Exercises You Should Be Doing: Chaos Push-Up

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Well, that was interesting.

I’m not going to mince words today: I stayed up late, you know why, and I’m exhausted. I don’t have any energy for witty banter or mental gymnastics today…so here’s a cool push-up variation you should try.

I’ve long been a champion of push-ups. However, I feel they’re the Clive Owen of the fitness and strength & conditioning world.

You know, Clive Owen.

This guy:

He’s an actor in such movies as Closer, Sin City, Inside Man, and one my favs of all-time Children of Men.1 He’s recognized as an excellent actor too. He’s been nominated for, and won, a few awards including the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor (Closer). If you’re a movie snob like me you know Clive and his work.

He’s not quite “A-list” though, or as well-known or revered as George Clooney, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, or Leonardo DiCaprio.

Which is BS. Clive’s the man.2

Which begs the question:what in the name of two flying f’s does Clive Owen have to do with push-ups?”

Fair enough.

Clooney, et. al, are analogous to the sexier things we gravitate towards in the weight room, the movements that get more play or more of the spotlight: I.e., bench press.

Clive = push-ups.


People rarely get excited for push-ups, which is unfortunate because I feel they’re one of the most underrated exercises that provide a ton-for-our-training-buck.

This isn’t to the discount efficacy of the bench press. It’s a tool and a valuable one at that. It’s just that the push-up offers more than (many) people think:

1) I’m sure I can speak for many other coaches out there in saying that it’s rare when someone – average Joe to professional athlete – can walk in on Day #1 and perform a push-up, let alone several in succession, well.

It’s an easily butchered movement pattern and when used as an initial screen will highlight some significant dysfunctions – namely lack of lumbo-pelvic-hip control.

Photo credit: Greatist.com

2) The push-up helps keep shoulders healthy. How? Well, it’s a closed-chain movement (hands don’t move, but the scapulae can). When you only bench press – an open chain movement – you never allow the opportunity for the shoulder blades to move which can (not always) lead to shoulder discomfort or pain.

Part of what makes the push-up such a shoulder friendly exercise is that it allows the scapulae room to breath and move around the rib cage.

3) Push-ups can be hard. For starters: doing them right will help. Beyond that there are a bounty of ways to make them harder or more challenging to fit the needs/goals of the individual, which is another reason why I’m such a fan: they’re versatility.

Like this variation.

Chaos Push-Up


Who Did I Steal it From: Honestly, I forgot. I did not invent this exercise, but have seen them performed from other coaches such as Jim “Smitty” Smith and Todd Bumgardner. So, there.

UPDATE: yes, it was Smitty. He wrote about the chaos pushup in his Chaos Manual back in 2005.

What Does it Do: The instability or chaos of the band works wonders for additional rotator cuff recruitment, which in turn makes it an equally more challenging exercise with regards to core stability and control. I love to use this exercise with my overhead athletes in addition to my “regular” clients who just want not fall on their face…;o)

Key Coaching Cues: I’d suggest first and foremost to experiment with different bands and what height you start from. In the video above I have two Monster Bands attached. To make the exercise more challenging I’d either take away a band or lower the starting point. Or do this:


To make it easier you’d add bands or decrease ROM.

All the same cues I’d use for a “regular” push-up apply here. Abs on, glutes on, and keep head behind the chest as you lower (don’t poke head forward). The idea is to limit the “dip” of the bands and to keep them quiet. To do so it helps to think about pulling them apart. This will help with increasing body tension (and control).

As far as where to implement these in a program you have two choices:

1. At the start before a bench press session. These could serve as nice “primer” or warm-up to benching as the distraction of the movement will help activate the rotator cuff muscles. If this is the case I’d keep them to low(er) reps. The idea here wouldn’t be to fatigue the RC muscles as that would lead to superior migration of the humeral head into the glenoid fossa and increase the likelihood of impingement.

2. As an accessory movement after benching, or whenever.

Have fun.

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  1. Seriously, SO good. Director Alfonso Cuaron puts on a clinic with regards to amazing tracking shots in this movie.

  2. Just watch THIS clip from the movie Closer. Warning: contains some pretty vulgar/explicit language. He CRUSHES that scene. Some context: he and Julia Robert’s character are married. He’s just found out she’s been cheating on him. Why is HE the a-hole? What you don’t know (or she knows) is that he’s just returned from a “business” trip where he spent the whole time cheating on her.

Comments for This Entry

  • Josh

    This is a great push-up variation, though I do have one question about terminology: you mention that the band is providing 'distraction', or 'chaos.' By my understanding, distraction is defined as "separation of joint surfaces without rupture of their binding ligaments and without displacement." A banded shoulder distraction stretch, for example, is a form of traction that creates space at the the joint. In this case, the band certainly doesn't seem to be creating that type of traction; indeed, if anything, it seems like it's increasing compression due to the increased stabilization demands. Which, on the one hand, is exactly what makes the variation super effective; but, on the other, makes it not a 'distraction' at all. Am I getting this one wrong?

    November 9, 2016 at 11:44 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kyle J

    This exercise is an excellent way to incorporate whole body tension and get good core activation. I like the added instability from the bands does do a nice number on those humeral head stabilizers as well.

    November 9, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mark

    Nice article, Tony. I'm going to give this a shot next time I'm at the gym -- tomorrow!

    November 12, 2016 at 8:19 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Paige Mead

    I could have used this blog a few weeks ago for one of my classes! I am always trying to find different variations for all exercises. I have tried to increase my push-ups by adding different variations into my workouts, I get too bored doing regular ones. I have found a lot of different ways to do them, however I had never seen this way before. I definitely want to try this next time I do them. I read an article on mensfitness.com (because finding an article for girls about push-ups was extremely difficult, so I gave up), recently outlining the top 15 ways to do push-ups and found a ton of different ideas there as well.

    November 14, 2016 at 10:56 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Don't discount the power of plain ol' vanilla push-ups Paige. I find not many of my clients can perform them well on Day #1. You gotta be careful about adding novelty for the sake of novelty. Although, assuming "x" client is crushing regular push-ups, the beauty about the exercise is that there are a thousand ways to make them more challenging.

      November 15, 2016 at 9:50 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kris

    Any alternatives for those of us who don't have that type of setup available? Would a wobble board or bosu ball do pretty much the same thing?

    November 14, 2016 at 8:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • james

    Love this, I actually started doing these recently too using a similar set up (Straps and handles secured from the top of a cable cross over machine). I did find that the "doms" was pretty intense on my abs the day after. This was pretty surprising but goes to show the engagement of core muscles in this push-up variation. I got the "Clive Owen thing right" away, nice:-) Cheers Jim

    November 15, 2016 at 7:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • Pumping up your push up - Dave Ballantine Personal Training

    […] first saw this option on Tony Gentilcores website, using a thick band looped between the safety bars on a squat rack, making […]

    August 22, 2018 at 10:58 am | Reply to this comment

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