One of the most effective – and most well-known – bodyweight exercises is the push up. In order to perform a push up, you don’t need any equipment, just yourself. You can also do push ups anywhere, any time, any place. You just need a little helpful advice on how to perform them properly along with some variations in case you get bored with the most basic version.
The Basic Push Up
First, you may ask why performing push ups is so valuable. The push up has the functional importance of gaining strength to push your baby’s stroller with more ease, lift things above your head or throw a baseball or basketball harder and faster. Push ups are super effective for strengthening your entire core, especially your abs. When you perform the variations explained below, which position your hands or feet on unstable surfaces, you are forced to focus on rotational stability to keep your body tight and your back flat. By performing basic push ups, as well as these variations, you will also see your shoulders getting stronger and looking sexier which is one of the best benefits. Needless to say, push ups are one of the best bodyweight, total body workouts there is.
Here is an Easy Step-By-Step Guide:
- Lie face down on the floor or against a hard surface that can support your body weight. You can always use an incline for which to place your hands if you cannot perform a push up on the ground correctly. After you get into your prone position with your hands shoulder width apart, check to see that your feet are together.
- Your hands will be at shoulder width (thumbs extended), on the ground or against the hard surface and your toes will curl slightly under you as you start your basic support on your feet. Keep in mind that the higher you position your hands above your shoulders that the harder it will be to push up.
- Raise your body using your arms/shoulders and at the highest point (the plank position), you will notice that your body is being supported by your hands and the balls of your feet. This is your beginning and end phase of one rep (from ground to this extended position) of a push-up.
- The lowering phase includes you letting yourself to the ground until your elbows are at a ninety degree angle, keeping your head neutral, your hips from sagging and your abs strong and tight. Your face is pointed downward, as you will be looking downward the entire time.
- You want to raise your body up again, keeping your torso strong and head neutral. You will feel your shoulders and chest working the most, but you will also feel your triceps working as well. You have now completed one complete rep of the push up.
SOME FUN VARIATIONS OF THE BASIC PUSH UP:
1. T-PUSH UP:
- This involves movement in both the saggital and transverse planes. More simply, it involves both a push and a twist. Your starting position is on the floor, push-up ready. You want to push up with straight arms, then twist to one side and extend your arm straight up to the ceiling, as your body makes a lower-case “T”, keeping your body in complete alignment again. You are working on stabilizing your body in this “T” position with your shoulder arm that is still straight on the ground. Focus on pushing your body and stabilizing after you twist in this position for about a 1-2 count before rotating back down and performing the rep again, but then twisting to the alternate side. As soon as you get this down, you can begin to add weights, such as dumbbells, in your hands. You will be lifting the weight as you twist to each side, which will make this move tougher for sure. You can start with 5 pound dumbbells and as you get stronger, move up from there.
2. FEET ELEVATED:
- One way to make the push up more challenging is to get your toes on a higher surface. I always put my feet on a step that is roughly 12 inches high. That is usually challenging enough, but you can always go higher as long as you keep a strong back position while still getting full range of motion.
- Add a single-leg hip extension at the top of your push up with your arms fully extended. Next, lift your right foot off the ground about three inches and squeeze with your glutes and hamstrings, then hold for about 3 seconds. Finally, lower yourself down to about 90 degrees and push up again and repeat the hip extension, now using your other leg. Repeat at least 10 times each leg for a total of 20 push ups.
3. HANDS ON A ROCKER-BOARD:(or other unstable surface)
- Another way to improve rotational stability is to put your hands on an unstable surface during the push up. Two of my favorite ways of doing this is to place your hands on a rocker board, a 2×2 wooden teeter-totter or a Swiss ball.
- You will keep your feet down on the ground as you push yourself up on either the rocker board or the Swiss ball. You will have to keep yourself from moving too much to either side as your core strength and stability will be pushed to the max as you try to push-up while still keeping your balance. That is what makes this fun!
- Try to do at least 10 repetitions and complete 2 sets.
4. FEET ON 2 SWISS BALLS:
- If you would really like a challenge, try doing a push up with your hands on the ground and your feet on a swiss ball. My coach has even had me add my hands on a rocker board as I keep my feet on the Swiss ball as well. Two unstable surfaces will help you gain strength gains in core strength (abs, back) and rotational stability. You always want to make sure that you are keeping your torso steady and strong, not ever letting your hips sag or your shoulders creep up to your ears. Head stays neutral the entire time and make sure to breathe as you lower yourself to the surface.
5. PUSH UP WITH ROW:
- You can add a pull to your push-up for some extra variation. First, you want to grab some dumbbells that you will be able to perform a one-point dumbbell row with (for me, I use 12 pound dumbbells). You want to push yourself up into the top – or plank – position of the push up with each hand on a dumbbell. Your feet will be on the ground.
- Once in the plank position, you will row one arm at a time, straight back, with your elbow in tight to you, and then lower it. Then, row the other arm in, and lower it. Repeat 10 times for each arm, complete 2 sets.
- With the additional rows as you push up, you will add extra focus to your back as you continue to focus on rotational stability and core strength, zeroing in on your chest and shoulders for the push up.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN PERFORMING PUSH UPS:
- Always take time to stretch out your shoulders and your chest before you push-up.
- If you feel pain in the chest, shoulders, or other area of the upper body, you probably have done too many reps. Performing push ups properly takes time. Remember that if you are just starting using these consistently in your exercise program, start with a more manageable amount of reps, such as 6 or so, before you try to increase to 12 or more.
- Understand that any pain or tightening in your lower back is caused by fatigue. You want to stop performing your push ups when your lower back is tired, or your hips begin to sag. Keep your abs tight!
- Also, remember to keep your back straight and head neutral. If you drop your head, or your back is hunched and/or rounded, you are putting unnecessary strain in areas of your shoulders or trapezius and not using the muscles that are intended for a proper push up.