You’ve probably seen the ads. They begin with images of a guy flexing his biceps while an announcer makes some pretty heavy-duty claims: “Now, big arms, a ripped chest, and cut abs can be yours with the Perfect Push-Up…” I won’t go into the physiology disputing the ability to get “big” or “ripped” from doing push-ups, but suffice to say such claims are widely exaggerated. Par for the course with As-Seen-On-TV fitness products. That’s an article for another day.
The more pertinent question is whether the Perfect Push-Up, which retails for $39.90 plus shipping and handling (apparently you can get it cheaper online), does anything to improve results over and above ordinary push-ups. The first question that must be answered is whether there is a physiological basis for such improved results. According to the promotional material supplied by the parent company, Perfect Fitness, the Perfect Push-Up uses the “latest in biomechanics and engineering to achieve better results from pushup workouts.” Although this may sound impressive, it is little more than standard hype used in fitness advertising. More to the point, the benefits of the unit supposedly come from the “smooth-rotating handles (that) accelerate results by engaging more muscles in the arms, chest, shoulders, and back, while also reducing strain on wrists and elbows and stabilizing the shoulder joint.”
So what does the research say on the topic? A recent study by Youdas et al. (2010) investigated muscle activity in the Perfect Push-Up versus traditional push-ups using a technique called electromyography (EMG). Muscle activation was evaluated on 20 healthy subjects during the performance of push-ups using 3 different hand positions: (a) shoulder width, (b) wide base, and (c) narrow base. The study controlled for tempo by using a metronome and randomized the testing order to reduce the potential for bias. The muscles studied included the triceps brachii, pectoralis major, serratus anterior, and posterior deltoid muscles. What were the results? Not good news for manufacturers of the Perfect Pushup. EMG analysis failed to show any differences between groups leading researchers to conclude that the “Perfect·Pushup handgrips do not appear to preferentially enhance muscular recruitment when compared with the conventional push-up method.” It remains questionable as to whether other muscles, particularly the biceps brachii, might have improved muscle recruitment with the use of the Perfect Pushup. Even so, the claims made in advertising for the product are clearly overstated and misleading.
Now this is not to say the Perfect Push-Up has no value whatsoever. Namely, it may be of benefit to those who find it unconformable to perform traditional push-ups. The Perfect Push-Up elevates the hands from the floor which can take pressure off of the wrists, thereby facilitating performance. That said, a couple of properly placed hexagon dumbbells can achieve the same outcome for a fraction of the cost. The Perfect Push-Up does come with rubberized grips that may be easier on the hands for some people. Whether this is worth the inflated price tag is, of course, up to you.
As an aside, the Perfect Push-Up was reportedly developed by a US Navy SEAL. I’m not really sure why that is a selling point? What type of training does a SEAL receive in exercise biomechanics and/or physiology? To my knowledge, none. As always, caveat emptor.
Youdas, JW, Budach, BD, Ellerbusch, JV, Stucky, CM, Wait, KR, and Hollman, JH. Comparison of muscle-activation patterns during the conventional push-up and perfect·pushup™ exercises. J Strength Cond Res 24(12): 3352-3362,