The “Push Off,” so deemed by this guy one day when toying around with bodyweight exercises as part of a home workout, is—at the least—a welcome alternative to the sometimes grudging, standard push up, an old basic that sometimes elicits images of physical torment!
But the push off might even be considered the ultimate of at home exercises, as you’re not just using your bodyweight, but you’re also using a doorway (see instructional pics, noted by caption, further below) of your home.
This “little brother” to the push up can be used for warm-ups, for those not ready to do a set of several regular push ups, or simply to toy around with some variation.
No matter where you’re at in that pecking order, push offs can make you more aware of how your muscles function than any form of chest or pushing exercise. That’s because without having to exert a ton of force, you can focus a lot more on your body’s response to various tensions and angles when doing these. There’s no large weight (bench press) or deep and difficult angle (elevated push ups) demanding your main attention, distracting you from really feeling the chest muscles working with the movement.
Another benefit, potentially a huge one, is that you can adjust mid-exercise a whole lot easier and safer than you ever could doing, say, a heavy bench press. For example, if you feel some kind of discomfort, it’s easy to stop anywhere in your range of motion during the repetition. If, on the other hand, you’re on your back with a heavy barbell on your chest, you have no choice but to try and push the weight all the way up, or hope you have someone spotting you. If neither of these are available, pray!
Prepare to Push
Prepare by, as always, warming up your joints, especially your upper body, but even some for your legs, as you’ll be on your feet the whole time.
Place your hands while standing against both sides of a door frame (see instructional pic #2, as shown by caption) about the level of the bottom of your chest. Experiment with what’s best for you, or you can adjust that height for variation of how you’re hitting your chest. Placing your hands flush with the door frame sides will help your wrists compared to the more acute (bent back) angles they’re at when doing push-ups with palms flat on the floor.
The lower you place your hands, the more it works the chest and less the shoulders and lats and vice-versa. As noted in the more general, thorough chest article, many people tend to push somewhat higher up their bodies, which brings in their shoulders and lats but not enough for their chest muscles. It’s critical to get a great mind-muscle connection to get the most out of these.
Stand back at a distance where your hands are still in position to both sides of the door frame (like for instructional pic #2 below) while arms are fully extended and where you’re still standing almost upright.
(You can of course make this exercise easier by moving your feet up closer to the door frame. This not only decreases the distance you travel, but also the angle from gravity, as you are closer to a standing position the whole time)
With your arms extended, use them to move under control toward the door frame. Keep your core (midsection area) tight, not allowing it to sag forward (same with a push-up). As you start approaching the door frame, move your head to the side to allow your body closer to the frame and make the movement more challenging (see pic immediately below).
Push away from the frame slowly, under control and focusing on feeling those chest muscles engaging as your body continues to move away from the frame. Proceed until your chest is totally contracted while your arms are fully extended (see next pic below).
Try and maintain that mind-muscle connection with your chest as you allow yourself to slowly drift back toward the door frame. You won’t feel it the same way as you do moving away from it, but it will help you keep the focus that provides you a great benefit even from a very basic exercise like this.
As you gain confidence and comfort with this movement, you can do several things for variety, including changing the speed, where you explode off the door frame instead of moving deliberately. You may get a better muscle pump due to the variation. Further, it can increase your ability to move explosively in real life situations, where you never really know what may be required.
Variety the Spice
You may also challenge yourself by doing push offs with one arm instead of two. Just adjust whatever slight amount needed to ensure balance as you perform the exercise; it’s a far easier change than trying to go from two-arm to one-arm with the standard push-up!
A less considered option that increases difficulty is standing on one leg to do them. Doing so causes some core tightening to maintain body stability, since you don’t have the benefit of planting two feet on the ground to stabilize yourself. Further, since you’re on just one leg, physics causes your upper body now to exert more force, since the other leg’s force is taken away from you.
I mentioned above that shortening the distance (placing your feet closer to the door frame) makes it easier, partly because you’re more upright the whole time and not contending with gravity as much as a result.
But if you want to make gravity more of a factor instead, you can maintain your regular, full distance with your feet and make your main focus be at the hardest part of the rep (upper body closer to the door frame, as in instructional pic #1, where gravity is strongest since you’re leaning forward more). You’re also in a naturally tougher spot from a leverage standpoint (it’s harder the furthest you are away from full arm extension, generally).
You ask “how do you focus on that portion of the exercise; don’t you have to do a full repetition (where you go from start to finish (arms extended)?” No, you don’t.
You can do what’s known as “partials” (or zone training, or J-reps, depending on the degree of specifics and application). Focus totally in the first half of the range of motion (from start to middle, or the distance from instructional pic #1 to pic #3 (below), then dropping back to the starting position, then back to the middle position, etc, until you start to get fatigued.
You can then do the second half/extended arms portion for several partial repetitions to finish your set. This portion of the movement (pic #3 as starting point, pic #2 as end point) is normally much easier due to leverage and gravity factors. But since you have already fatigued some from battling the more challenging portion for several partial reps, this “easier” part now will actually become more challenging than normal.
I’ve detailed the push off done with a door frame, but the reality is you can easily adjust this for just about any surface, making the exercise more challenging the lower the surface you place your hands on.
Your Home Is Your Gym
My first client, who had experienced broken forearms in previous years, didn’t want to perform regular push-ups but needed to strengthen her upper body. So I had her use her fairly high kitchen counter top, using the same form essentially as I’ve described and photographed above. In time, she began doing these “pseudo one-armed” (more weight shifted to one side of her body, then the other), with one-armed being the next logical option.
You can also use a sturdy table, a chair, your bed, or anything else that has some stability for you. The possibilities are practically endless as to what home prop you can use to push off from.
The doorway is a great way to begin though, and it sets the stage for each level, eventually leading you back to the good ol’ push-up if you choose. Most importantly, it helps give you independence from gyms and total flexibility in your home workouts.