The Push-Up Lever

by Matt Schifferle on November 17, 2015

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Push Up Lever Lead

Give me a lever, and a place to lay, and I shall make crazy gains.
– Archimedes (probably)

There are a million reasons why I love calisthenics. Aside from the obvious, calisthenics has allowed me to unleash my inner mad scientist and build a variety of “devices.” It’s amazing what you can create with a little imagination and a few trips to the hardware store.

Most of my designs are home made versions of commercially available products such as suspension straps and calf blocks, but one of my favorites is a unique way to load extra resistance onto a standard push-up that I call the Push-up Lever.

PushUpLeverThe struggle to load the push-up…

She may not look like much, but that simple plank of wood solves many issues that have plagued anyone who’s tried to add resistance to a standard push-up.

In the time of 10-15 B.C. (Before Calisthenics) I used to do a lot of weighted bodyweight exercises. Most moves were pretty simple, like using a dip belt to load pull-ups, but push-ups were always a struggle for me. I’ve used weight vests, weighted backpacks, stretch bands and stacking weight plates on my back. While all of these methods did produce more resistance, that hard work came at a steep price. Loading the back or neck produced a lot of stress on the spine which felt unnatural and awkward. In some cases, like with sandbags or plates, the weight was difficult to load on my back, plus the load was always prone to shift forcing me to compromise my technique. Using items like bands or chains caused loading on sensitive pressure points like the neck or lower back.

Weight vests seemed to be an ideal solution, but they were expensive and hard to adjust. Even adjustable weight vests required opening numerous pockets and removing small weights. It just wasn’t worth the hassle so I seldom adjusted the load. Despite my effort, I always felt most methods didn’t work very well. I wanted some serious resistance and a plate on the back or a chain around the neck only brought marginal difficulty.

I figured there had to be a better way, so I started to meditate on the ways progressive calisthenics makes push-ups harder. One of the classic methods is to do push-ups on the knees and then make the lever of the body longer by doing them on the toes. So I asked myself, is it possible to further extend the lever of the body out beyond the toes?

That question was the inspiration the Push-up Lever.

What is a Push-up Lever?

The Push-up Lever is the world’s first complete push-up amplification device. Unlike methods that simply load more resistance on pushing muscles, the push-up lever amplifies all of the technical requirements of the push-up. This includes not only the muscles in the arms and chest, but also improving the strength in the core, hips, and legs. It also requires greater scapular control and even more tension in the feet. Many people claim they are sore in their abs and hips the next day after trying it for the first time.

The beauty of the lever is it doesn’t place any excess weight or pressure on your spine, but instead places it on your hips, which can handle the load in a much safer way and with far more control. It’s also something you can easily adjust by sliding where your hips are on the lever. The more you extend the lever out beyond your toe,s the more difficult it makes your push-up.

The further you slide the board up your hips the easier the move becomes!

The further you slide the board up your hips the easier the move becomes!

Not only is the lever easier to use and adjust, but it can challenge even the strongest athletes. This is because it makes the traditional push-up more difficult in 2 ways. It makes the lever of your body longer so you have to work against more resistance. It also makes your whole body lift against gravity. So not only are you working with a mechanical disadvantage but you’re also lifting more of your own body weight.

The Lever forces you to lift your entire body directly against gravity, not just your upper torso.

The Lever forces you to lift your entire body directly against gravity, not just your upper torso.

You can use any long slender object as a push-up lever. Pipes, barbells and even small trees can suffice, but I much prefer a 2 x 4 or a 2×6 plank of wood. Make sure any board you use is straight and not warped. Also look out for splinters. You may wish to sand it down and varnish it for a nice finished look.

How do you use a push-up lever?

Using the push-up lever requires a slightly different technique than a standard push-=up. Since the board rests on your hips, you need to slightly elevate your hips so they are the same height as your shoulders throughout the full range of motion. It can take a little bit of practice to use this type of push-up, however I find it to be natural and very useful.

Push Up Comparison

Also, be sure you have the strength to do your push-ups from the floor up. If you struggle to maintain control of your push up while “kissing the baby” with your chest to the floor, you may want to work on the lower range of your push-up for a few weeks before giving the push-up lever a try.

To use a push-up lever, simply lay down as you would in a push-up position and place the board against your hips at the appropriate length. Wrap your feet around the board so you’re “hugging” it with your thighs and the back of your knees. Some people prefer to use a flat foot against the board but I’ve always found more control through dorsi-flexing my feet and pressing my toes straight into the board.

Push-Up Lever Up and Down

Place your hands in the position you would normally do a push-up with and make your entire body tight, especially your quads, hips, and core. From there, simply do a push-up while pressing your hips up against the board and holding it tight with your legs. The first few times you do this you might feel like you’re sticking your butt up in the air, but I promise you’ll quickly become used to the new position.

Beware of the pressure from the lever pushing your hips down causing your back to sag.

If you’re using the lever at the half point of the board you should have a gap between your upper back and the lever as you push upwards. If the board is touching against your upper back you’ll need to lift your hips up even more to prevent the pressure of the lever going to your spine.

Notice the end of the board against my upper back and the gap between the board and my hips and knees. This places the pressure against my shoulders and causes pressure along the spine.

Notice the end of the board against my upper back and the gap between the board and my hips and knees. This places the pressure against my shoulders and causes pressure along the spine.

Here the gap between the board and the upper back is seen while my hips and legs are locked into the lever.

Here the gap between the board and the upper back is seen while my hips and legs are locked into the lever.

As you lower yourself down to the floor you want to “lead with your chest” so your hips stay at the same height of your shoulders through the full range of motion. Ideally, both your chest and hips should arrive at the ground at the same time and then lift up at the same rate of speed.

Once you have the technique down you can use the push-up lever for any push-up variation you normally use. Wide push-ups, close push-ups, alternating push-ups, medicine ball push-ups, etc.

Want even more resistance?

The classic push-up lever will offer a substantial amount of resistance and challenge to your classic push-ups. If you’re of the masochistic type and want even more resistance you can use the lever to safely add actual weight through the power of leverage.

This is done through adding weight pegs on one end of the lever with a small carabiner to suspend it off of a set of suspension straps or gymnastics rings.

PushUpLeverWeightPegs

In this position, you’ll use the lever backwards as the weight is suspended above and forward of your body. You’ll use the pivot point very close to your feet but still keep the load of the lever on your hips.

Be aware that it won’t take much weight to significantly load your push-ups. Most of the guys I’ve introduced this set up two will use no more than 10 to 15 pounds of weight. I’ve had powerlifters max out through as little as 40 pounds!

These chains only weigh about 12 pounds but they feel like a 225# bench press!

These chains only weigh about 12 pounds but they feel like a 225# bench press!

Using the lever in this way is the same as before where you will place yourself underneath and tighten your legs around the lever and push yourself up off the floor while driving your hips into the board.

While the push-up lever can be a great addition to your push-up program, it’s in no way a substitute for good old fashioned progressive calisthenics. When I first discovered it I made the mistake of using the lever for most of my workouts while neglecting the progressive steps towards the one arm push-up. Even though the lever helped me grow much stronger, I still had to fight to rebuild some of the muscle control and coordination I had lost from neglecting the advanced push-up techniques. Ultimately, the push-up lever is just one more tool for your toolbox. It can help you get stronger, but you still have to do the work.

***

Matt Schifferle a.k.a. The Fit Rebel made a switch to calisthenics training 5 years ago in an effort to rehab his weight lifting injuries. Since then he’s been on a personal quest to discover and teach the immense benefits of advanced body weight training. You can find some of his unique bodyweight training methods at RedDeltaProject.com and on his YouTube channel: RedDeltaProject.

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  • I like it. I think there is an extra delight in building your own exercise equipment – I have a scaffolding rig in my garden, but when I didn’t have a garden I explored the local woods, found some branches the right height for pull ups, another tree for dips & discovered various logs to lift. I used to do log presses at the top of a steep bank, throw the log down the hill on the last rep & then carry it back up again. Imagination, innovation, enthusiasm. I love this forum, every week a different approach & something new to think about. Thanks Matt.

    • Matt Schifferle

      I always love the natural approach. The world is our gym, it just takes a little creativity to use it.

    • Big Dan Earthquake, always keepin it hardcore!!

      • Coach Wade! You’re never far from my thoughts these days. CMASS sits on the table at my right & I hear your voice encouraging me. Good to hear from you.
        thanks,

        Dan Earthquake

        • That’s me shoutin thru the goddam window, buddy!

          One more f-in rep, Dan! You got this!

  • Joel Fugleberg

    Excellent article. Like you, I’ve done everything from weight vests/belts to having my kids sit on my back in order to add weight to push-ups. I will be “building” my pushup lever tonight!

    • Matt Schifferle

      Rock on Joel! Let me know if you have any questions.

    • Let us know how it works for ya, Joel!

  • Michael Chon

    Hana hou!!! Great stuff…

  • Very cool, Matt! It was great to see you at the SCC a couple weeks ago. Nice innovation here!!!

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thanks so much Adrienne! That SCC was great! I’m still applying everything I learned!

  • Gil

    This is awesome Matt; I like this new approach. I think this could work for one armed pushups too, but first things first: let me build one of these levers and progress to that stage!

    • Matt Schifferle

      I would pay good money to see this done with a one arm push up, It’s hard enough with two arms! best of luck with your training!

  • Logan Christopher

    Very cool Matt. I’ve never seen that before but look forward to giving it a shot!

  • Mohammed

    Hot damn, this is genius. I need to start thinking of things like this.

  • 305pelusa

    Sorry if I sound rude, but seriously? This isn’t genius, it’s wishful thinking. Or bad physics, take your pick.

    In short, increasing your “effective height” with the plank does increase the torque about the rotation axis (the feet). But it ALSO increases the leverage that your arms get by the exact same amount. Arms don’t have to push any harder, because the increase in lever means that the same force as before will also lead to more counter-torque about the axis of rotation.

    It’s MUCH harder on your abs because their leverage is now decreased as the points of force (hands and feet) and FURTHER away from your abdominals. But little change is found pushing-wise.

    It’s a misconception that “leverage” is what makes knee push-ups easier. It’s easier because a closer pivot means the angle to the ground is bigger (so less gravitational force is perpendicular to ground), and because less weight lies on your hands now (not to mention the lower legs are now not being involved). A longer lever would just add more fractional weight to the hands, not “AMPLIFY” the weight through your “torque” analysis.

    Take the limit of the lever. Do you really think suddenly your arms will support infinite weight? No obviously not. An infinitely long plank would become a push-up with feet raised to shoulder height, as this is what it approaches. So in fact, this push-up ranks between regular, and feet-raised push-ups in terms of pushing difficulty.

    The second one you show, with added weight, DOES become harder, just like adding chains and a vest. Now more WEIGHT is placed on your body with the SAME lever as before. So the gravitation torque INCREASES (Torque = Force(right) x distance), but the leverage of the arms is the same, so the arms must create MORE force to match this higher torque.

    Cute idea for hard ab training, but no replacement for a weighted vest, or the one-arm push-up.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Defiantly no replacement for the one arm push up for sure, but give it a shot. I promise once your abs can stabilize it, you’ll find it’s far more difficult than the push up with elevated feet. Even though the ROM at the arms is the same, the fact that you’re lifting your whole body a greatest distance will bring you much more resistance.

      • 305pelusa

        There are two ways in which push-ups can be made more challenging. By challenging the abs more (lifting a foot, using unstable surfaces, etc), or by increasing resistance/torque on the pushing muscles (vests, chains, one-arm push-ups, planche push-ups, etc).

        I’m just making sure people understand this does NOT belong on the second category, only the first. There’s no “amplification” of the weight, there’s no “mechanical disadvantage” for your arms (there is for your midsection), and there is not more resistance than in a feet-elevated push-up. I was just making sure that was clear. If you knew that since the beginning, then we’re good.

        • Matt Schifferle

          We’ll have to just agree to disagree I guess. It’s most certainly a greater challenge for the arms as well.
          As an informal test, a buddy of mine did these with a couple of pressure sensors under his hands, both with and without the lever. he found there was between a 35-40% increase in the pressure on the hands with the lever. More pressure means more resistance, just as if you were to place more weight on a bar with a bench press.

          • 305pelusa

            Well, the beauty of Physics is that you can’t just agree to disagree because the solution is finite and obtainable. Do you not realize that it doesn’t matter that you lengthen a lever, if both forces (gravity and arms) act on the same lever? Added leverage only occurs when you increase the lever you act on, but keep constant the one that acts on the object. Think of a see-saw Matt.

            Think about it. Do longer arms make a planche harder or easier? What about longer body?

            Anyways, your friend’s test must be wrong. Simple math shows that. A push-up has about 70% weight on the arms (just tested it with “pressure sensors”, a.k.a scale). Increasing that by 40% means that (70%+.4*70%=98%) 98% of your bodyweight rests on your hands. Please tell me that you also realize how ridiculous that sounds Matt. Simple physics tells us that if the scale says that, then either your feet are essentially air-borne, or you will be accelerating towards the ceiling. Your friend messed something up.

            I did the same experiment. I found an increase of 15% in weight by placing my feet to shoulder height, and 20% increase by using the lever. 70+.2*70=84%. That makes much more sense. I’ll let you figure out why the lever one did end up having slightly more weight in the end (hint: has nothing to do with leverage, but the plank itself).

            Again, sorry if I sound mean or nerdy, just hoping it clears things up for you 🙂

          • Matt Schifferle

            Don’t worry, not mean at all. plus I love all the nerdy discussion I can get! That’s what I love about forums like this. Learning is always accelerated through debate and discussion.

            But, really. Next time you’ve got a barbell or you’ve got a 2×4 on hand just give it a shot. You’ll see it works.

          • 305pelusa

            Like explaining sound to the deaf.

            If you actually love all the nerdy discussions, then please take out a piece of paper, draw what you’re talking about, where the forces, axis and lever are, and then answer me these questions.

            -Why do you say there is a mechanical disadvantage?
            -How much BW is placed on the arms when the plank is as tall as the person? What about twice as tall? Assume the arms act by the head, weight is uniform. You will see there is no AMPLIFICATION, but rather, an asymptotic behavior approaching 50% BW. The 50% comes from the assumption that arms are by the head. Since they’re lower, the weight is more like 70%. But it’ll do for demonstration.

            Until you answer that YOURSELF, we can’t really have a discussion.

            And if you care to know, a 2×4 and a barbell weigh from 20-45 pounds, so yes, obviously it’ll “work”, but not because of your pseudo-leverage argument, but because your effective weight increased!! I hinted at this on my last post, which you seemed to ignore. Might as well place the barbell on your back, same result.

            And I already DID try it, I used a scale. I also wrote that on my last post. I used a stick that weighed 5 lbs, which is the reason why using the stick led to higher weight than feet shoulder-height.

  • Yet another wonderful innovation from the greatest mind in bodyweight bodybuilding!

    Great work Fit Rebel. Thanks so much for the article, so many bodyweight fans looking to build in new tools and challenges will appreciate your work as much as me.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Mucho Gracias Coach!

      The guys at the gym I work at have been playing with this thing for a few years now and they all wanted to extend a big thank you for your work.

      • Please tell em I bow to the Masters!!

  • Les Gross

    Matt this is some good poop. I love this kind of innovation, especially when the focus is on minimal external equipment. I would have never in a hundred years thought that a simple plank of wood could be such a great assistant, but I stand corrected. Now I’m thinking of other ways to use such a simple tool. Imagine doing a one arm pushup with this thing- abdominal strength would have to be god-like. Or doing horizontal pullups with it. Jeebus, imagine the ass that has to support that thing, my girl would never keep her hands off of it.

    Also that was a great podcast on superstrengthshow you did…you nailed it man. I’ve seriously been experimenting with activating muscles that don’t even get “worked” with certain movements to see if there is a positive effect, and found that with pushups, if I tense my entire posterior, I get a much more responsive movement, or if I contract every muscle in my entire body, I can get a much cleaner…well everything- it literally works for every movement.

    Great article man.

    Good to see Coach Wade is back as well. We’ve all missed you.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thanks Les! And thanks for checking out the Super Strength Show. That was a lot of fun to do that interview.
      I’ve used it for rows too and I’ve also experimented with using it for some assisted single leg squats as well. The squats were a bit awkward, but it kills on the rows! I used to use sandbags on my chest with rows but this was so much better. It was very challenging with rowing on a bar. I think my PR on it was a measly12 reps. If you go with the row though I highly recommend the 2×6 as opposed to the 2×4. The wider board is much more comfortable on the front of the hips.

    • AWESOME comment, Les…

      The SCC shocked me back into life, my friend!

  • Matt Schifferle

    Hey everyone! I just did a bit of an informal test to try and put some numbers out there for anyone interested in what the lever can do for you if you’ve been doing things like weighted push ups.

    My wt: 180#
    Full lever wt: 20#
    Lever length 8 feet 9 inches.

    Resistance on my upper body in a standard push up: ave 122# (About 67% BW)

    Resistance with the lever “short” With my toes all the way to the back end: ave 142# Makes sense since most of the extra resistance at that point would be from the weight of the lever itself as it’s only extending from my feet about 6 inches.

    Resistance with lever “long” with the end resting on my hips: ave 166# (About 92% BW)

    Keep in mind, this is the “easy” way to use the lever without the extra weight on the pegs extended over head. I’ll try to get something on the weighted version.

    • I never doubted you for a second, dude. People who actually DO pushups (rather than just typing a lot of crap about them) will all be able to intuit this stuff.

      • 305pelusa

        Your math is wrong.

        122/180= 67% BW
        (142-20)/180 (cause now you’re using the lever) = 67% BW

        So extending your height by 6 inches made zero change.

        (166-20)/180 = 75% BW.

        The measurement you missed was feet shoulder high. You would’ve noticed it was very close to 75% BW.

        Now ^that math is still a bit off, because not the entire weight of the plank subtracts from your hand pressure. But it is MUCH MORE exact than just ignoring it.

        And like I mentioned, loading it on the other side does work, because it’s more weight. It actually doesn’t matter WHERE you load it on the other side either. IF you care to know.

        @Wade: Hahaha, the fact that you didn’t doubt him goes to show your misunderstanding of classical lever mechanics.

        What’s funny is that, as an engineer major, I have very good intuition. That’s why as soon as I read this, I knew it was not exactly what Matt thought.

        And I think it’s amazing that my comments are getting deleted. I guess it’s easier to feed a lie to the readers than have the author finally comprehend his mistake.

        • Eoin Kenny

          Man, correct me if I’m wrong but your math is not really taking into account the weight of the lever itself when it’s used to essentially “extend your legs”.

          As I mentioned on Dragon Door an infinite lever would not be between regular, and feet-raised push-ups in terms of pushing difficulty surely? You cannot “push up” an infinite lever, it has an infinite weight! Doesn’t the same concept apply here on a smaller scale?

          • 305pelusa

            First off, my math is. Note the subtraction of the lever weight.

            That step is important because it shows that the difficulty from the lever pushup comes from the weight of the lever, NOT from the LENGTH of the lever. Take away the weight of the lever, and the result is essentially what I said it would be. Matt could’ve used a lever twice as long, same weight, same result.

            Hence, all my analysis was to prove that a longer lever does nothing, so it was assuming the lever is weightless. That’s why in my experiment below I picked the lightest thing I could find to get the best results.

            An infinitely long, weightless lever becomes a pushup with feet shoulder height. So any finite, weightless lever must be slightly easier than this. No lever is weightless, that’s why it’ll be harder.

            But it’s good to realize is got nothing to do with length, all to do with weight. That’s probably also why Matt said it “worked” with a BB.

          • Eoin Kenny

            Ah I was confused when you subtracted 20 from the start and then started talking about infinite levers being somewhat easy to lift.

            I’ll just have to try it myself and see, this has all gotten me very curious. It’ll be easy to test with a scale… just need to look for a plank tomorrow :p

  • Nice!

  • Aleks Salkin

    Matt, you are a frickin’ genius! I love this idea! I’ve never liked the idea of weighted pushups, but this makes all the sense in the world. I can’t wait to try this!

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