By Ross Enamait – Published in 2006
Since posting The Home Gym video, I have received several questions regarding the clap pushups that were shown. Two of the most common questions include:
What are the benefits of this exercise?
Is this exercise safe?
First, the issue of safety is unique to each athlete. The body will adapt to the demands imposed upon it. An untrained individual has no business attempting a plyometric movement such as the behind-the-back clap pushup. A novice athlete is not structurally prepared for such an intense exercise.
The exercise itself is not dangerous. Ignorance however is quite dangerous. Movements such as the clap pushup could certainly be dangerous to an individual who lacks the necessary foundation. Many of the exercises seen in the video clip are intended for advanced (competitive) athletes.
I post video clips to the site to help readers spice up their own training routines. These videos offer a brief glimpse of what we do in and out of the gym. The clips are not meant to serve as complete workouts. I have read several message boards where readers misunderstood the video clips to be full workouts. They were under the assumption that the exercises should be performed one after the other, in the exact sequence. This assumption is incorrect. The videos simply offer readers with ideas to liven up their own workouts. Nothing more, nothing less…
Moving On Up
Many athletes are taught to believe that bodyweight exercise is limited. The video clips offer one way to disprove this myth. Please note that I am not suggesting that free weights are ineffective. I am simply stating that bodyweight exercise can be as effective (or more effective). There are progressions available that will challenge athletes of all levels. You can always make an exercise more difficult. Obviously, you are not expected to perform the most advanced exercises on your first day of training, but the sky is the limit in terms of possibilities and levels of difficulty.
The behind-the-back clap pushup variations are useful for several reasons. These movements require explosive strength, flexibility, hand speed, and coordination. A sense of body awareness is also required, as you must remain cognizant of your position in the air as the body performs various actions (ex. claps the hands behind the back). I have seen many strong athletes (ex. strong via bench press and one-arm pushups) who struggle with even a basic plyometric pushup. These individuals possess max-strength, but are lacking in explosive strength and speed strength.
This phenomenon is easily explained when you understand the different kinds of strength. Explosive strength is the ability to express significant tension in minimal time. Maximal strength is the amount of force that one can exert under voluntary effort. Zatsiorsky (1) specifically states that,
“The ability to produce maximal force in minimal time is called explosive strength. Strong people do not necessarily possess explosive strength.”
An athlete may be very strong, but if he cannot develop strength in minimal time, his strength will lack value as a competitive athlete.
Athletes must possess the ability to produce power on the drop of a dime. One benefit of handclap pushups is that you have very little time to develop tension. You will be traveling in the air, performing one or more handclaps. There is not a lot of time between the last handclap and your landing on the ground. As soon as you land, you must immediately reverse your motion and explode back into the air. Despite minimal time, you must develop enough power to perform the various handclaps. This characteristic of the exercise makes it difficult to string together multiple repetitions. Working with only one repetition will minimize the value of the exercise. You will not be required to reverse your action from landing to immediately producing explosive strength.
Several variations exist when working with handclap pushups. You could clap once in front of the body or once behind the body. You can then string together both a front and back handclap. You may even develop the ability to perform three handclaps at once. Other plyometric pushups can also be performed such as power overs and depth pushups. Once again, the sky is the limit in terms of exercise options that require little or no equipment.
Below I have posted a video clip where I demonstrate the triple handclap pushup. This exercise is all about coordination, hand speed, and explosive strength (not maximum push off the ground).
In addition to the questions related to clap pushups, I read many message board posts related to the speed of movement. Many readers questioned why each movement was performed with speed, as opposed to moving slow with an emphasis on maximal tension.
A partial answer to this question is that the videos clips offer just a fraction of a complete training plan. Clearly, the exercises from this brief clip do not constitute an entire training routine. More strenuous (and controlled) movements certainly serve a purpose. Maximal strength is an important strength quality. The development of maximal strength leads to powerful neural adaptations, improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. Training for maximal strength leads to neural changes, such as the increased firing rate of motor units, the recruitment of additional motor units, and improved synchronization of motor units. Maximal strength training definitely has a place in a well-rounded routine.
I simply caution you against focusing all of your energy towards maximal strength. Excessive development of max-strength has been shown to negatively influence speed strength (2). All of the strength in the world will be of little value if you lack the ability to use it. Speed strength and explosive strength are essential qualities, particularly for a combat athlete. A well-rounded training plan must develop each strength quality. The distribution of various strength qualities will vary from sport to sport. Each sporting event has a unique fitness profile. The goal of any training program is to develop those attributes required by the athlete for his particular event. Maximal strength is important, but must not be over-emphasized.
1. Zatsiorsky, V.M. (1995). Science and Practice of Strength Training, Human Kinetics
2. Verkhoshansky, Y. (1986). Fundamentals of Special Strength Training in Sport. Livonia, MI: Sportivny Press. (Original work published in 1977, Moscow, Russia: Fizkultura i Spovt)