How To Do Shoulder Tap Push Ups [with Variations]


Shoulder Tap Push-ups

Why not combine two of the best body weight workouts, the plank with shoulder taps and the push-up!? You have the shoulders and chest burning from the push-up movement and the core stability from the plank with shoulder taps. While there is a variety of push-ups, shoulder tap push-ups may not be in your current workout program. But after reading more about shoulder tap push-ups, you won’t be able to resist adding them to your next workout.

To understand why you should be doing these, let’s first look at the correct set up. Shoulder tap push-ups begin in the same position as your standard push-up. Start with your hands flat, just outside your shoulders. Keeping your core tight, make sure your whole body is in a strong, aligned position. Bend your elbows, keeping them close to your torso, as you lower your whole body to the floor. Then push your body back up to the starting position, fully extending your elbows at the top. Now, unweight one hand, reaching up and across to tap your opposite shoulder, and bring that hand back to the ground. Repeat with the other hand. Then continue right back into another push-up for your desired sets and reps. Shoulder tap push-ups work all of the major muscle groups and a lot of the smaller stabilizing muscles. The push-up on its own engages the pectoral muscles, triceps, and anterior deltoids, with help from the rest of the deltoids, rotator cuff, serratus anterior, and the whole core. The shoulder tap plank on its own works the whole core and all of the shoulder and scapular muscles, providing stability, especially when weight bearing through only one arm. Shoulder tap planks also intensify the work of the core compared to a push-up, as you tap the opposite shoulder. This is because there is an anti-rotation component to the shoulder tap. Your core fights to keep your torso neutral, by fighting against rotation as you weight shift. Plus, with any plank, your glutes and quads are firing to keep your whole body in line. Based off of all those muscle groups working, it is easy to see that one of the main benefits of shoulder taps push-ups is arm and core strength. But there are several other benefits. For starters, this exercise can be done anytime, anywhere. It improves your pushing power which is used in several normal daily and recreational activities, it elevates your heart and breathing rate, and it adds variety to your standard push-up and core exercises.

You are probably wondering why anyone would think to add shoulder taps to push-ups. Sure, both exercises can be challenging on their own. But tapping your shoulder adds a whole other layer to your core and arm workout routine.

What is the point of tapping your shoulder?

Tapping your shoulder during shoulder tap push-ups makes you shift your weight to one hand. While doing this your core fires up to ensure you do not lose balance or rotate through your torso. If your core relaxed, you would probably fall over, or have pretty bad form and miss the entire point of core and arm strengthening aspect of this exercise.

Adding shoulder taps to the push-up provides even more of a challenge to your arms, not just your core. While doing push-ups, you are fatiguing your arms. Add in a weight shift on to one arm, you spike up the workload even more. Same as when standing on one leg versus two legs, when holding yourself up with one arm, that arm is working significantly more than when both arms are on the ground.

And, when you have only 3 points, instead of 4 points of contact with the ground, you are much less stable. A study was done on push up variations, either in stable or unstable conditions. They found, the more unstable a push-up position was, the more the core muscles were activated.

Variations of the shoulder tap push-ups

The shoulder tap push-up is a variation of a standard push-up. However, there are several ways to modify the shoulder tap push-up. Whether you need this exercise easier or harder, you most definitely find benefits in completing whatever variation works for you.

Easier variations:

  • Shoulder tap push-ups on knees. Some people call these “girl push-ups”, but there is nothing wrong with dropping to your knees, especially if this allows you to maintain good form and make true gains.
  • Shoulder tap push-ups with hands on a box. Instead of dropping to your knees, try elevating your upper body. This will decrease the load through your arms, allowing you to complete the exercise the right way, gain strength, and eventually you will be able to progress to the full variation.
  • Elbow tap push-ups. This easier variation will be set up the same way as the standard shoulder tap push-up. Except you will only reach up to tap your elbow and not your shoulder. This is a great variation if you can perform the standard push-up but are having trouble with the shoulder tap. Tapping the elbow decreases the range of motion and the overall time you spend weight bearing through only one arm.

Harder variations:

  • Add in the legs. Perform the standard shoulder tap push-up, but as you tap one shoulder, raise the same side foot. This increases the work through your core significantly.
  • Add weight. Perform the standard shoulder tap push-up, but while wearing a weighted vest or while balance a weighted plate on your back. This will increase your heart and breath rate significantly.
  • Increase the instability. Place a bosu ball or foam pad under your hands. Then complete the standard shoulder tap push-up, but this time on an unstable surface, firing your core and shoulder stabilizing muscles even more!
  • Lastly, Hand-stand push-up shoulder taps. Can you get into a handstand? If so, hold this position and perform the standard shoulder taps. If you can perform a handstand push-up, add this in as well! Same as the standard push-up, only upside down now.

How many days a week can I do shoulder taps push-ups?

As with any exercise, rest days are very important. While you may see people doing 30 day plank or push-up challenges online, you will see better results with a variety of exercises with appropriate progressions over time. That being said, shoulder tap push-ups can be done on any arm and / or core day. If you are just starting out with this movement, I would recommend doing these 2-3 days a week. This will allow a solid amount of time to practice the movement, learn the proper movement patterns, and then you can drop down to 1-2 days a week with focus on increasing the intensity.

For example in your first 2-4 weeks, perform 3 sets of 10 for 3 days a week. One repetition would be one push-up and a shoulder tap on each arm. Then, in the following weeks progress from 3 sets of 10 accordingly to meet your goals. Or progress in level of difficulty, using one of the more challenging variations.

Related questions

How many types of push-ups are there? Ten different push-up variations come to mind. But with these variations there are going to be modifications that can be made, increasing the number even more! Plus, there are probably plenty of variations missing from the list of 10. Narrow or wide, single arm, incline or decline, spiderman, clap, eccentric, standar, and shoulder tap push-up.

What are hand-release push-ups? Perform the standard push-up. When your chest touches the ground, release your hands from the floor. Return your hands and push back up. This increases the amount of work performed at the bottom of the push-up and can fatigue your chest even more as you have no momentum to help you back up.

References

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Drkaukab_Azeem/publication/275023773_The_Push_-up/links/552ed8a60cf2d495071a917d/The-Push-up.pdf
https://www.stack.com/a/why-anti-movements-are-an-athletes-key-to-functional-core-strength
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254228289_Comparison_of_EMG_activity_during_stable_and_unstable_push-up_protocols

Heath Barrow

Heath is a certified personal trainer, an ordained minister, and most importantly, a father. He loves reading and learning new things...and enjoys it when he's able to pass that along to others!  ~"A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:25, NIV)

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