Plyometric Push-Ups – Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, and Benefits

Push ups have been around for ages, and are a widely embraced movement to test upper body strength and fitness. Plyometric training has been shown to offer some amazing benefits (discussed below), yet are typically done with lower body training only. While plyometric push-ups are mainly seen in ego-driven push up contest, they do actually serve a physiological and strength and power performance purpose…and here’s why.

Muscles Worked

The below muscle groups are the same ones targeted when performing standard push ups, however physiological and neurological adaptations due to the plyometric nature of this exercise lead to different contraction speeds, force outputs, and more (see below).

  • Pectorals
  • Triceps
  • Anterior Shoulder (Delts)
  • Scapular Stabilizers (Rhomboids, Rear Delts)
  • Abdominals
  • Obliques

Plyometric Push Up Prerequisites

Like any plyometric movement, muscle coordination, proper joint mechanics, and absorption capacities are key to increase muscle force outputs and preventing injury. Plyometric training works to increase the ability of the muscle fibers to fire in succession, at high velocities, over and over again. The summation of those impulses results in greater forces being absorbed and exploited by the body, therefore increasing joint, tendon, ligament, and muscle stress (all good, unless you have bad force or cannot handle that much stress).

Plyometric Push Up Exercise Demo

Plyometric push ups can be done with a wide variety of arm movement (clapping, touching in front of body, etc), however they key emphasis is explosive pressing into the group, elevation, and coordinated absorption by the body to absorb force as the lifters hands return to the ground and instantly go into another plyometric push up. Any other hand movements and gestures are for show or to simply increase the amount of power needed to perform the hand movement (generally, clapping push ups require greater force outputs than standard non-clapping push ups due to a lifter needing more time in the air). The below video is a generalized exercise demo of the plyometric push up.

Plyometric Push Up Benefits

Below are some of the key benefits one can expect from performing plyometric push ups, many of which are specifically inherent to the plyometric training aspect. It goes without saying that the muscles worked in the standard push up are targeted here, just to a higher degree (specifically for the physiological adaptations below).

Increased Rate of Force Production

Plyometric exercises force the muscle units to contract at faster rates in order to promote enough force to propel the body into space (off the floor). This fast twist muscular response occurs at the motor unit level by nervous system adaptations. The benefit of developing this capacity is that the body will then learn to promote force more explosively, which can benefit even slow speed movements (such as 1RM bench presses).

Increased Motor Unit Recruitment

When we perform a certain exercises or movement tasks, many of our muscle units are firing, however some take a more preference to particular movements. If you fail to train explosively using plyometrics and other high velocity based movements, you could be missing out on increasing the innervation of extremely fast twitch muscle fiber types, which do not get called into action as much as slower fibers. By performing more plyometric movements for the upper body you can get similar benefits as if you were to perform jump squats and lower body plyometrics, resulting in a very explosive athlete.

Enhanced Pressing Performance

Increased rate of force development and motor unit firing patterns will often result in increased force outputs as a whole. For most movements the ability to press faster, and use more muscle fibers, will result in heavier lifts all around, and the ability to break through sticking points in a lift (provided the specific angles at which those occur are specifically targeted).

Shoulder and Pectoral Injury Prevention

When performing plyometrics we often think of the cool tricks we can do and how it will help us jump higher, punch harder, or move weights more explosively. Often forgotten is the impact it has on joint and connective tissue health and motor movement patterning at high speeds. Increased stress placed upon these joints and tissues during explosive movements and sports must be met with adaptation processes brought about through specialized training exercises (such as this one).

More Plyometric Articles

Check out these articles covering plyometric-based exercise and workouts!

Featured Image: @timtadder on Instagram