Building Push Power

By Diane Vives – May 1, 2013
Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

The ability to produce powerful movement is at the crux of sport and competition. In the AFM FITTEST competition, one of the tests is the Standing Med Ball Toss that measures upper body power through the pushing motion. In order for any individual to access the most powerful movement, he or she must be able to successfully create the stability necessary for eccentrically loading the pushing movement, maintain strength throughout the entire range of motion, and then increase the rate of force production. This sequence creates an explosive release of the ball for the longest distance. These three movements will address each one of these aspects of training for the Standing Med Ball Toss.

When focusing on stability for an upper body expression of strength and power in athletic movement, the lower body and torso create a strong connection with ground reaction forces.

This creates a conduit of force production that flows to the upper body and is released through an expression of power as seen in a toss, softball throw, or tennis serve. Therefore, the goal for training becomes the ability to train static motor control—the ability to resist unwanted movement and successfully maintain an optimal position. This static motor control lays a good foundation for movement. The next step is to create strength that challenges the full range of motion through multiple ranges, thus preparing for optimal athletic movement. Finally, speed should be progressively applied with the purposeful goal of moving as fast as the athlete can control for the targeted path of motion. Athletes who build power in this way can direct increased force along the intended path, producing the most powerful, explosive movement. In this case, that would create a med ball toss with the farthest distance.

Side Plank Cable Row

Purpose: Achieve multiple benefits. The side plank strengthens frontal (lateral) plane lower body and core stability, a common weakness. Target static motor control (stability) for the ground-based shoulder complex. Then, set up the loading portion of the toss by creating a strong rowing motion.

  • Start in a side plank with the chest in line with a low anchored cable or band. Make sure the bottom shoulder, hip, and ankle stay in line at all times. Hold the handle with the top hand with the arm extended forward. Keep the head and neck in a neutral position in line with the torso.
  • While maintaining a stable side plank, pull the elbow of the upper arm back as you retract the shoulder. The elbow should travel on a direct path over the ribs until just past the torso.
  • Return the arm to the forward extended position in a smooth, controlled motion while maintaining a strong plank position.

Tweak Down: Perform the exercise with body weight and performing the full range of motion.
Tweak Up: Increase the load on the cable or band but make sure you are able to perfectly stabilize the side plank through every repetition.

Feet Elevated Push-up to Pike

Purpose: Develop strength in the pushing motion, as well as work mobility in the shoulder complex. The inclined foot position places an increased amount of bodyweight on the upper body load, increasing the intensity of the movement as well as positioning the body for the pike.

  • Start in a push-up position. Feet are elevated on a box or bench and hands should be at a width just outside the shoulders. Shoulders should be depressed; maintain the space between the ears and shoulders at all times through setup and the movements.
  • Perform a push-up. When you return to the top of the push-up, take small “steps” with the hands toward the box until the arms and torso are in line for the pike.
  • Hold the movement for a moment to establish control and good pike alignment.
  •  Walk the hands back down to the push-up position.

Tweak Down: Perform on the ground and walk hands toward foot position only as far as you can maintain a straight or neutral back position.
Tweak Up: Use a stability ball to create increased stability demands or add an external load by wearing a weighted vest.

Explosive Recline Pulls with TRX

Purpose: Develop the posterior side of the upper body for a more powerful loading phase of the tossing movement. The posterior side of the shoulder complex and back muscles play a key role in decelerating at the end range of motion after a powerful forward toss or throw, so this movement pays off in all of your powerful forward throws, serves, and tosses.

  • Using the TRX, start with your body in a reclined position with straight, neutral alignment, arms extended, and using heels for ground contact.
  • Brace your core by tightening the muscles around the torso and hips; then, pull wrist toward sides of the ribs as fast as you can control and catch yourself at the top of the motion.
  • Hold for a moment to establish control and then extend the arms, slowly returning to starting position.
  • Maintain alignment through entire movement; do not curl wrists inward.

Tweak Down: Walk feet underneath the body to shorten lever arm and decrease intensity.
Tweak Up: Walk feet underneath anchor or elevate feet on box, creating horizontal body position parallel with floor. A weighted vest can be added for the most advanced progression.

Upper Body Box Jumps

Purpose: To increase the rate of force production for the med ball toss through an explosive upper body pushing movement while reducing impact by landing on an elevated surface at the top of the motion.

  • Start in a push-up position with a 4- to 8-inch box positioned underneath the chest; hands are on each side of the box in an upper-body wide stance.
  • Make sure the toes are pulled toward the shins in order to create solid contact with the ground. Brace your core; you should feel positive tension all the way through the shoulders to the hand position.
  • Quickly lower the body partially into the push-up to load the movement; then, push upward through the hands as fast as possible until the hands leave the ground.
  • Land as quietly and as controlled as possible on the box in a fully extended push-up position.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Safely walk the hands down one at a time to avoid impact with the wrist or shoulders on the ground.

Tweak Down: Perform speed push-ups on the ground. Maintain contact with the ground and full control through entire push-up range of motion.
Tweak Up: Add a weighted vest with 5 to 10 percent of your body weight.

Building power in the pushing motion is safely developed through stages. Our bodies are smart in that if we gain strength in the loading phase of the toss (such as in the pulling motion of the row), we will access a greater expression of power in the forward motion. Strength and power can then be applied—and also decelerated properly—to avoid injury. Putting these attributes together will no doubt increase your tossing distance for the Standing Med Ball Toss. Remember: There are fun and challenging training programs by certified fitness professionals all over town that are preparing all levels of athletes for the AFM FITTEST competition with these types of training movements and much, much more. See you at the competition on June 15!

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