If you’re looking for a new way to train, or want to break through your strength plateaus, you should seriously consider upper body plyometric training. Plyometric exercises involve a stretching of a muscle group followed by a quick, explosive contraction, which is known as the stretch-shortening cycle. This mechanism of plyometric training works to increase the muscle’s ability to exert maximal force in a minimal amount of time1 , making you a more powerful athlete.
Why Perform Upper Body Plyometrics?
Most traditional plyometric exercises involve some form of jumping, but here we’re focusing on the upper body and not the legs. As with any plyometric exercise, you’ll be generating a lot of force and speed with these exercises. It’s through this force generation that you can achieve enormous strength and power gains in your weight lifting. For example, you can train an eccentric clapping push-up to increase the weight of your barbell chest press.
My focus here is to give you the tools you need to create an individualized plyometric training program to hit your personal strength goals. The exercises included below focus on pressing, pulling and rotational movements to help you increase your strength and power in loaded-exercises such as bench press, shoulder press, horizontal rows, and pull ups.
To get the most of out of your upper body plyometric training, you’ll be utilizing either your bodyweight or the release of a training implement, such as a medicine ball or resistance band.
After completing a thorough warm-up and a few sets of exercise-specific movements, perform 3-5 sets of each exercise, resting for 1-2 minutes between sets.
1. Wall Chest Pass
Instructions: Stand in a neutral stance with the medicine ball at your chest. Keeping your feet stable, strongly push the ball away from you at a wall so that it bounces back to you. Catch and immediately throw the ball back at the wall. Perform 10-20 reps, using a full range-of-motion in your arms.
Muscular Emphasis: pectorals, triceps, biceps, core
2. Overhead Forward Throw
Instructions: Start in a neutral stance, with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Hold a medicine ball overhead, then load the ball slightly behind your head and use your lats and abs to throw the ball forcefully at the wall. The ball should rebound back into your hands overhead. Immediately catch and then throw the ball back at the wall, making sure to keep your core tight to support your spine. Do 10-20 reps.
Muscular Emphasis: lats, core, triceps, forearms
3. Half-Kneeling Side Toss
Instructions: Position yourself sideways next to a wall, and start in a half-kneeling position with your foot closest to the wall forward and your back knee down on the ground. Holding a medicine ball at your chest, rotate your torso slightly away from the wall and then immediately towards the wall as you throw the ball over your front leg forcefully enough to have it returned to you. Find a rhythm with the exercise so that you’re catching and releasing nonstop for 10-15 reps. Then repeat on the other side.
Muscular Emphasis: Core/Obliques, Pectorals and Deltoids, Erector Spinae.
4. Depth Push-Ups
Instructions: Set up two elevated surfaces wider than shoulder-width. Start with your hands on the elevated surfaces, lower into a push up, and explosively press yourself up so your hands come off the platforms allowing you to narrow your hand position so you land in a push up on the floor. Explosively drive off of the floor so you land back in a push-up on the platforms. Make sure to land with bent elbows to avoid strain in your joints and wrists, and keep your core tight to protect your spine. Start with 6 reps. As you get stronger, you can add more reps or perform the exercise for time.
Muscular Emphasis: Pectorals, Core, Triceps, Deltoids, Posterior.
5. Plyometric Pull-Ups
Instructions: Hanging from a pull up bar with a safety box beneath you, start with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. You’re going to perform your pull-up with enough explosiveness to get air, letting your hands come about an inch off of the bar. Catch the bar with bent elbows, lower into the hang position of your pull-up, and repeat. Aim for 5 reps, making sure to catch the bar with bent elbows every time.
Muscular Emphasis: Entire Upper Body and Core, Posterior and even hip flexors
6. Seated Throw CircuitInstructions: This is an “around the world” partner circuit. Start sitting on the ground with your feet elevated off the ground. You and your partner are going to throw the medicine ball back and forth as your partner walks in a 180-degrees half-circle around you. Since your partner is varying the direction of the throws, your catches and throws will be both rotational-core and chest-pass focused.
Muscular Emphasis: Obliques, Core, Arms & Pecs, Deltoids and Lower Back
7. Feet Elevated Plyo Push-up
Instructions: Start with your hands on the ground in a push-up position and place your feet on a platform so that they’re higher than your hands. Lower into your push-up, then explode off the ground so you get some air. Land with bent elbows and repeat. Start with 5-6 reps, and increase your reps as you get stronger.
Muscular Emphasis: Pectorals and Deltoids, Entire Upper Body and Core, Posterior
8. Standing Backward High Toss
Instructions: This is a standing toss diagonally backwards over your shoulder. Using a neutral standing stance, load the ball in front of your right hip, then forcefully rotate and release the ball over your left shoulder at a wall, or in an open field. Keep your arms long and release with your entire torso not just with your arms. The power here will come from your hip drive and rotation.
Muscular Emphasis: Core/Obliques, Deltoids, Posterior
9. Overhead Elbow Extension Wall Slams
Instructions: Stand about 1-2 feet away from a wall and start with your arms overhead. Keeping your abs tight, bend your elbows back and then throw the ball at the wall with enough force that it rebounds back into your hands. Repeat bending the elbows and throwing the ball, maintaining tall posture the entire time. Perform 10-15 reps.
Muscular Emphasis: Triceps, Biceps, Rectus Abdominus and entire Core, Posterior from the overhead position, Deltoids
10. Push-Up to Stand
Instructions: Start by in a push-up position. Create tension in your entire body as your lower into your push-up, then drive off of the ground as explosively as you can so you finish standing tall with perfect posture. The last thing to leave the ground here will be your fingers.
Prepare your body for this plyometric exercise by performing a few normal push-ups. This is a very advanced exercise, so get comfortable with plyometric push-ups and depth push-ups before attempting this variation.
Muscular Emphasis: Pectorals, Triceps, Deltoids
Upper-Body Plyo Workout Program Ideas:
Chest & Shoulder Strength And Power Program
|1. Wall Chest Pass||Fast, rhythmic, and full range-of-motion|
|2. Depth Push-Up||Slow eccentric lowering, exploding back to the high start position|
|3. Clapping Push-Up||Fast, land with soft elbows|
|4. Overhead Elbow Extension Wall-Slam||Rigid core, full range of motion at elbow|
Back & Grip Strength and Power Program
|Overhead Forward Throw||Rock on your feet, “throw” from your lats, keep arms long|
|Plyo Pull Ups||Not too wide of a grip, hands leave the pull up bar at the top position|
Rotational Throwing and Total Body Strength and Power Program
|Half-Kneel Side Toss||Powerful, release the ball inches from the wall and accelerate each throw to the wall|
|Resting Push Up w/eccentric load||Slow eccentric lowering and full body press to stand, use arms more than legs, fingers leave the ground last before your feet come beneath you|
|Half-Kneel High Toss||Like side-toss but release with trajectory at or above shoulder height|
|Kneeling or Seated Throw Circuits||Rhythmic and full range of motion so catch the ball or implement with arms extend and release with arms extended|
When Should I Incorporate Upper-Body Plyometric Exercises?
1. High Intensity Workout: Plyometrics can be performed after a thorough warm-up that prepares your body for an explosive, high-intensity workout.
2. Supersets: Plyometrics can be superset with heavier exercise sets of similar movement patterns to build your explosive ability. For example, you can superset a chest press with a plyometric push-up.
3. Metabolic Conditioning: Plyometrics can be performed at the end of a training session, however your ability to perform these high-powered movements effectively might be hindered by workout fatigue from your strength exercises. Make sure to take adequate rest between sets, and always focus on form and technique throughout the movement.
Build Strength Before Doing Plyos
Anyone planning on effectively and safely harnessing the power of plyometrics must have a solid strength base before performing these exercises, especially upper body plyos. If you can’t perform full range-of-motion push-ups and pull ups, or haven’t been strength training regularly for the past 6 months, I highly recommend that you focus on building foundational strength before focusing on plyometric training.
Using these exercises in combination with lower body plyometrics and strength training will absolutely help you develop more strength and power. Try out these exercises and let me know what you think in the comments below!
- Wilk KE, Voight ML, Keirns MA, Gambetta V, Andrews JR, Dillman CJ.Stretch-shortening drills for the upper extremities: theory and clinical application. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1993;17(5):225-39. ↩
Another authoritative article, Mark. Thank you for putting this resource together. I’ve found with my students that upper-body plyos can be a fun way to make a workout more dynamic and improve conditioning.
We used to do many of these exercises when I was a sprinter in college, great stuff!
Thank you for the ideas that I can incorporate into my HIIT training sessions. Although I need to improve my strength to do the pull-ups but I’ll add to my list of goals and aim to achieve.