The Pushup Board: Review of the Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

posted in: Gear, Product Reviews, Uncategorized, Videos | 13
The Pushup Board
The Pushup Board

The pushup is one of the oldest recorded strength training exercises. Martial artists, yogis, and athletes have been cranking out reps of pushups for thousands of years. Without a doubt, the pushup has stood the test of time and is an invaluable addition to many strength training programs. But is the pushup all there is? Could there be, dare I say, something better? Some people would have you believe there is, and we’re about to explore that notion while we take a close look at the pushup board training tool.

The pushup board has been touted as an “ancient tool for the modern warrior,” receiving praise from many strength coaches including Steve Maxwell, a world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I met Steve back in 2006, and was quite impressed with his movement skills and coaching abilities. So, when Steve puts his seal of approval on a training tool, I pay attention. I’m also one to rigorously evaluate everything I endorse, and if a tool just doesn’t cut it, you’re going to know where I stand on the issue (even if well-respected coaches like Steve disagree with me). The pushup board has distinct practical purposes, but it also has a number of drawbacks, which I cover in-depth in this video review.

The Pushup Board – Review of the Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Note: a similar tool that will yield better results would be rotating pushup handles or a set of parallel bars (or parallettes, AKA p-bars), which will be much more versatile. These have a few unique perks, and I’d be much more inclined to recommend them than a pushup board. You can click here check out the set I use on Amazon.com. There’s also a newer model here.

So, as you can see, not all tools are created equal and not all tools serve a variety of purposes. The pushup board fits a very specific need in the fitness industry, but is relatively unnecessary apart from that purpose. You would do just as well using the ground or a couple of blocks in most situations.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but the bottom line is that if you’re having trouble maintaining shoulder stability during your various pushup exercises, then the pushup board may be just what the strength coach ordered. Order yours from Steve for $49.95 or make your own with some scrap wood, screws, and sandpaper. Otherwise, there’s really no need to use this tool, and there are much more effective ways to train shoulder stability.

Two of the best tools for training shoulder stability, in my opinion, are gymnastic rings and clubbells. You can train using all 6 degrees of freedom and in all planes of movement using these tools. Thus, there’s a lot more versatility in terms of training options – meaning they’re more useful and more fun.

Before you run, check out this cool video by CST Coach John Belkewitch showing off both the rings and clubbells (and keep an eye out for the shoulder stability component, which John demonstrates flawlessly).

Clubbells and Gymnastic Rings Demo by John Belkewitch

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out John’s guest post, where you can Learn the Eagle Press (the last exercise demonstrated in his video)

So, have you used the pushup board? If so, what did you use it for, and what did you think of it?

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

P.S. I should not neglect to mention that a set of parallel bars (or parallettes) make a great training tool for predominantly pushing-based exercises. There’s a lot more versatility with a set of p-bars, versus a pushup board (and you can just as easily make your own set or parallettes for a meager investment).

13 Responses

  1. Thanks for this thorough review, John! This confirms what I thought about this piece of equipment (i.e. good tool but a very specific purpose and over-hyped), but also taught me some things about shoulder stability and mobility.

    I’m curious if you’ve see the “Warrior Power T’s”:
    http://www.transformetrics.com/products/warrior-power-ts

    I’m guessing you’d say something similar about these, as they only work in the frontal plane vs. clubbells or gymnastic rings that work in all planes.

    I’ve also had my eye on the Bison-1 wrist and forearm trainer (which follows a similar methodology to CST), but should probably invest in some clubbells first:
    http://www.bisonstrength.com/

    • Thanks Duff.

      I haven’t used Warrior Power T’s, but I have used something similar once. I think there are better ways to build grip and wrist strength, personally. And you’re right, they’re not very versatile, which is something I look for in all the training equipment I buy. I want a lot of potential use out of each investment I make. But if you already have a lot of training equipment in your home gym, these could make a nice addition for a greater challenge while doing pushups.

      I have not used the Bison-1 either. Probably the closest thing I’ve tried is one of those squeeze-grippers you can get at any sport and fitness store, and even that is quite different.

      I tend to recommend against grip training tools that isolate the hand and forearm muscles for a very important reason. The body works, not in isolation, but as a system, and especially so with any and all strength skills. Whenever you contract a muscle (whether voluntarily without external resistance, or during an exercise or movement drill), you can always get a stronger contraction when co-contracting the surrounding muscles. So, if you contract your grip, you can get a stronger grip contraction when also contracting your upper arms.

      The chain doesn’t stop there, though. If you continue up the line, and contract the shoulders, core, and legs, then you’ll get a much stronger grip contraction, too. Basically, the more tension you create in your body, the greater grip strength you can apply. Pavel Tsatsouline of the RKC is famous for popularizing this idea.

      This is true for all muscles in the body, but especially obvious when training grip strength. You can try an experiment to test this out…

      First, grab someones hand (preferably someone you know, haha), and squeeze it as hard as you can – but ONLY use your grip strength. Focus on the grip strength, and SQUEEZE your partners hand as hard as you possibly can. Don’t integrate other muscle groups during this test. Make a mental note of how hard you’re squeezing, and ask your partner to rate the level of squeeze on a scale of 1-10.

      After a short break, complete the same drill, only this time not only squeeze your grip muscles, but also the rest of your arm muscles. Pack your shoulder down on your ribcage, and connect your arm to your core. Exhale as you forcefully contract your abs and glute muscles. Also be tensing your thighs, and trying to grip the earth with your feet (squeezing with the arch of your foot, as if it were like the palm of your hand). Essentially, you want to connect your grip squeeze with the rest of your body, in an attempt to “root down” into the ground.

      Make a mental note of how hard you’re squeezing this time, and ask your friend (if you still are friends) about how that measured up on a scale of 1-10.

      You’ll notice a BIG difference.

      Grip strength is best trained in conjunction with the rest of the body, which is why I prefer tools like clubbells, KB’s, sandbags, parallettes, and gymnastic rings, over any form of isolated grip training. You’ll get a much better training stimulus, and your grip strength will be applicable to more useful and broad skill sets.

  2. Thanks for the review, John. I always wondered why people use this boards. I will stick with my clubbells, kettlebells and ropes. Gymnastic rings will be the next tool that I really need.
    For push up variation I like Hindu push ups (they are more fun than regular push ups and great for shoulder coordination). And then Quad Hop variations and handstand push ups (Adam’s and Ryan’s BER book helps). Handstand push ups are cool. This will be a nice goal in the future.

    You are spot on about grip strength. I bought a rubber ring for isolated grip training. I hardly used it. Too boring. Pull ups, KBs, Clubbells are just fine for grip. A Monkey Bar (think Jon Hinds) would be even better.

    I know the tension stuff from Pavel’s books. It works. I won an arm wrestling “fight” against a man using whole body tension. And I didn’t give 100 % of what I had in the tank. Well the guy was a university student, not an athlete. But so was I. That was long before I read Pavel’s or any other coaches material. It was probably just common sense. Use your brain, especially in physical tasks.

    Probably the best for grip strength, shoulder stability and overall strength is gymnastics and aerials. Aerials are dance and gymnastics – beautiful. OK, too difficult for me. But they build strength like crazy. Watch Dreya Webers Arms. Btw: She’s over forty.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAKvpZZAcZc&NR=1

  3. Since Maxwell said such nice things about it, I ordered one (and the companion DVD) nearly a year ago.

    I’ve tried playing around with it, but something about the biomechanics of the unit absolutely kills my left anterior shoulder/front delt. I once strained some muscle fibers there in my early lifting days, and whatever remains wrong with it just does not agree with the way the board works.

    I got an email notification recently that there is no a PUB v 2.0, which looks kind of like bicycle handlebars. Might be interesting…but I think I will save my money for some good parallettes.

    • You can’t go wrong with a set of parallettes, James. They cover a lot of different training options.

  4. I’m not a fan of the push-up board. I had it roll forward on me and I sprained both wrists. Not saying it was HIS push-up board but it was certainly advertised and sold as such. Luckily I was young, just learning about all this stuff, and I bounced back quick.

    So if I’m going barefoot, I am also going bare handed.
    Works pretty good so far.

  5. I don’t get your review. I thought it was to be a review on the pushup board, not a discussion of how well it strengthens shoulder packing and increases range of motion. Pushups arent an exercise one would use for either of those purposes except for perhaps as part of a broader routine and so I find much of the review irrelevant. Please understand I only mean irrelevant to the topic not in general as I feel you made good points and observations, just not for the purpose of a review of the pushup board. Here are some questions. I am a person who does many pushups every day; what potential would the pushup board have to enhance or detract from my pushup experience and why? What can I do with a pushup board that I cannot do without it and what can be done sans pushup board that cannot be done with the pushup board? Is it your opinion that the pushup board is essential for pushup fanatics and should completely replace grounded pushups? Should such a person avoid the board altogether? Or is it perhaps recommended to mix it up?

    Thanks

    You don’t at all seem to be a proponent for pushups so I wonder why you would bother “reviewing” a pushup product.

  6. Thanks for the quick response and opinion. I hope I didn’t come across too negative. For what little it’s worth I’ve done a bit more looking around on your site and I like it and I will be back from time to time. Nice site & have a good one.

  7. Jesse Torres

    I use rings, clubbells, real Persian Meels, Gadas, kettlebells, warrior power Ts, the push-up board (Takteh Shenah), heavy shields (Sang Gereftan) and various other strength tools. To be honest, I’m disappointed in what a lot of you guys have written here. Makes me thing you don’t know as much as you think you do. The push-up board Takteh Shenah is a time tested and excellent training tool and so are the Warrrior Ts, although the Warrior Ts are relatively new. They are both superb tools to train the body for any kind of physical endeavor. I know because I use them all in a hard fashion. I’m good with all of them. By the way, the Warrior Power Ts are NOT for grip and wrist strength although they do get trained to a degree. The Warrior Ts are a lesson and developer of total body tension which is extremely functional. Also, in regards to grip strength, the above tools will build a very strong grip as John said, but in order to build a world class crushing grip or pinch grip to close a COC #4 or lift an Inch DB off the ground or to do a 360 pound one arm deadlift, one MUST isolate the grip. In conjunction with applying the body tie in technique. I can close a # 4 and lift the Inch and none of the above exercises will train you to do either successfully. If you’re talking general powerful grip, then Okay, I suppose that is accurate. But for that brute bone crushing grip, you have to apply specificity. And if you can Close a #4 or lift the Inch, that will definitely transfer over to almost anything!

  8. Hi John,

    Thank you for your review of the pushup board, or the Takhte-Shena as it is known in Persian Yoga (Pahlavani), which is where Mr. Maxwell has been inspired from to make his version of the Shena that you have reviewed.

    In response to your review I would like to make a couple of comments which I hope will add value in gaining a clearer picture of what this tool is, how it is and can be used, for the benefit of yourself, your readers and the general, limited and sometimes erroneous, public information.

    In your review you made several references to shoulder stability, which in fact is a very important, and often neglected, component of overall strength & fitness (to use a general term). Although the Shena is (IMO) a fantastic tool for this end it is not the main objective of its use, at least not in the Persian Yoga (Pahlavani) tradition.

    You are right in saying that it is very specific in its use i.e. push-ups, and when used in isolation that’s all you will be able get from it i.e. exactly what it was designed to do and give you.

    You gave a brief demonstration of 3 exercises that can be done with the Shena and also made reference to the Indian pushup, there are however over 50 exercises and variations that can be done with the Shena alone in the Persian Yoga system. This coupled with the fact that one of the main bio-mechanical functions/features that the human body performs is pushing (the others being pulling and getting up) I would hardly classify the Shena as a limited tool.

    You also said that one of the main benefits of the Shena is to provide the element of instability where in fact exactly the opposite is true. One of the Shena’s main purpose is to provide a stable platform during Dynamic flexibility and calisthenic pushing exercises as done in Persian Yoga. But you can still do exercises on the Shena which are founded on the principle of instability and balancing.

    And the slipping and sliding factor, well unfortunately it seems that Mr. Maxwell’s pushup-boards do not have rubberized feet (which they should). Nick even commented that he had an accident with the these push-up boards which I can see how that could have happened as the pushup-board you are reviewing, looks to me, that their legs are too narrow and too tall which can cause concern for them being unstable i.e. unfit for their purpose. You can find further details of how do DIY Shena after the officially recognized standards set by the International Zurkhaneh Federation, and as they have been designed and used for over a thousand years in Iran, on my website here: http://www.persianyoga.com/blog/diy-shena-pushup-board-number-one-tool-for-calisthenics-persian-yoga.

    On that note I wish to add that shoulder stability is a by product of using the Shena, not the focus. In Persian Yoga we work shoulder stability primarily with the Meel (the grandfather of the Clubbell) as it (Meels) enable full circumduction at the Gleno-Humeral (shoulder) joint with resistance. This is something that you correctly pointed out, but it is less correct (IMHO) to compare the function and value derived from the Pushup-board to the Clubbell; both of which, if not in whole are at least in part inspired from the Shena & Meel of Persian Yoga (Pahlavani) where both tools are parts of a greater system of physical conditioning. See persianyoga.com for further details.

    Furthermore You call the pushup-board useless, but you are ignoring the fact that it has been trusted and used for millenia by those who lived (or died) as direct result of how strong and fit they were and in modern days by Olympic Gold medalists and World Champion wrestlers…hardly the hallmark of a useless tool.

    You recommend the rotating pushup handles or a set of parallel bars over the Shena and admittedly I do not have a great experience with neither of them, other than playing around with them and finding them very limited in use, and I mean that in terms of exercises and variations that can be done with them ca. 10-15 exercises and variations (and that’s being generous) on the pbars as compared to 50+ exercises and variations on the Shena.

    My point is not to debate which is superior to the other, that comes down to personal preference of what you think works for you, but to highlight that there is much more to the Shena which you, as well as many others in the ‘West’ simply are unaware of.

    Lastly David asked very good questions which I will take the liberty to respond to.

    David asked:

    Q. What potential would the pushup board have to enhance or detract from my pushup experience and why?

    A. If learnt properly it will enrich your training with greater variation, improve your strength, flexibility, endurance & agility as well as teach you new skills and ways of moving your body. It is also ultra portable, allowing you to get a full workout wherever you are.

    Q. What can I do with a pushup board that I cannot do without it and what can be done sans pushup board that cannot be done with the pushup board?

    A. Essentially you can ‘live without’ a Shena push-up board and be just fine and a majority of the same exercises can be done simply on the ground.

    Having said that the Shena provides you with these specific benefits:

    Performing push-ups on a Shena has the following advantages:

    – It encourages the internal rotation of the arm at the shoulder (GH) joint hence reducing the stress on the shoulder (GH) joint structures like bursae, ligaments and tendons when doing pushups i.e. it enforces correct posture and technique

    – It allows for a deeper and fuller Range of Motion…in a standard ‘Western’ pushups the hand position is often perpendicular to the floor and directly under the shoulders, especially during the eccentric phase of the pushup, whereas in certain Persian pushup series the hands travel all the way below the 12th rib during the eccentric pushup phase.

    – It shifts the center of mass higher (more superiorly) hence allowing you to leverage your body weight and so making the push-ups more challenging

    – It provides a stable, balanced and symmetrical platform to do push-ups on…in many Persian Yoga pushups we are doing Asanas while simultaneously doing calisthenics (mainly pushups) and so at times one or both hands have to be lifted off the Shena to later be returned to them for more pushups…which makes it relevant to land symmetrically and on the same spot and on a stable platform. In particular as this is done dynamically and sometimes at a great tempo.

    – It is better for your wrist health as it helps you to keep your wrist in more of a natural angle rather than perpendicularly to the floor as in a standard ‘Western’ pushup.

    – It improves mobility, flexibility and ROM to the wrists, arms and shoulders.

    – It allows you to perform push-ups on any surface

    Q. Should such a person avoid the board altogether? Or is it perhaps recommended to mix it up?

    A. The body is designed to move, so the best thing for it is to move and use it in as many ways as we can. And it is worth remembering that no tool will change your life, they are tools, life less, we give life to them by using them, so use whatever grinds your gear, mix it up and have fun.

    Respectfully yours,

    Kashi

    Be tireless!

    • Kashi,

      Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us!

      you wrote:
      “I hope will add value in gaining a clearer picture of what this tool is, how it is and can be used, for the benefit of yourself, your readers and the general, limited and sometimes erroneous, public information.”

      And you’ve done exactly that. So, thanks again – much appreciated.

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