When clients ask me what exercises they can do at home or while traveling; the #1 exercise I give them is push-ups. Push-ups are my personal favorite exercise, and also one of the best exercises you can do for your body. They seem so basic and sometimes overlooked; yet they’ve been a staple in military fitness, martial arts, and just about every other type of exercise program that’s ever existed. Push-ups are as close to a perfect exercise as you can get, yet are probably one of the least loved exercises (or at least it’s the one where I hear the most moaning and groaning over). Only because they are difficult! The more you do them, the easier they get.
Why are they so amazing? Because they’re more than just an arm exercise! By working your back, shoulders, triceps, abdominals, and chest muscles, simply incorporating more push-ups into your regular routine can help you reach all sorts of fitness goals. Alongside having a toned upper body, they can also help you improve everything from your posture on your bike, to your balance, or improve your golf swing. Like any challenging exercise however, good form is paramount. You’re better off doing ten modified push-ups with perfect form than five full pushups with hunched shoulders or a drooping neck or hips. Here’s how to safely and properly do a perfect push-up:
- Start on your hands and toes in a full plank position, with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Thumbs should wind up right under your armpits.
- Engage your core muscles by trying to bring your belly button toward your spine, then slowly lower your body toward the ground by bending your elbows, while keeping your neck and spine aligned — no drooping in your hips or neck. If you’re legs are together (optional), squeeze your glutes to help keep your pelvis level and stable!
- When your chest is about the size of a fist away from the ground, slowly press back up to full plank position.
- Challenge yourself and see how many you can do before your form starts to falter. Even starting with a goal of 5 is great!
Other Push-up Variations:
1 The Wall push-up: If you have injured or painful shoulders, wrists or elbows, in time your joints can be restored with lower intensity variants like the wall push-up. A novice or an injured person should start with the wall push-up, working to 20 and eventually 50 consecutive reps in each set before moving on. Simply lean against a wall with your toes a few feet away and do the push-up movement from this semi-upright position.
2 Modified push-up: If you’re not quite ready for the full plank position, stay on your knees. Make sure not to sag your hips towards the floor, thus arching your low back. Squeeze your glute and abdominal muscles to help stabilize your pelvis.
3 Incline push-ups: If wall push-ups have gotten too easy for you, but full push-ups are still out of reach, incline push-ups can be a nice intermediate step. The higher your incline, the easier the push-up will be, the lower the incline, the harder it becomes. You can experiment with various household objects or things you may come across outdoors to find ways to incrementally lower yourself toward the floor, like a chair or a bench.
4 Narrow push-ups: Bring your hands closer together and aim your elbows to point back versus out to the side; This not only makes it more challenging, but also puts more emphasis on your triceps.
5 Side plank + push-up: a) Complete a pushup as usual, and when you get back to starting plank position, rotate your body to one side into a side plank position with your top arm extended up to the ceiling b) After a brief pause, return to pushup position. c) Complete another pushup, then rotate to the other side.
6 BOSU push-ups: a) Start by gripping the sides of the ball’s platform, with the round side down on the floor. b) Perform your pushups as usual, trying to wobble as little as possible. Your knees can be on or off the floor
7 Row + push-up: a) Hold two dumbbells on the floor while in plank position. b) Complete one pushup, and when you get back to starting position, bend your right elbow and lift it until the upper arm is level with your back. c) After a brief pause, slowly lower the weight back down and repeat with your left arm before completing your next pushup. (Squeeze/ pinch your shoulder blades together with each row, with as little sideways movement as possible.)
8 Knuckle push-up: The extra few inches of depth you’ll gain can make this a lot more challenging, yet at the same time the neutral wrist position can actually make the push-up less stressful than having the wrists bent back. You may have some discomfort of supporting your weight on your knuckles at first, so start out practicing on a soft surface.
I promise if you make them part of your daily routine, they WILL get easier and you will appreciate and like them more and more! You’ll also love the way they make you look and feel 🙂 Good Luck!