastic event back in June, Ryan Smith’s review of the seminar is now available; you can check it out


A Strength and Performance Nutrition Symposium Update

This September’s Los Angeles seminar is looking great. In addition to an awesome speaking lineup, there will be dozens of industry “notables” in attendance, and there will be some awesome goodies bags available for those in attendance. If that wasn’t enough, there will be free ART® all weekend, so you could learn something and get your injuries fixed in one weekend! Remember, the early-registration deadline is August 30, so sign up today!


Q: Had a couple questions on the isometric elevated push-up holds in your new article. How do you structure this exercise into your training programs? Is this something you will do in the warm-up or after other movements?What have you found to be the most effective scheme as far as the hold is concerned? Meaning, do you have your athletes go for time/until fatigue/reps/multiple sets, etc.

Have you utilized unstable surfaces with this exercise as well?

I would be using the holds mostly with my softball players as they prepare this upcoming fall and am always looking for various shoulder exercises to reduce the risk of injury. Thanks so much for any help you can give.

A: With beginners, it may be the first movement. Generally, though, I’ll include it later in the training session. It’s also great for back-off weeks; I actually include it as part of regeneration phases if an athlete is worn out post-season (maintain muscular activation with lower joint torques). I go into more detail on this in The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual.

We always do at least two sets, and sometimes as many as four. I generally won’t go longer than a minute; many athletes won’t be able to go much longer than 15-20s (especially female athletes).

As far as unstable surfaces are concerned, there’s not much reason to use them for this; you can train proprioception pretty easily at normal speeds. One of the inherent benefits to using upper body unstable surface training is the maintained muscular activation with lower resultant joint torques (prime movers become joint stabilizers – see JSCR research from David Behm and Ken Anderson). You can get this same benefit from isometric holds, so doing them on unstable surfaces would be overkill, IMO – especially in a female athlete population who is likely too weak in the upper body in the first place.

Q: Eric, I have a question about your new off-season training manual. Knowing who wrote this manual, I know that it’s going to be a great product! I realize that this would be geared more towards the high performance athlete, but could the “Weekend Warrior” realistically utilize this manual?

A: Good question – and I’ve actually received the same inquiry from a few people now.

Here’s my (admittedly-biased) take on things:

If you’ve read stuff from Mike Robertson, Alwyn Cosgrove, Kelly Baggett, and me (among a few others), I hope one message you’ve taken away from the articles is that the ordinary weekend warrior would be a lot better off if he’d train more like an athlete. The strength work athletes do helps you move bigger weights and build more muscle while burning more calories to stay lean. The movement training keeps you functional and helps you with energy system work to keep your body composition in check. The mobility work keeps you healthy and functional so that you can stand up to all the challenges in your training programs without getting injured.

This manual shows you how all those pieces fit together at different times of year, and it also provides a lot of “stuff you just ought to know” if you train. Another cool thing is that you’ll actually start to watch sports on TV in a different light; you’ll begin to pick up on the little things that make each athlete unique.

And, if all that isn’t enough, you’ve got 30 weeks of sample programming to keep things interesting! Again, great question!

Q: I was reading your Shoulder Savers: Part I article and noticed your table on balance in training. My main question is concerned with overhead presses. These lifts are categorized as internal rotation of the humeral joint. When we do overhead pressing, the humerus is fixed in an externally rotated position, correct? Why then is this internal rotation?

A: Good question. It’s more out of necessity with the population in question than it is true functional anatomy.

You’re never really “fixed” in any sort of rotation; your humeral head is always going to be rotating in order to accommodate the degree of flexion/abduction. More external rotation = more subacromial space. This is also going to be affected by the position of the bar (front vs. back vs. dumbbells) and the chosen grip (neutral corresponds to more external rotation). But anyway…

Long story short, if you look at all the other exercises in the “right” categories, they’re the ones that – when used in excess – typically contribute to impingement. Overhead pressing is only going to make impingement worse, and a large percentage of the population really can’t do it safely. As such, it needed a place to go beyond just scapular elevation.

Additionally, while I can’t remember where I saw the data, there was a study that looked at relative EMG of the three heads of the deltoid and found that anterior deltoid (internal rotator) EMG activity was always higher than that of the posterior deltoid (external rotator).  Consider that the posterior deltoid also leads to superior migration of the humeral head, and the external rotation contribution that you get with the movement is still going to have a sublte effect on increasing the risk of impingement.

All that said, debating the minutia isn’t what is important; what IS important is that lifters, trainers, and coaches start to appreciate who is and isn’t suited for overhead pressing.  The more people I encounter, the more I realize that the “isn’t” crowd is a lot bigger than we previously thought.  For those interested in some background in this regard, here are a few shoulder articles I’ve written over the years:

Cracking the Rotator Cuff Conundrum

Shoulder Savers: Part I

Shoulder Savers: Part II

Shoulder Savers: Part III

Debunking Exercise Myths: Part II

Bogus Biomechanics, Asinine Anatomy: Part II (Myth #9)

That does it for Newsletter #17; have a great week, everyone!

All the Best,


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