The ACFT: Hand Release Pushups
The hand release push-up is the worst nightmare of those of you with a weak core. Yeah, sure, it's an upper-body exercise, but even more so, especially with the way it's graded, it's a core exercise.
In this article, I'll get into exactly what I mean by that as well as how this movement differs from the standard push-up, and finally, I'll tell you exactly how to train for this exercise.
Are they harder than the Standard Push-Up?
As I covered in the above video, there's a lot going on the HRP that cut out much of the nonsense that occurred during the standard push-up test. So yes, they're harder. Not only physically but also for your coordination. Here's why:
NO MORE BOUNCE.
Long sleeves can definitely help if you like to cheat at the top of the push-up.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Osvaldo Martinez)
The stretch reflex response in the chest is a powerful force.
It's that tightness that you feel at the bottom of a bench press or during a standard push-up (if you're good at them). Think of it like loading a spring. It's totally legit, and should be taken advantage of when doing chest exercises. It allows you to handle more weight and get more gains. It's the same effect that we're looking for in the bottom of a squat with the hamstrings.
In the HRP every rep starts from a dead stop, this means that you can't load your chest with the stretch reflex response. This levels the playing field a bit for those of you who don't know how to use the stretch reflex and sucks for anyone who is used to banging out 100+ "bouncing" reps.
This movement is harder and takes longer than you'd think.
(U.S. Army Photo by Cpl. Tomarius Roberts)
The HRP requires you to have your index finger just to the inside of your shoulder. This narrow position is equivalent to a close grip bench press. It's much more triceps dominant than a standard press. It also almost entirely removes the risk of shoulder impingement.
That's great news!
Check out my article The Complete Bench Press Checklist, for exactly what I'm talking about.
The TLDR of it is most people are slowly sawing a hole in their shoulder socket when they perform pressing movements. The narrow hand position helps relieve a lot of that stress.
That being said, this means you WILL BE WEAKER performing the hand release narrow stance push-up than you would with the standard variation.
TIME IS YOUR ENEMY.
I know they're Marines...it's a cool pic.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Zachary Beatty)
The 2-minute time limit wasn't generally a problem for most people with the standard push-up. Most people blow their whole wad well before the time expired.
With the HRP time is a very large factor. You need to conduct one push-up every two seconds in order to fit all the reps in.
Maybe you can do 60 reps, but doing all 60 in 120 seconds is a whole other story. I would venture to guess that I need to be able to do 70 or 80 hand-release push-ups in order to be able to do 60 fast enough to be within the time limit.
OBVIOUS CORE CONTROL.
I don't think the mask would make push-ups harder so much as just generally uncomfortable. That's the military in a nutshell...
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. ShaTyra Reed/ 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
An argument I'd be willing to engage in is one that states that the HRP actually requires more core strength that the Leg Tucks….Oh yeah!
The standard push-up allowed for this sneaky thing to happen that was often left uncorrected. The hips were allowed to sag, the core could be weak, for multiple reps before it became so egregious that the grader would mention it.
Because the HRP starts every rep from a dead stop, any core weakness becomes immediately apparent and can be called out on the first rep that the body isn't perfectly in alignment.
This means your core needs to be strong, or it will give out well before your pressing muscles run out of steam. Unlike the leg tucks, which I talked about here, where for 90% of soldiers, your grip or back strength will give out before your core.
How to train for HRP
Practice, practice, practice.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hull)
There are four things you need to focus on in order to be properly prepared for the HRP.
- Core Control- You need to plank, a lot. Practice the RKC plank 2-3 times a week. The RKC plank is where you contract every muscle of your body while holding the plank.
- Press from a dead stop- Train using paused reps and presses from the rack. You need to learn how to start every rep from a dead stop. Standard pressing movements that use the stretch reflex response of the chest are going to set you up for disappointment come test day.
- Practice high reps with long periods of time under tension- 120 seconds of work is about 4-5 times as long as a standard set of any exercise. You need to prepare your body for that task in muscular endurance. Practice slow sets with 45+ seconds of time under tension and/or sets of 15-20 reps on the bench press and 20-40 reps of push-ups to build your muscular endurance.
- Practice the full movement- It's harder than it looks to get your hands back to the exact perfect pushing position for every rep. You need to practice it and build the mind-muscle connection so that you can focus on putting out come test day and not have to worry about hand placement.
That's it folks. If you want a plan to help train for the HRP, check this out. It trains all the aspects of pressing that I just covered. In order to prepare for the ACFT, you need more than just exercises. You need to be particular about how you're training. That's what this plan does, and all my plans for that matter.
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