If you’ve taken my class lately you’ll know that I am obsessed with Downward Phase Pushups or “hybrid” pushups. These pushups are the intermediate step between doing a pushup from your knees and a pushup from your toes. During this type of pushup, you are asked to start in a full plank, lower yourself to the floor whilst maintaining your perfect plank, and then push back up from your knees. Working the downward phase from your toes even if you cannot push back up from your toes will make you stronger, here’s why:
There are three types of muscular action, or phases of movement, and they each contribute to strength building.
- Concentric action or the upward phase is where the muscle shortens to overcome resistance. During your pushup your chest, shoulder, and triceps are shortening to push your body off of the ground. Gravity is the external resistance your muscles must overcome; during the upward phase of the pushup your muscles produce more force than gravity in order to shorten your muscles and lift you off of the floor.
- Eccentric action or the downward phase is where the muscle is lengthening back to its starting position. Your chest, shoulders, and triceps all lengthen as you descend from plank towards the floor. Your muscles are still producing force, but in this phase your muscular force is less than the force of gravity, so gravity wins out and pulls you back to the floor. Even though gravity has “won” your muscles were still working to bring you to the floor in a smooth controlled manner – without eccentric action you would just collapse onto the ground.
- Static action or the Isometric phase is the period in between concentric and eccentric action where there is no visible movement and the resistive force (gravity) matches the force produced by your muscles. During your pushup this happens at the very top in full plank before you descend and at the very bottom before you ascend. Burn regulars know that I will sometimes have you “hold in the middle” of your pushup – this is challenging because it gives you static action in an atypical area of your range of motion.
Strength is produced during all three phases or actions, though each produces a different amount of force because of internal muscular friction. (Yep that invisible force that slows all moving parts down works inside our muscles too.)
- Isometric Phase: No movement means no frictional force. Your muscles generate the same amount of force as gravity, or your strength production is equal to your body weight.
- Concentric Phase: Pulling of the muscular fibers creates internal friction helps your muscles work against gravity so your net force or strength output is about 20% less than that in the isometric phase.
- Eccentric Phase: Lengthening of the muscular fibers reduces internal muscular friction which means they have more work to do against gravity. The net force or strength output of eccentric work is about 20% more than the isometric phase.
So there you have it! The eccentric phase is a great strength builder. By making the downward phase harder (doing this portion from your toes or doing it more slowly) you will build the strength needed to push back up. By the way, this is why the springs here at Burn are so effective; you get resistance in the concentric phase and have to control the springs back staying active through the eccentric phase too. Next time your Burn instructor calls out pushups, make the most of them and do the downward phase from your toes and be sure to practice, practice, practice! Click on the hyperlink to see my video showing the movements in action. Hybrid Pushup