While fitness fads may come and go, some types of exercises transcend trends. Among them is the push up, which uses your own body weight along with gravity to strengthen the muscles of the upper body and core.
The biggest disadvantage with the push up is that they are perceived as too easy for the experienced trainee and too hard for the beginner. However, with proper exercise execution and knowledge it is possible to add push up variations to fit anyone's needs.
The classic starts in a plank position, with your hands under but slightly outside of your shoulders. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause, and then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time. It is common for beginners to perform the push up on the knees to reduce the weight and still work the upper body. While this is good, a better option would be to start the push against a bench, table or any surface elevated off the ground. This way the core is involved and the trainee can still challenge the upper body while forcing the core to hold the body against gravity and remain still.
This metabolic stability is like a game of tug-of-war. The core is working against gravity and both are working hard, but one is moving. This requires a tremendous amount of energy, although it may not look like it. This is why proper execution is a must. If your hips sag at any point during the exercise, your form has broken. When this happens, consider that your last repetition and end the set.
For the experienced lifter, push ups are more than just an endurance exercise. Adding weight plates, sand bags and even a training partner can all be used to add resistance. Elevating the feet will increase the difficultly by distributing the weight more toward the upper body. One arm push ups place an even greater demand on the upper body and core, while adding an anti-rotational element to the exercise.
Explosive push up variations are great for working on power and upper body strength. The classic clapping push up is a staple in military physical training. Just like a normal push up except after lowering explosively push off the ground and clap your hands before returning the ground. Clapping the chest, thighs and even clapping the hands behind the back can be utilized to add variety and make the exercise harder.
Performing pushups incorrectly can make your lower back ache, hurt your shoulders, and keep you from getting the benefits out of the exercise. However if done the right way, the push up works the all-important core muscles, as well as the chest, shoulders, and even the legs and hips. Consult your doctor prior to starting any exercise program and if you are unsure how to properly perform push ups, seek the advice of a trained fitness professional.
- Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach who trains at Sierra Athletic Club and in the homes of clients in the greater Lake Tahoe area. Crouse specializes in performance enhancement and injury prevention. Visit www.KCstrength.com for more information.