Category Archives: Upper Body

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.
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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
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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.

A-List Exercises: Upper Body Pulling


Strength training is just like building a house. In that, you need a good foundation to build up from. That said, with the endless variety of exercises coming at us daily, it can be confusing for the personal trainer and fitness enthusiast to decide which strength exercises to use as the foundational (cornerstone) lifts for their training programs.
The purpose of this A-List Exercise series is to share with you the strength training exercises we place at the top of our priority list, regardless of the training goal, because we feel they offer the most bang for our strength training buck.
the-a-list-att
In other words, the exercises I’ll provided in each installment of this A-List Exercises series are our “go-to” moves for otherwise healthy clients (i.e. with no major medical limitations), which we apply for all training purposes from fat loss to sports performance to physique development.
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.).

Our A-List Vertical Pulling Exercises

Rope Climbing
We consider Rope Climbing w/o using your legs to be the king of all upper-body pulling exercises.
Pull Ups w/ Free Floating Handles
We’re certainly not opposed to using a straight bar to perform chin ups and pull ups. However, our A-list pull up option involves using free floating handles.
In the video below my good friend, former intern and up and coming super-star strength coach Dan Blewett explains why we favor using free floating handles for performing pull ups.
 If we don’t have access to free floating handles, we’ll perform chin-ups using the strategy provided in this video (below) to help each person find their optimal grip width.
Pull Downs w/ Neutral Grip Wide Handle
Another one of our “go-to” vertical pulling options is the lat pull down exercise using a neutral grip wide handle attachment (pictured below).
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We’ve found this handle to 1) be the most shoulder friendly and 2) feel the most natural and comfortable for clients and athletes. Plus, this handle allows for a greater ROM than the close grip handle.
Note: This does NOT mean we don’t use other attachments like the lat bar. It’s just to say this particular handle is at the top of our (A-) list if we were to pick one attachment.

Our A-List Horizontal Pulling Exercises

 One Arm Dumbbell Free Standing Rows
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This rowing variation is at the top of our list because it combines a heavy element of core and lower-body integration to maintain a stable (and athletic) body position while you perform the pull.
One Arm Anti-Rotation Suspension Rows
Another single arm variation we use with almost everyone is the single arm anti rotation suspension row because…
1) It gives us great core activation (to resist the rotary force in order to maintain your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor) while we strengthen the back.
2) It’s super easy to teach and learn.
3) It’s easily adjustable for any fitness level. In that, the further you walk your feet toward the anchor point, the harder you make it. And, the further you walk your feet under the anchor point, the easier you make it.
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The video below demonstrates an advanced (and really cool) progression to the One Arm Anti-Rotation Suspension Row from my great friend and personal trainer extraordinaire Rob Simonelli.
 Wide grip Barbell Rows – Performance U style
Most folks could use some improved strength and muscular development in their mid-back muscles. That’s why Wide Grip Barbell Rows (done in the manner we display in the video below) is one of our go-to moves.
Put simply, its one of the best methods we’ve found for targeting the mid-back area while virtually eliminating cheating.
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