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 classic starts in a plank position, with your hands on the ground, under and slightly outside of your shoulders. The setup is the most important part and where most people tend to mess up. First off give a big squeeze using your glutes and abs. This “locks” your body into place and protects your back and makes sure you are getting the most out of the exercise. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Make sure your chest leads the way and not your chin, a very common mistake. Pause, and then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time.
A trick I use is it to place a towel on the low back during the exercise. This keeps the person from raising the hips too high or swaging side to side, as the goal is to keep the towel in place. If the ground hurts the writs try them on your fist or using dumbbells to hold onto, this keeps the wrist in a neutral, straight position and may be more comfortable.
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 wall, 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.
The push up is like a plank with a upper body push added. 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 any exercise, seek the advice of a trained fitness professional.
— Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach that trains at Sierra Athletic Club and a training center instructor at Barton Memorial Hospital. Kyler specializes in performance enhancement and rehabilitation after injury. Visit www.KCstrength.com for more information.