Brad Johnson's Bodyweight Training

Upper Body Crush Push-ups


By Brad Johnson 

Author of Bodyweight Exercises for Extraordinary Strength 

Upper Body Crush Push-ups 

I have frequently seen recommendations for doing push-ups on a stability ball. These push-ups are good as you need to use your upper body strength to stabilize the ball. I was intrigued by the exercise and wanted to experiment with other variations. I am a big fan of crushing exercises as an upper body movement with an emphasis on the chest. Upper body crush push-ups require you to place your palms on either side of an object and then lift it without actually gripping it with your hands—that is, you lift the object by crushing it or pushing inward with your palms. 


Place a medicine ball on the floor. If you don’t have a medicine ball, a basketball or soccer ball with plenty of air would work. Place your right palm on the right side of the ball with your fingers pointing towards the floor. Do the same thing with the left hand on the left side of the ball. Extend your legs back into push-up position. You must apply a great deal of pressure against the ball with your palms in order to prevent your hands from slipping down the ball towards the floor. The curvature of the ball allows you to assist with your fingers gripping the ball as you do when palming a basketball. Assist only as much as necessary with your fingers. The goal is to get to the point where you completely support yourself with the pressure if your palms against the ball without helping with your fingers. This will greatly increase upper body tension. 

If you are not currently able to support your weight in push-up position on the ball, you have a couple of alternatives: 1) do the push-ups from the knees; or 2) place the ball on an object (chair, bench, table top, etc.) with your feet on the floor. The incline of your body will decrease the percentage of your weight that you are supporting. Once the regular upper body crush push-ups become too easy, you can increase the challenge by adding weight to your body with a weighted vest or by placing weights in a back pack. Also, you can place your feet on an inclined surface with the ball still on the floor to increase the percentage of your bodyweight that you are supporting.


You can also perform this exercise with a kettlebell. If you do not currently have any, I highly recommend them. They are extremely versatile strength and conditioning tools. Performing this exercise with a kettlebell is more challenging because the surface of the kettlebell is slippery. 


Once you have mastered the regular Kettlebell Crush Push-Up, try the push-up with the kettlebell turned upside-down, supported by the handle on the floor. This will create an unstable environment which will provide an even greater challenge. In addition to pressing in hard on the sides of the kettlebell, you will need to press the kettlebell hard into the floor to keep it from tipping over.


For a copy of Brad Johnson's book Bodyweight Exercises for Extraordinary Strength, please visit our on-line store.

You'll find more bodyweight training articles by Brad Johnson in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.