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Power pushups used to improve upper body power production
Continuing Education2 Credits

Upper Body Power Exercises and Total Body Power Exercises

Upper body and total body power and high velocity exercises - best progressions for power pushups, chest pass, throws and bodyweight explosive exercises and a sample routine.

Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


Course Summary: Upper Body Power Exercises and Total Body Power Exercises

This course discusses variations, progressions, and regressions of upper-body power exercises and total-body power exercises. This includes exercises like medicine ball ballistic shoulder press for shoulder muscles, plyometric push-ups for chest muscles, ballistic chop exercises for back and core muscles; as well as ballistic squat-to-row sled pull, and posterior kinetic chain throw for integrating muscle groups. It is essential for athletes to move beyond upper body strength training (e.g. shoulder press), arm workouts (e.g. biceps preacher curls), and upper body workouts designed for building muscle mass (e.g. pull-ups, barbell row, barbell bench press, incline dumbbell press exercise), and incorporate workouts and exercises specifically designed to increase speed. This course includes detailed directions for cueing the appropriate starting position, the ideal scapula position (e.g. shoulder blade), the ideal shoulder range of motion, ideal foot placement (e.g. shoulder width, staggered stance, etc.), ideal weight and resistance for improving velocity, etc.

There is a sample upper body workout below.

Additionally, this course includes a systematic research review and resulting evidence-based recommendations for optimizing upper body muscle and total body power exercises. Here is a very brief summary of those recommendations:

  • Max Velocity: Load should be limited to what can be moved with max velocity.
  • Eccentric Load: Power exercise must include a quick eccentric contraction. Increasing the eccentric demand of an exercise is recommended when possible for power exercises (e.g. higher depth jump).
  • Amortization phase: NEVER purposefully allow weights to touch the floor, bounce off racks, or pause during this phase of power exercise (and, it is also not recommended during strength training for power athletes). A goal of power training should be to shorten the amortization phase as much as possible.
  • Concentric Load: Ensure that any increase in load of a power exercise increases the load during the earliest part of the concentric contraction. Increasing load at the end of a contraction with apparatus like bands and chains may negatively alter the force/velocity curve of power exercise.
  • Quick Intent: Research has demonstrated that repeated attempts with the intent to produce force quickly may be more important to developing force than the actual shortening and lengthening of the musculotendinous unit.
  • Follow Through: Follow through (letting go, leaving the ground, etc.) increases EMG activity, peak and average force, peak and average velocity, congruence with the force/velocity curve, and kinematics, and is likely to result in larger improvements from training.
  • Soft Landing/Catching: Softer landing/catching reduces reaction forces, by distributing force over a longer amount of time, and a larger range of motion. This may decrease the wear and tear inherent in high-intensity training.
  • Olympic Lifts: Olympic lifts are likely less effective than high velocity/ballistic exercise, and potentially less effective than max strength exercise for improving power performance for most athletes.

Further, this course is pre-approved for credits toward the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification and pre-approved for continuing education credits for movement professionals (personal trainers, fitness instructors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, massage therapists, chiropractors, occupational therapists, etc.). We hope this course inspires the inclusion of power training into programs for fitness, performance, and physical rehabilitation of the shoulder, elbow, scapula, and core. For example, total body work-outs for fitness enthusiasts (e.g. a series of upper body and whole body exercises), upper body power training for overhead athletes (e.g. med ball drills), or improving reactivity and function in the elderly population who may want a strong upper body (e.g. progressing to single leg balance with stability ball pass).

Additional Progression Courses:

Strength Progressions

Core Progressions

Power Progressions

Sample Progression: Exercise Selections

  • Shoulders/Pressing:
    • Power Overhead Medicine Ball Press
    • Total Body: Posterior Kinetic Chain Throw
    • Total Body: Tire Flip
  • Chest/Pushing:
    • Medicine Ball Chest Pass
    • Ballistic/Plyometric Push-up
    • Total Body: Sled Push
  • Back/Pulling:
    • Power Chop/Smash
    • Power Row with Sled
    • Power Rope Row with Sled
    • Total Body: Power Squat to Row with Sled

Sample Routine

Goal: Upper Body Max Strength/Power

  • Load: (Heavy > 85% of 1-RM) (Light < 30% of 1-RM
  • Reps/set: (1-5)(3-10)
  • Sets/exercise (circuits): 2-6 circuits
  • Rest between exercises: 60 - 90 seconds (note, exercise performed in circuit)
  • Post-activation Potentiation Supersets & Circuit: at least 3 minutes between max strength and power exercise for the same muscle group
  • Training Time: 30 – 60 minutes (excluding warm-up).

Max Strength/Power Circuit Routine:

Study Guide: Upper Body Power Exercises and Total Body Power Exercises


Research Corner

2 sub-categories

Power Exercise Selection and Form

Videos: Shoulder Power Progressions

3 sub-categoriesvideo

Chest Power Progressions

3 sub-categories

Back Power Progressions

4 sub-categories


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