Erin Stern’s Push-Pull Workout

Build muscle and burn fat with this fast-paced and challenging superset workout for your upper body.

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT | January 19, 2014

Erin Stern does superset workouts no matter what the season. "I get tired of straight-set bodybuilding-style workouts, and I use this routine to maintain the muscle I have without adding more. It's also great for trimming down without having to do extra cardio!" she says!

Exercise Sets Reps
Plyo Push-Up 3 6–8
Incline Alternating Dumbbell Press 3 8–10 each side
Incline Two-Arm Dumbbell Row 3 8–10
Stability Push-Up 3 8–10
Dumbbell Pullover 3 8–10
Incline Dumbbell Flye 3 8–10
One-Arm Dumbbell Row 3 8–10 each side
T-bar Row 3 8–10
Decline Push-Up 3 8–10

Start with the plyo push-up. Then do the next two moves in a row, rest 45–60 seconds, and move on to the next two moves, resting 45–60 seconds. Keep going until you get through all nine exercises.

Plyo Push-Up

Set Up: Place your hands on the floor wider than shoulder-width apart and extend your legs behind you. Lift your hips so your head, hips and heels are in line.

Move: Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Extend your arms quickly and explosively, and push your upper body off the floor. Land softly and immediately descend into the next rep.

Erin’s Edict: “Don’t slime through this at a snail’s pace. Land, quickly reset and go right into the next plyo.”

Incline Alternating Dumbbell Press

Set Up: Set an incline bench to 45 degrees and hold a set of dumbbells at your chest, elbows pointing toward the floor. Lift your feet, press your back into the pad and contract your abs.

Move: Extend one arm, pressing the weight straight toward the ceiling, arm perpendicular to the floor. Slowly lower to the start and repeat on the other side. Continue alternating sides at an even pace.

Erin’s Edict: “Alternating arms really focuses on the stabilizing muscles. You can’t go as heavy as normal, so start with a light weight to test it out.”

Incline Two-Arm Dumbbell Row

Set Up: Keeping your dumbbells in hand, straddle the seat of the incline bench. Lie facedown on the pad, pressing your torso into the bench, and allow your arms to hang straight down on either side, palms forward.

Move: Drive your elbows up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the weights up. Pause a moment at the top and squeeze before slowly lowering to the start.

Erin’s Edict: “I really like to do this row on the bench instead of free-standing because you can’t cheat at all.”

Stability Push-Up

Set Up: Place a set of dumbbells wider than shoulder-width apart on the floor. Get on your hands and knees and grasp the weights using a neutral grip. Extend your legs behind you and get into push-up position with your head, hips and heels in line.

Move: Bend your elbows and lower your chest slowly toward the floor, preventing the dumbbells from rolling outward as you descend. Reverse the move and return to the start.

Erin’s Edict: “If you have trouble with this move, bring the dumbbells closer together.”

Dumbbell Pullover

Set Up: Lie faceup on a flat bench and grasp a dumbbell with both hands directly over your chest, arms perpendicular to the floor. Place your feet flat for stability and press your back into the bench.

Move: Slowly lower the weight in an arc over your head with straight arms. When your elbows come to ear level, reverse the move and return to the start.

Erin’s Edict: “Make sure you pull evenly with both arms. If you feel like one arm is doing more work, you’re probably using too much weight.”

Incline Dumbbell Flye

Set Up: Adjust an incline bench to 45 degrees and hold a set of dumbbells over your upper chest, elbows slightly bent.

Move: Open your arms to the sides, lowering them evenly toward the floor while maintaining the bend in your elbows. When the weights come to shoulder level, reverse the move and return to the start.

Erin’s Edict: “How far you open your arms depends on your flexibility. You don’t want to go too far and risk injury, but you also don’t want to do partial reps.”

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Set Up: Place one knee and the same-side hand on a flat bench, and grasp a dumbbell in your opposite hand. Allow that arm to hang straight toward the floor and flatten your back.

Move: Keeping your shoulders square, drive your elbow toward the ceiling, retracting your shoulder blade and squeezing at the top. Slowly lower to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching.

Erin’s Edict: “Make sure your shoulders stay square. When you twist, you use your shoulders and not your back.”

T-bar Row

Set Up: Place the end of a barbell into a holder, or wedge it into a corner so it’s stable. Straddle the bar and secure a V-handle underneath, just below the plates. Take a firm grip, flatten your back and lift your chest.

Move: Maintain a flat back as you drive your elbows up and back, pinching your shoulder blades together and pulling the end of the barbell toward your chest. Pause for a moment and squeeze before lowering slowly back to the start.

Erin’s Edict: “Your torso should be about 45 degrees to the floor. This ensures you hit your back — not your shoulders — in the correct place.”

Decline Push-Up

Set Up: Position your hands wider than shoulder-width apart on the floor and place both feet on a flat bench behind you. If needed, walk out with your hands so your body is straight.

Move: Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor, keeping your hips lifted and your abs tight. When you’ve come as low as you can comfortably manage, extend your arms and press back up to the start.

Erin’s Edict: “I like to do these with my feet on a tall plyo box to hit my upper chest hard.”

About the Author

Lara McGlashan MFA CPT

Oxygen Fitness Editor Lara McGlashan has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor, who specializes in health, fitness, and nutrition. 

Lara is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. Her sports background includes skiing, snowboarding, flying trapeze, yoga, competitive beach volleyball, dance, mountain biking, hiking and running, to name a few endeavors. She is currently exploring the world of CrossFit in her home base of Connecticut, where she lives with her 2-year-old son, Alex.

You can follow her on Facebook at LaraFitnessEditor.