A staggered push-up is an anaerobic exercise that is a body weight movement performed in the prone position by bending your elbows at 90 degrees while your arms are used to help lower and raise your torso. The gravity and resistance that your body provides during this exercise creates functional and overall strength. Functional strength can best be defined as to effectively producing stabilization and movement to the body with daily activities.
The staggered push-up can be considered a “moveable plank” since the core is utilized for strength just as much as the upper body is during performance. Correct staggered push-ups should be performed with the upper body, torso, and lower body moving as one unit. Staggered push-ups are a tremendous exercise because of the multi-joint and multiple muscle groups they recruit during movement. Moreover and most importantly, staggered push-ups are a true test of strength, stability, endurance, and power.
The staggered push-up is an advanced exercise since it incorporates more core, shoulder, and tricep stability than the standard traditional push-up, and therefore, incorporates more strength in your rotator cuffs. This push-up builds lean muscle in the primary movers of this exercise which are the: anterior and medial deltoid muscles, pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscles, triceps, and gluteus maximus muscle. Moreover, this “staggered” position will help aide in creating more overall strength when performing other push-ups that start with your hands shoulder-width apart.
The staggered push-up and the core should work together in perfect harmony for optimal performance when all of these specific muscles are appropriately engaged. They both assist in utilizing one’s strengths into creating the ideal exercise for so many different forms of training techniques. For example, if you have a weak core, but a very strong upper body pressing ability, attempting the staggered push-up at first might prove challenging when trying to engage your core. It might also be challenging to find or keep a neutral spinal position while performing the push-up. However, eventually the core stabilization muscles will become stronger and inherently, if properly engaging the core, the staggered push-up will become easier.
You may not realize, but the gluteus maximus muscles can serve as a functional support system to initiate overall strength while performing the staggered push-up. Additionally, actively engaging your gluteus maximus muscles helps perform this push-up more easily. It’s crucial that the gluteus maximus muscles are strong because when they are weak, various compensations can occur in the body. Compensations can lead to the over-stressing of certain muscles, which can result in strain or injury. Specifically, muscular imbalances in the pelvis can prevent you from performing and maintaining the neutral spinal position during staggered push-ups. Stronger gluteus maximus muscles help prevent muscular imbalances that can occur in the pelvis. Another benefit of engaging your gluteus maximus muscles during these push-ups is that lean muscle can be created. As a result, staggered push-ups can provide an aesthetically pleasing look to these muscles.
The neutral spinal position can be defined as when the top of your shoulders, mid-back, and gluteus maximus muscles are all perfectly aligned together. This spinal position must always be performed during every staggered push-up for proper core and muscle engagement. The neutral spinal position creates efficient movements for the body and helps develop optimal posture. Most importantly, this positioning in your spine encourages more overall strength for your body when performing movement patterns.
When attempting the neutral spinal position, “draw in” your abdominals and engage your gluteus muscles. Remember to be incredibly cautious not to have your lower back form an inward curve, causing your hips to drop excessively. Similarly, do not round your back, which raises your gluteus maximus muscles higher than your hips. Both of these incorrect methods can cause stress to your lower back jeopardizing development of functional core strength in the stabilization and movement muscles.
Starting Position: Begin with your arms in a traditional push-up position, but then stagger your hands by moving one upwards about 6 inches, and the other downwards about 6 inches, keeping them shoulder-width apart. Your knees, legs, and feet should stay together with your heels up and your body weight forward on your hands, all of which create a more challenging core workout.
To Perform: Once you rise up from one push-up, execute the next repetition after switching your hands forwards and backwards. Continue to switch your hand positions in between each repetition. The optimal goal is to have your nose and/or chest touch the floor with every push-up.
Beginners: Four sets total, two sets each side of 10 repetitions
Intermediate: Six sets total, three sets each side of 16 repetitions
Advanced: Six sets total, three sets each side of 24 repetitions
*Rest time between sets should be 30 seconds to three minutes for recovery.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Weiss
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For over ten years, Shaun has successfully run his own personal training business in the New York City Metro area. Able to relate and adapt to each individual, Shaun prides himself on developing exercise plans and nutritional menus to foster every client's fitness needs. His clientele ranges from the athlete, and senior citizen, to bodybuilder, and dancer. Shaun's specialties include: strength training, power techniques, corrective injury training, and core stability training.
In addition to the highly regarded Master Trainer status, Shaun is a certified personal trainer of the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). With NASM Shaun also holds specialized certifications in: Pre- and Post-Natal, Corrective Exercise Practices, Cardiovascular Weight Loss, Youth Training, Senior Citizen Training, Balance Training, Core Stabilization, and Self Myofascial Release (SMR). Additionally, Shaun is certified by the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Sports Performance Nutrition Specialist, with training in the Female Athlete, Knee & Shoulder Rehabilitation, and Marathon Training. Shaun earned his Bachelors degree in English Literature and Writing from the University of Delaware.
Shaun's first full-length book, "Push-up Progression Workout for a Stronger Core" is currently available worldwide both in paperback and e-book formats. It was featured as one of three top books in 2013 for healthy living as selected by Dr. John Whyte of The Discovery Channel. His latest book, "Push-up Progression (2nd Edition)" has already achieved great success and notoriety in the world of fitness. It is currently featured in bookstores across the United States and United Kingdom in paperback and available wherever e-books are sold. Shaun has had a multitude of articles, program designs, and tips published within a variety of books, magazines, and on websites in the world of fitness and beyond including: Price World Publishing, Demos Medical Publishing, Livestrong, Rodale Books, OnFitness Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Brides Magazine, and GO: AirTran Magazine. Additionally, Fitness Professional Online recognizes Shaun as an "expert," answering questions for other fitness and health professionals.
Shaun also has media experience in both television and radio, ranging from fitness modeling, to hosting his own weekly radio fitness show.
Latest posts by Shaun Zetlin
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