If you want to test your push-up credentials, practice makes perfect, and hand-release push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises to test upper body strength and pushing power.
To do hand-release push-ups, you’ll lower your chest to the ground and lift your hands away while keeping your hips and thighs lifted and engaged, then place your hands down close to your body and push upward again. The simple push-up variation increases pushing endurance and can be lots of fun to try.
Here’s what happened when I added the exercise to my regime for one week and why I love the move more than standard push-ups.
How to do hand-release push-ups
I’ve seen hand-release push-ups taught in a few ways, like lowering the whole body to the floor, including the chest, stomach and thighs. I’ve also seen trainers teach clients to lift their feet and hands, similar to a Superman exercise — not for this variation.
You’ll need to keep full-body tension without collapsing your body to the ground. Instead, focus on lowering your chest and keep everything else tight.
- Start in a push-up position
- Check your shoulders are stacked over your wrists, and that your hips align with your shoulders
- Brace your stomach, glutes and quads to create full-body tension
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor, keeping your hips and quads lifted, knees straight, glutes engaged and toes tucked
- Remove your hands from the floor for a moment, then place them on the floor close to your body so that your forearms are vertical
- Push the ground away to return to the starting position.
I did 60 hand-release push-ups every day for a week — here’s what happened
Here's what happened.
I experienced better chest engagement
The hand-release push-up improves pec engagement by encouraging you to push your body weight all the way up from the floor, increasing your ability to generate force. I don’t have the desire to sculpt pecs to match Thor anytime soon, but the push-up variation helps work my chest harder, and hand-release push-ups increase intensity on the arms and anterior deltoids (fronts of the shoulders), too.
You can gain promising pushing power from the move by lifting from a dead-weight position each rep. However, some trainers will teach the move so that you lower your whole body to the floor — I don’t. Doing so can encourage some people to collapse to the floor rather than maintain torso and leg tension. Instead, the most popular method (and for me, the most effective) is to lift the hips and thighs and keep the legs straight so that only your chest rests on the floor; this helps maintain a strong and straight position.
I enjoy them
I regularly program push-ups in my training routine, so it wasn’t a stretch to add hand-release push-ups and go for higher reps. I stuck to 60 reps and broke my fitness challenge rules by alternating with air squats and setting a 10-minute time cap each day. The format kept things interesting rather than sticking to one move and provided a quick full-body workout that allowed me to slot some exercise snacking into my day.
Form, form, form
You’ll need to go for a big push and keep your shoulders rotated down to protect your joints and maintain optimal pectoral contraction. I position my hands so that my forearms are pretty much vertical, keeping my hands close to my ribcage. From here, the neck must be neutral, and the body must form a straight line from head to toe without dropping through the hips. I like to perform them in front of a mirror for the warm-up reps just to keep an eye on things.
At times, I took this challenge with a slice of humility and used my knees to perform the reps when my form began to fail. Do them right, and over time, the hand-release push-up can help develop shoulder, arm, chest and core strength and help improve relative strength, which refers to how strong you are compared with your body size rather than how much you can bench. Gymnasts are a great example of athletes with high levels of relative strength.
During the week, I learned that I need to check in with my body more often and never rush to get to the finish line. The hand-release method helps any exerciser focus on all phases of the motion, rather than just going through the motions.
Daily hand-release push-ups helped me dial into my form and work on a bodyweight exercise I already enjoy. It’s worth remembering that we don’t encourage others to take on fitness challenges unless they already have form locked in and feel confident with the exercise and scaling options. These challenges are short-term efforts, so remember to focus on what recovery or intensity you might need.
But if you want to work on more explosive pushing power and strengthen the muscles used for shoulder-pressing exercises like the overhead press, jerk, or push press, hand-release push-ups are an effective upper-body tool. Between each rep, you can re-engage for the next effort and focus better on each phase of the push-up rather than just hammering them out.
They always say do more of what you love, so this one's going into my workout program more often.
More from Tom's Guide
- I teach stretching routines for a living — 3 exercises that strengthen your hips and open your hamstrings
- Forget the gym — build full-body muscle with a set of dumbbells in just 25 minutes
- 3 of the best arm workouts with dumbbells
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Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods. When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.