A-List Exercises: Upper Body Pushing

As I stated in my A-List Upper body PULLING exercises post, with the endless variety of exercises personal trainers and fitness enthusiast have from which to choose, it can be confusing to decide which exercises to use as the foundational (cornerstone) lifts for their strength training programs.

To make life easier, I’ve put together this A-list exercise series in order to narrow the field and provided you with the technique and application of the strength training exercises placed at the top of the priority list in the Performance U training approach, regardless of the training goal, because we feel they offer the most bang for our strength training buck.

Note: Although the exercises applications below are generally prescribed, we’ll manipulate the acute variable (sets, reps, rest, etc.) of these exercises to create the specific adaption we’re looking to create based on each individual’s goal (i.e. higher reps w/ lower loads for hypertrophy, lower reps w/ higher loads for strength, etc.).

Here are our “go-to” strength training exercises for otherwise healthy clients (i.e. with no major medical limitations), which we’ll apply for all personal training and conditioning purposes from fat loss to sports performance to physique development.

A-List Vertical Pushing Exercises

 Shoulder to Shoulder Press


We like the shoulder-to-shoulder press because its a great way to add variety to a the limited list of overhead pressing variations; the offset load requires the torso muscles to work hard in order to maintain a stabile torso position, and it feels very comfortable and natural for many clients and athletes.

Here’s a video of a few Shoulder-to-Shoulder-Press variations:

Dumbbell Uppercuts

Rotation is pillar of human movement. And, when we’re looking to improve one’s ability to generate and transfer force across their body, and improve their ability to rotate from their hips- Dumbbell Upper-cuts are one of our favorite applications.

Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press

We like the single arm over head press because it gives us a tremendous core training stimulus – to control the offset load – while also strengthening the shoulder musculature.

One Arm Shoulder Press

Additionally, as you can see by the picture above, we keep the shoulder in a neutral position at the top of the press in an effort to minimize potential impingement stress.

A-List Hybrid Pushing Exercises

Our Hybrid Pushing exercises are essentially diagonal pushing actions.

Angle Barbell Presses (aka. Landmine Presses

In sports you’re not always pushing straight ahead but slightly upward, such as when trying to control an opponent’s shoulders in MMA or getting underneath a players shoulder pads in football. Based on the SAID Principle, we feel this is a great exercise to help you perform those actions.

Angled Barbell Press and Catch

This is essentially a more explosive (dymnamic effort) version of the Angled Barbel Press.

Incline Dumbbell Press

Incline Dumbbell Press

Our A-List Horizontal Pushing Exercises

One Arm Push Up

As I said in my Truth About the Bench Press article, “The one-arm push-up is our single favorite whole-body pushing exercise. In fact, it’s what’s dethroned the bench press as our king of upper-body pushing exercises for field, court and combat athletes.”

 One Arm Cable Press

If you can’t do one-arm push-ups, or you’re currently working up to doing them, the standing one-arm cable press is a great training option.

Most of the time we see folks using this exercise the weight is too light to create an effective strength challenge. That’s a mistake.

Check out the video below because there’s several key strategies we’ve developed to help our athletes perform this exercise safely and effectively using a challenging load!

 Flat Dumbbell Press

Dumbbell Press

We’re certainly not opposed to using a straight bar to perform the Bench Press on Incline Barbell press. However, just as how our A-list upper body pulling options involve using free floating handles, our preference for pushing applications is dumbbells because they allow the freedom to adjust to the way your arms feel most comfortable.

Push Ups and Push Up Variations

You know we love us some Push ups…

 …and push up variations. I put together this post covering our Top 20 Push Up Variations.

Register here for Nick’s Core Training & Program Design Workshop in NYC. June 15-16, 2013.

Registration ends on June 5th. Only 25 spots available.

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