A Simple Pushup Routine for a Deeper Understanding of the Hardstyle Method

September 28, 2009 10:57 AM

What is a Hardstyle Shoulder?

One of the marks of the RKC Hardstyle System of Strength is a strong shoulder. Since the shoulder muscle is only as strong as the supporting cast of bigger stabilizing muscles such as the lats and pecs, shoulder work in the Hardstyle method focuses on these latter groups of muscles. And true to Hardstyle, knowing how to use these muscles properly leads to both safety and performance. A strong lat is strong whether it is pushing or pulling. So if you can do 15 presses with the Bulldog, 15 minutes of TGUs with a 32, and 150 jerks with a 24, but can only do three pullups, then you've got work to do, and vice versa.

A couple of times I've heard Pavel tell of exceptionally strong comrades who work up to a one-arm chin by consistently practicing their Military Presses. That kind of thing won't be happening to me. Military Presses in the Hardstyle system are aimed at a stronger shoulder, not merely higher pressing numbers. The key is to keep working after you've pressed the bell by actively pulling the bell down. At one point I could do 19 Military Presses with a 32 kilo bell but only one or two pullups. Hardstyle was eluding me.

By luck, I've discovered a simple bodyweight pushup routine that has helped me to get to know my lats and pecs in such a way as to both increase my pullup numbers and help me with some of the finer points of Hardstyle for kettlebell work. Simply speaking, my shoulders are stronger now and my inner Hardstyle is rejoicing. This simple pushup routine uses the same principle that more advanced comrades have used to attain a one-arm chin but is scaled down to make it more accessible for novice and intermediate comrades such as myself.

A Slow and Simple Pushup

First, rotate your shoulders into your body. You'll feel the pecs and lats engage somewhat. Now rotate them up and out from your body. Embrace the former and reject the latter. Keep that feeling of the former in mind and then drop to the floor and into plank position. Keeping the shoulders externally rotated, so that the inside of your elbow is directed forward. Keep your spine neutral; keep your abs and glutes tight. Focus your mind on the lats, or those muscles under your arm pits, and your pecs, and actively pull yourself into the ground slowly. The load is concentrated, in reality and in the mind, on the lats and pecs. We want quality pushups here, so we are going to go slow. Take 2-3 seconds to go down. Your elbows should end up sticking to your obliques. When you hit the floor, your bent arms should be more or less parallel to one another. With the same intense focus on the lats and pecs, come back up slowly and stay tight. The point here is to thoroughly work the lats and the pecs, not to do a high number of pushups. I can't even do 20 consecutive in this slow, controlled manner, but that doesn't mean there isn't Hardstyle fruit to be tasted from doing these, as we will see.

Some Kind of Routine

I was out of school for the Christmas break, so I no longer was using the school gym. My courage corner is in a three season porch in St. Paul, Minnesota and as luck would have it, we were having consistent sub-zero temperatures and making national headlines. I started finding reasons to wimp out from going out there and so I found myself doing a lot of these pushups. First, I attempted to max out and found I could get to 19 on a good day. After a few sessions of trying to shoot for max numbers, I dropped down and started doing 5 sets of 10-12 reps 3-4 times per week over a few weeks. On some occasions I would go much slower than 2-3 seconds, like 20-30 seconds. These are good to throw in too, anything to get to know your lats and pecs and to thoroughly work them. Make it simple, first find your max and then do 5 sets of 50-60% 3 times a week for a few weeks.

[An aside: for the lower body I would do pistols. Since I'm not very good at them, I would do them in a doorway where I could hold on to the frame and do them slowly (sometimes very slowly) and controlled like the pushups. This allows me to really focus on engaging the glute without worrying about balance. These are a good compliment to the pushups for a full body workout].

Surprising Results

Once the break was over, I returned to the gym. My previous PR for pullups was 4, and even then I really only felt strong on the first two. Without doing any pullups for three weeks, I did 5. These were different though, these felt much more solid. The lat and pec were present in a way they weren't before. A few days later I went back in and did 7. That is almost doubling my old PR without any time on the pullup bar. It leads me to think. What if I start doing pushups on a chair or do more with my kids on my back? These are exciting times.

And, something cool happened when I picked up the 32kg for a few military presses. I pressed it up, it felt strong, and then I actively pulled down as was taught at the RKC. The bell didn't stick at any given point in that groove! My kids could have been standing on the bell midway down and I don't think it would have budged. It wasn't a PR, but I got a feeling that the door to a true Hardstyle Military Press had opened for me in a way it hadn't before. ETK press ladders will never be the same and now I can actually do the corresponding pull-up version whereas before I couldn't.

Give it a try, and report to the www.dragondoor.com forum with your results.

Sean Schniederjan is an RKC, soon to be father of 3, and Personal Trainer in St. Paul, MN. Contact him at schniederjans@aol.com