The Push-Up Complex: A Versatile & Effective Way to Progress the Push-Up

The Push-Up: nearly every strength-training program in existence has incorporated this movement to help build relative upper-body strength. Because it not only poses a challenge to the upper-body initially, but also the core (really, the entire system), the Push-Up and some of its counterpart variations have also been used as a means to assess and test athletes of their movement competencies, their upper-body strength, core stability, and even muscular endurance.

Being that it is such an effective exercise for building a foundation of strength, the Push-Up generally gets used early in movement-development/strength-training programs. But, oftentimes, the Push-Up can get excluded from the program in favor of other pressing movements as the athlete builds strength. Once an athlete shows adequate relative strength, why wouldn’t we move on to building greater absolute strength with, say, the Bench Press? And, there are only so many ways to progress the Push-Up, especially for the purposes of enhancing strength. Thus, the Push-Up gets relegated at that point to unload weeks and recovery days.

But, if we break the traditional paradigm – that the Push-Up is simply an entry-level strength-training exercise – we can find much more value in this highly versatile and effective exercise.

Enter the Push-Up Complex

It is important to understand that there is way more to the Push-Up than relative strength: there’s the aforementioned trunk stability component (the ability to prevent excessive lumbar extension). Not to mention its effectiveness in teaching glenohumeral movement and scapular positioning, as well as overall postural awareness and alignment. Additionally, moving on one’s hands and feet is a primitive pattern. We were born to do it.

But, training cycle after training cycle of the traditional Push-Up will not only bore the more seasoned trainee, but it may not use training time as efficiently as possible. Thus, the Push-Up Complex was born.

The hands and feet position (the High Plank) puts the athlete in a great set-up to execute a variety of movements to accomplish many different training goals. And, string movements in succession and you will yield a physical challenge to the whole system as well – much more challenging than the traditional Push-Up.

Piece together a complex with any of the sample options below and you, too, can create a unique Push-Up Complex that yields a great return on investment.


  • High Plank Hold
  • Shoulder Taps
  • Hand Walks
  • Leg Lifts
  • Knee Drives
  • Arm Lifts


  • A-Frame/Downard Dog
  • Pigeon Stretch
  • In-Step Lunge
  • Inchworms
  • Incworm -> Cook Squat

For example, try the following:

3 sets of 5 each (perform in succession)

  • Push-Up x 1
  • Shoulder Taps x 1 each
  • In-Step Lunge (with or without T-Spine Rotation) x 1 each
  • Inch Worm (w/ hands) x 1

One set may only require 5 push-ups, but the result is a strenuous complex or flow that challenges shoulder and trunk stability, hip mobility, posture, and hamstring flexibility. Not challenging enough? Simply make each Push-Up x 2 (10 push-ups per set) or x 3 (15 per set)… you get the idea.

Or, you can add more movements to challenge other aspects of mobility, stability, or posture.

What’s great is that, by simply reinforcing the importance of the High Plank position and reminding the athlete to move consciously and with purpose, posture is greatly emphasized in every Push-Up Complex. That is because every time we leave the High Plank position, we must eventually return to it and re-establish proper alignment, thus getting great kinesthetic exposure each set.

The Push-Up Complex not only kills many birds with one stone in a short amount of time, it is as versatile as the coach is creative. All the while, by holding athletes to a standard of quality movement during these sets, we also give them a greater challenge than most expect, rather than the typical eye-roll from the trained athlete who sees the traditional “Push-Up” in their program.

No longer does the Push-Up have to be confined for assessments, Block Zero programs, and unloads from other pressing variations. Instead, the Push-Up Complex serves as an additional tool in your tool-box to develop many aspects of athletic performance with your athletes.



One thought on “The Push-Up Complex: A Versatile & Effective Way to Progress the Push-Up

  1. Pingback: Push-Up Complex – Athletic Performance Toolbox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s