How to use exercise progression when training outdoors – Part 2 Upper Body Pushing

In part 1 of this blog, we went over some exercise progressions for the lower body for the different types of exercises such as squats, step ups, split squats, lunges, and single leg squat variations.

Being able to progress your clients through five to six variations of each exercise gives you more options when it comes to training our doors or at home, even with limited equipment, and it helps prevent outdoor or home workouts from getting too monotonous!

In part 2, we are going to cover exercise progression for the upper body using only your own bodyweight.

There are 5 main types of body weight exercises for the upper body including:

  1. Push Ups
  2. Chin Ups
  3. Dips
  4. Inverted Rows
  5. Abdominals

This gives us two pushing variations, two pulling variations, and the core. Let’s take a look as some of the variations that are available to us in each category.

Upper Body Exercise Progressions

Push Ups Variations

Push ups are as basic as it gets when looking at body weight exercises. However, there are many ways to perform push ups, and the difficulty can be adjusted based on the client’s strength level.

The easiest variation of the push up, for those clients who are unable to perform a full push up, is with knees on the ground. This shortens the lever and in essence you are lifting a smaller percentage of your body weight. If a client is even unable to do that, they can try doing a push up again the wall, stepping slightly back.

Once a client can comfortably perform 20 push-ups on their knees, the next stage would be to perform a push up with your hands on a bench. This shortens the lever compared to a normal push-up, but not as much as a kneeling push up. Furthermore, you can progress from a high bench to a low bench.

After that is regular push ups on the floor. When a client can easily perform 20 push ups on the floor, they can progress to feet elevated push ups. This increases the inclination angle and makes the movement more difficult.

Next up is narrow or diamond push ups. Placing your hands close together increases the range of motion. You can also progress from narrow on the ground to narrow with feet elevated.

The next variation is pike push ups. Pike push up further increase the inclination angle. You can start with feet on the ground and progress to feet elevated.

From there you can progress to handstand push ups which increases the inclination angle even further, and it is in essence like doing a shoulder press with your body weight.

The final push ups variation is the one arm push up. Very few people can do a legit one arm push up. You may need to start with the non-working arm supported on a bench or a Swiss ball and gradually take away resistance. You could even start with side-to-side push ups on the floor and progress from there.


Dips Variations

Next up are the dips variations. There are several variations available here as well, with varying degrees of difficulty, and slightly altered recruitment patterns.

The most basic and easily accessible dips variation is the bench dip. This variation targets primarily the triceps, and anterior delts, and secondarily the pecs. The easiest variation of the bench dip is with the knee bent. This shortens the lever so that you are lifting a lesser percentage of your body weight.

To increase the difficulty of a bench dip you would progressively straighten out your legs. Once you can comfortably perform 20 reps with your legs straight the next step would be to elevate your feet on another bench or a Swiss ball.

You can continue making this exercise harder by having a partner sit on your lap. Obviously, they wouldn’t place all their weight on you right from the beginning, but they can gradually put more and more of their weight on as you get stronger.

This is where having small children can be handy because it would be easier for them to sit on your lap, and they don’t weigh as much. It would also be fun for them since it would be like going on a ride, and it’s a great way to get your children involved in your workouts when you take them to the park.

If having someone sit on your lap is not an option, you can try side to side dips between two benches or chairs. In this variation most of the load is being taken mainly by the working side while the other side is only assisting. It is almost like doing a one arm dip.

The other variation of the dips is the parallel bar dips. Parallel bar dips are generally more difficult than bench dips. You can also vary your hand and elbow position, and the inclination of your torse to target more of the pecs or triceps.

When you take a wider grip, flare your elbows our, and lean forward you target more of the pecs. This is generally an easier variation. If you cannot perform the exercise in this manner, you can have a partner support your feet or place a bench or a box under the bars and use that as support.

When you take a closer grip, tuck your elbows in, and keep more upright, you shift the focus more to the triceps and anterior delts. You can use the same progression here by having a partner support your feet or using a box to assist you.

Once you can perform 20 repetitions with each variation you can progress the difficulty by using rings or TRX bands if that option is available to you. The instability created by the rings makes the movement more challenging and it increases motor unit recruitment.

Likewise, the TRX bands or the rings can also be used with the push ups variations if that option is available. They are not super expensive to purchase, and they can quite easily be attached to any area outdoors with a chin up bar.


That wraps up for the pushing exercise variations of the upper body. In the third and final part of this blog, we will look at exercise variations for the pulling exercises for the upper body and the abs!


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