Push ups are probably one of the first exercises you think of when trying to list out bodyweight movements.
From those Physical Education classes at school, to popular HIIT workouts on your favourite fitness app, it’s more than likely you’ve done push-ups at some stage or another…. in fact, we wouldn’t bet against it being the most common bodyweight exercise you’ve done.
And with good reason, they pack a punch when it comes to building muscle, blasting fat and toning your upper body. No other bodyweight exercise can strengthen and tone the chest like push-ups.
Hand release push-ups are a simple yet incredibly powerful variation of this staple movement. They are hard, so don’t worry if you find them difficult, but the benefits they offer mean it’s worth pursuing with them.
In this handy guide, we outline everything you need to know about the exercise, so you can start incorporating them into your next workout.
What Are Hand Release Push Ups?
Hand release push-ups are a variation of regular push ups, involving lifting your hands and feet off the floor between each repetition.
Good question… By lifting your hands and feet off the floor, it forces you to do a full and complete push up. No matter how disciplined you are, towards the end of a set, the thought of “cheating” on that full repetition can be too tempting and you end up doing a few half repetitions.
Hand release push ups force you to go all the way to the floor, meaning there is no opportunity to do half reps and only bend your arms slightly, instead of going all the way down.
The lift of your hands and feet also completely re-sets the movement, removing any sort of momentum. Each repetition requires a powerful initial push to get your chest and lower body off the ground, and full range of motion.
Hand release push ups have become standard practice in the military and CrossFit recently, helping people develop better push up form and technique.
How to do Hand Release Push Ups
- Start on all fours (quadruped position) with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
- Extend your feet back so you adopt a plank position. Lower yourself down so your chest is rested against the floor.
- Lift your hands and feet off the floor. Try and really squeeze your shoulder blades together to lift your hands up.
- Pause for a moment before placing your hands and feet back on the floor and immediately push yourself up off the floor until your arms are straight. Your chest, shoulders, triceps and core should all be engaged. Your upper and lower body should be aligned and in the “plank” position, at the top of a push up.
- Hold for a moment before lowering your body back down so your chest and legs are resting on the floor again.
- Lift your hands and feet off the floor and repeat the movement for repetitions.
Tip – the “hand release” movement of lifting your hands and feet off the ground should be a slow, controlled and quite a subtle movement. Avoid jerking your neck or back and see the movement as a way to re-set the exercise. Try and lift your hands by squeezing your shoulder blades. This will help engage the upper back and create additional benefits. If you’re lifting your chest off the floor during the hand lift, it’s likely you’re putting too much pressure on your back. Try and keep your chest on the floor when lifting your hands and feet.
This push-up variation is all about technique. It’s much better to go slow and steady, as opposed to trying to race the clock or a competitor. Doing such movements quickly increases the risk of injury as your form is likely to suffer.
Benefits of Hand Release Push Ups
Improve Push-Up Technique and Form
One of the main benefits of hand release push ups are those associated with improved technique and form.
By very definition, if you’re doing hand release push ups, you have to do full, complete movements. This avoids the trap of not going low enough or trying to use momentum to speed up the exercise so you can finish quicker. To fully engage the chest muscles, you need to be going low to the floor (otherwise it really becomes more of a tricep workout).
The reality is, noone ever thinks their technique or form is wrong, but the reality is, when you’re tired, it’s not uncommon to see worsening technique to get through the set.
With hand release push-ups, the movement completely re-sets after each repetition, which is tough going, but great for avoiding the trap of high repetition workouts where technique can often be compromised.
Due to the fact each repetition starts with your chest on the floor, hand release push ups really help to develop explosive power associated with that initial first movement.
Many praise hand release push ups as a secret weapon for improving bench press personal bests and other strength performance indicators.
Each repetition’s full range of motion is ideal for those who want to develop more power from their chest, either for sport, or everyday life.
Shoulder Strength and Mobility
Your shoulders will be engaged more during the hand release variaiton when compared to regular push-ups. This is because the starting position for each repetition involves your chest touching the floor. To push yourself up from here requires more shoulder strength and mobility than with regular push-ups.
If you struggle with the movement, but find regular push-ups managable, it may suggest a lack of shoulder mobility is holding you back. Addressing this may help you unlock new potential in your fitness workouts.
Upper Back Squeeze (Posture)
When you lift your hands off the floor, think of it as a result of squeezing your shoulder blades together. It’s a subtle movement and only requires the hands and arms to move slightly, but it will ensure your upper back is engaged.
This type of movement is great for combatting rounded shoulders (a common result from long days at the office, hunched over a desk).
By squeezing your back during the hand lift, you help to strengthen these upper back and shoulder muscles, which helps to improve your posture.
Glutes & Hamstrings
Similar to the benefits of lifting your hands, when you lift your feet off the floor, it requires your glutes and hamstrings to be engaged. It’s a subtle movement but will help to keep the glutes and hamstrings active.
Hand release push-ups help to improve muscle activation by completing re-setting the movement for each repetition. The lack of momentum or maintaining muscle engagement means that after each repetition you’re muscles need to fully engage again to lift your body off the floor.
Like most of our favourite exercises and movements, the real benefit is in the application and relevancy to real life.
Hand release push-ups reflect a movement that you may well find yourself needing to do at some stage. Knowing you are capable of lifting yourself up from the floor is a great feeling and something that will empower you in everyday life.
Apart from workouts, you won’t find many situations where you need to do multiple repetitions of push-ups… yet needing to push yourself up from the floor may well be something you benefit from in a variety of activities and situations.
Things to Consider
We really do rate hand release push-ups highly here at fitness drum, but there are a few things to consider.
Firstly, it’s important to appreciate the difference in difficulty between regular push-ups and the hand release variation. If you normally do 50 push-ups during your workout, doing 50 hand release variations will be considerably harder.
We find it is better to do fewer repetitions of hand releases, but focus on the explosive power and mobility during the movement.
Secondly, the movement will require a good level of shoulder mobility and strength. If you find the movement tricky, try to incorporate more shoulder mobility exercises into your fitness workouts.
If you’re looking to strengthen and tone up your chest, hand release push ups are a great exercise to add to your workouts.