Why You Should Do Push Ups For The Rest Of Your Life
The Perfect Exercise
Drop and give me 20!
You’ve probably heard this expression in a boot camp class, in a movie, or perhaps your PE teacher in high school yelled it while someone or something went wrong in class.
Why isn’t the expression more like, “Give me 100 jumping jacks!” or “Drop and give me 40 sit ups”?
Part of the reason is because doing push ups is a feat of strength and optimal conditioning. Another reason is perhaps the idea that the benefit can transfer over to other sports and real life movements. Another term for a useful movement like this is called “functional movement” or “functional exercise”.
Is it so hard to believe that the push up can deliver so much value? That simply pushing yourself up, away from the floor can get you stronger, healthier and leaner?
This is a basic exercise that targets multiple muscle groups throughout your upper body. It builds core strength and even it makes your heart work hard.
Have you ever been out of breath after doing a couple of push ups? This is due to the intensity of the exercise and because your heart is working hard to provide oxygen to your working muscles.
This staple exercise might not look as complex or as interesting as other exercises, but learning how to do it properly and applying it frequently, can give you the body and strength that you desire.
Push Ups Are Free
Do you want to sculpt your upper body ? Do you want a stronger core? Do you want lean looking arms? Do you want more stable hips and shoulders? Want to improve your athletic ability and prevent injury?
Do Push ups.
It doesn’t matter what your fitness goal is, or how old you are, or even your sex. Anyone can benefit from doing push ups. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you should probably be doing push ups for the rest of your life.
You don’t need extra equipment for it. You don’t need a gym membership. And you barely need any space.
The primary muscles targeted in a push up are the:
- Triceps Brachii
Training The Core With The Push Up
If we look at it, a push up is basically a moving plank. Have you ever noticed someone doing push ups, and at some point there hip sags? They have the strength to push themselves back up, using the muscles of the upper body, but their posture at the mid line of the body breaks down.
This is perhaps because their core isn’t able to keep up. And in this sense, I’m also including the hips part of the core. The abs and obliques also play an important role in stabilizing the trunk when performing push ups.
How to Do Push Ups
I’ve been in numerous gyms over the span of 14 years. I have observed many exercises performed poorly. One exercise that is consistently done with bad form is the push up. I’ve watched young people, women, seniors and even gym “veterans” do them incorrectly.
Is it lack of proper instruction? Is it laziness? Lack of body awareness? Lack of strength? or perhaps lack of stability?
It can be one or a mixture of these. In a push up position, you’re not just asking your upper body to work hard, but you’re also asking your hips and shoulders to be stable enough to produce effective force.
Avoid These Common Mistakes
Executing The Push Up, The Right Way
1.Start in a plank position where you feet are close together, hips are squared facing the ground, and your spine is straight.
2. Look forward. Try not to look down. Looking down can emphasize a forward head posture.
3. Notice your hand position. Your hands should face somewhat forward.
5. Inhale as you lower your body to the floor. It’s not necessary to touch the floor with your chest. Getting 1 or 2 inches close to the ground is fine.
6. Exhale as you push yourself up. Remember, make sure your head, spine and hips come up at the same time.
What to Do If You Can’t Do Push Ups
There are two exercises that you can do to acquire the strength needed in order to perform proper push ups:
1. Do incline push ups. This means doing that exercise from an elevated platform. You can use a wall, a bench or a racked barbell. The higher the platform or surface, the less resistance you will face to push yourself back up. As you get stronger, lower the angle of your push up. The closer you get to the ground, the more strength you will need in order to push yourself back up.
2. Do negative push ups. Ok, this one isn’t so easy but it’s absolutely useful. Negative push ups or eccentric push ups is where you focus in lowering yourself from the plank position as slow as possible. This will strengthen the same muscles needed to push yourself back up.
Performing these drills once in a while isn’t going to do much for you. Try to practice them frequently.
Push Up Challenge
The push up has stood the test of time for it’s usefulness, applicability and for its measure of raw conditioning.
Different sectors of the military use them in their training programs. In the Army, soldiers have a 1 minute window to complete as many push ups as possible. This is part of their Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT).
I think it’s safe to say that anyone who can do 50 consecutive push ups is in pretty remarkable shape. If you’re up for it, here’s a push up challenge that will last you a month.
This push up challenge is suitable for anyone who is healthy and injury free. Try to perform these push ups consecutively, without stopping. If your form is breaking down, pause briefly and continue once you are ready.
Before diving into this challenge, I would highly encourage you to warm up. I’ve gathered some specific warm ups in the following section that would help with recovery and injury prevention.
Push Up Specific Warm Ups
I’ve seen many push up challenges online. But most of them don’t include any sort of push up specific warm ups. It’s important to take care of our body before and after we perform this push up challenge or any other workout for that matter. Here are some warm ups to consider:
1. Chest SMR (Self Myofascial Release)– SMR is basically a technique where you self massage a specific muscle or muscle group. This can be done with a lacrosse ball, a foam roller, tennis ball or massage stick. The purpose of using SMR techniques is to release potential adhesions on the body’s fascia. Fascia, is a layer that looks very similar to a spider web. This spider-web-like substance covers our muscles, organs, bones, arteries and veins. The fascia can accumulate adhesions due to faulty movement patterns, bad posture or repetitive trauma. You can apply this technique before and/or after your training.
2. Side Lying Windmill– This is a terrific warm up to improve thoracic extension and to open up the chest.
3. Downward Dog to Push Ups– This is great warm up that dynamically activates the chest and stretches the lats, with an added bonus of also targeting the hamstrings.
4. Quadruped Extension-Rotation– This is a fantastic movement for thoracic spine (upper spine) mobility and for shoulder health.
Push Up Variations and Advanced Techniques
So what do you do when you’re able to bang out a bunch of push ups with great form? Do you simply do more? You can. But you can also practice doing different variations and techniques that have distinctive benefits. Here are some:
1. Plyo push ups (from a bench) – This is an explosive push up. You can use this version as a part of a metabolic workout or you can use it as a warm up prior to bench pressing.
2. Yoga push up with an arm reach – This is a movement that can be used as an exercise or as a warm up. In this version you will dynamically stretch your lats, chest, hamstrings and calves.
3. Push up with trunk rotation – In this version you will use your obliques more than you do in a standard push up. This is a movement that will also greatly challenge your shoulder and hip stability.
4. Static push up plank – This push up is more about controlling force, rather than producing it. This is a great way to challenge your core stability.
Techniques to Consider
Here are some simple tweaks that will challenge your push ups:
1. Lean forward. This will challenge your shoulder’s stability more.
2. Pause for a second at the bottom position. This will challenge your strength as you push yourself back up.
3. Perform single leg push ups. This will greatly challenge the stability of the leg that remains on the ground.
4. Perform 3/4 push ups. This means not locking out at the top to keep tension on the muscles.
5. Perform a focused and deliberate contraction (squeeze) of the chest muscles at the top position.
Unstable Push Ups
I’ve watched fitness enthusiasts perform push ups on top of a unstable platform or base. While there’s nothing wrong in challenging your push ups this way, it is important to note that in order to practice variations like these, you must already have the ability (strength and stability) to do push ups properly. We don’t just want to perform an unstable push up just for the sake of doing an unstable push up. We want to get some sort of benefit from it, and in most cases I’ve noticed, the risk of injury out weighs the rewards.
Here are some examples of unstable push ups:
In the following video I am performing Bottoms Up Push Ups with a Kettlebell. It’s extremely challenging. I probably would never recommend this to a client due to the risk of injury. Movements like these are more suitable for advanced and experienced people.
A Classic Exercise
The quality of your push ups is more important than the quantity. Doing 20 push ups with great form is better than doing 50 sloppy push ups. In this scenario, less is definitely more.
Push ups have been around for a while and they aren’t going anywhere. They are not a fad. They are accessible. They are useful. And most people can surely benefit from including them in their strength training programs.
I hope this post has given you more appreciation for this classic exercise. Practice it frequently, and I am confident it will improve other aspects of your health and fitness.