THE PIKE PUSH UP
I’ve always been amazed at gymnasts, and their ability to manipulate and control their body whilst flying through the air, or hanging from rings, or balancing on a set of parallel bars. Often, we automatically go for a question like “well, how much do you bench?” to gauge someone’s strength, and while I imagine some of these gymnasts can push an impressive amount of weight on the barbell, the strength of being able to lift and move your own body in whichever way you please is equally if not more impressive in my eyes.
We tend to get concerned or caught up with utilizing a physical, tangible weight to measure our strength, “i squatted X” , “I curled Y”. But why doesn’t the thought of lifting our own body weight in a particular manner come to mind as a relative-strength benchmark?
A body-weight strength exercise that we often throw into our push days is called the “Pike Push-up”. This is a phenomenal exercise as a stand alone strength movement, or as a sort of finisher on shoulder day if you’re looking to torch your delts, triceps, and and upper traps for a few failure sets.
The movement begins by placing your hands on the floor, roughly outside shoulder width, and fingers facing straight ahead. From there, your goal is to turn your body into an upside-down letter V, or a Pike position. In order to do so, your arms must be fully extended directly overhead, there must be no bend at the knee, and you must achieve approximately 90degrees of hip flexion. As you bring your feet in towards your hands, lifting your rear end to the ceiling, you’ll want to put as much of your weight into your hands as possible from this position. To do that, you will be pivoting on the balls of your feet as you work through the complete range of motion. A few factors that may be limiting for some of you are hamstring and lower back mobility. Tightness in either of these areas will make it necessary to widen the distance between your feet to allow your knees to fully lock out.
Starting at the top of the movement with arms fully extended, as you begin to bend your elbows, you will look to keep them roughly in profile with your body while keeping your shoulders pulled back. Maintaining a neutral neck position, and thoracic spine extension, continue to let your elbows bend as you control the top of your head to the floor, in doing so, rocking further onto your toes to help ensure a smooth decent and proper weight distribution.
Upon your head lightly making contact with the floor, you will push through the heel and outer edge of your hand, driving yourself up and away from the floor as you rock back to the balls of your feet, while you maintain pike position, demonstrating thoracic extension and straight legs.
The movement as explained above does require a good deal of shoulder strength and mobility of the shoulders, upper back, and hamstrings and so as with most exercises, you may need to begin with a regressed variation.
Video: Wide Stance
If the mobility of your hamstrings is the primary issue with successfully completing the exercise, a wider stance will help you to get your legs fully extended and keep the weight distributed into the hands/arms/shoulders as it should be.
Video: Box Regression
If you have a short box, stool, or chair available, a kneeling approach on the box can get you into the same upside down position which eliminates tight hamstrings from being a factor just as well.
Video: Box Progression
If you are able to complete a set of 10-12 unbroken reps of the standard variation, the next progression would be to elevate your feet, while still maintaining the pike position. Elevating your feet will add more weight to your press, as a greater amount of your body is above your hands. The box also helps to get you into an even greater vertical position, which makes you work more directly against gravity.
Video: Strict Handstand Push up
One goal of all this shoulder training is to achieve the highly coveted STRICT Handstand Push up. This should only be performed if you are able to do a set of 10-12 reps with feet elevated on a box. Utilizing a wall for balance, place your hands roughly 10in off the wall, and kick yourself up to the top. It is obviously very important to be in control of the lowering or eccentric component of this variation as you are at greater risk of a potential neck injury if you cannot control your descent.
It is important to constantly challenge your muscles in new ways, so that we are hitting every muscle fiber from every possible angle, and keeping our Central Nervous System on its toes to truly maximize our results and be efficient with our time and effort. Movements like the pike pushup are great to have in your arsenal because they require no additional equipment, and can be scaled various ways, giving you the potential to complete mechanical drop sets to light up your shoulders and triceps. The ability to manipulate, lift, and control your body in any shape or form is an underrated strength. What good is being able to lift weights, when you cannot manage to lift and control your body? Open your eyes to a world of body weight strength training, and you will be amazed at the fundamental strength you can build.