The Bodyweight Pressing Workout: Superhuman Core Strength

Your body is the most versatile piece of workout equipment you will ever own.  In the right position it is both the immoveable object and the engine of unstoppable force.  People are surprised when I tell them how much of my training is devoted to calisthenics because they assume big muscles and strength requires lots of heavy weight training.    While I enjoy lifting heavy things, the foundations of my programs are always rooted in calisthenics. I created this particular program last year while on vacation in Mexico.  My goal was to get a short, but solid pressing workout, work my abs and keep my heart rate up for 20 minutes and then hit the beach to enjoy my vacation.  Single-arm push-ups (SAPU) were a good choice to hit all the pressing muscles and abs.  A well-executed SAPU, keeping the shoulders and hips parallel to the ground, requires incredible tension through your arms and core (lats, abs, and glutes).  I chose jumping jacks as active rest to keep my heart rate up for the entire workout.  If you have one, a jump rope works well in place of jumping jacks.

If you can’t yet do a SAPU, perform the most advanced SAPU progression that you can execute with solid form.  Doing the most advanced progression of the SAPU without compromising technique will still increase strength and give you the volume needed to build muscle.  For example, if you can’t do a full SAPU then you would regress to a SAPU with a limited ROM (range of motion.)  If a SAPU with a limited ROM is as far as you’ve advanced then you would do Lever Push-ups using a medicine ball.

The workout starts with 2-3 SAPU ladders going as high as 5 rungs (reps with each arm) with 25 jumping jacks between each rung of the ladder.  Your ability to perform perfect reps dictates how high you go on the ladders.  Stop when you can’t complete the required number of reps in a rung of the first ladder and begin the second ladder starting over at 1 rep on each arm.  Do the same thing for the second ladder.  After the second ladder, if you feel confident you can nail at least one perfect rep on each side then begin a third ladder.   Do not start a third ladder if your technique is getting sloppy because this will ingrain bad pressing technique which can hinder your progress down the road and lead to injury.

Ladders work like this.

1x SAPU (each arm)

25x Jumping Jacks


25x Jumping Jacks


25x Jumping Jacks


25x Jumping Jacks


25x Jumping Jacks

(This is a full ladder, start over at 1 rep for the second ladder.)

The ultimate goal of this portion of the workout is to work up to 3 ladders of 5 rungs (reps each side).  Once you have achieved 3 full ladders progress this workout by performing a more difficult SAPU skill.  That could mean increasing the ROM, narrowing your foot stance, elevating your feet, adding a weight vest or eventually getting to Single-arm/Single-leg Push-ups.

After the ladders, the workout ends with 4 sets of 25 regular two-arm Push-Ups (boring, I know) with 25 Jumping Jacks after each set.  If needed, take short breaks during sets to ensure you’re grinding out good reps.  Variations I recommend for this part of the workout range from hands elevated push-ups to push-ups from the knees to military push-ups to diamond push-ups.  Don’t forget to do the last set of 25 Jumping Jacks!

The first time I did this workout I performed 3 full ladders of full SAPUs followed by military push-ups for the second part of the workout.  It took me exactly 17’30” and I was pretty beat by the end.  Luckily, I was able to recover on the beach in Cabo.

The best part of this workout was how I felt the next day.  My chest, shoulders and triceps were really sore, but the craziest part was how thrashed my abs, obliques, and intercostals were for the next 3 days.  Even my serratus anterior was sore.  It was definitely one of the best ab workouts I did last year with the best kind of discomfort you can have after a hard workout.  Try it for yourself!

Be Strong, Move Beautifully.