I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but I’m sure you’ve picked up some great nuggets from our other Bounce Effect contributors in the meantime. This blog post will be the first of many in a series I like to call Movement FUNdamentals. The basic premise of this blog series is to make functional (and sometimes tricky) exercise moves more accessible to you all – and fun! In this blog I will aim to re-introduce you to the humble push up and hopefully convince you that it needs to be in your training or exercise regime no matter what level you’re at. I love push-ups (as much as anyone can love an exercise of course) because they are just so effective! You don’t need a fancy gym membership to do them and they’re a great benefit whether you’re a novice or master. Push-ups help build a great foundation for any other exercise or activity you might want to do – whether it be yoga moves, surfing or other activities that require good push up strength. Unfortunately, most of us have been going about our push ups the wrong way all of our lives – bouncing through them with very little structural integrity in our spines by using the elasticity of our joints to propel our body through the movement until we hit the number that our ego deems acceptable. In doing this not only do we short-change ourselves on our time and effort but we expose ourselves to unnecessary injury. The key to changing an old pattern is gaining awareness and being open to learning proper technique. There is a simple way to ensure you target the right muscles, remain injury-free and get a supplementary benefit for other areas such as your abs, butt and legs.
How to do them:
1. Lie down flat on your stomach with your hands beside your chest, forehead touching the ground and toes arched into the floor ready to push off.
2. Now take your hands directly above your head into a superman flying position
3. Imagine you are doing a lat pull down or chin up – while squeezing your shoulders back, pull your hands back alongside your chest pressing your palms and knuckles into the floor. Gently squeeze the muscles in your butt, thighs and abs.
4. From here, keeping a nice straight line from the top of your head down to your toes (unless your knees are on the ground – in which case the line will be a diagonal one), press your hands into the floor and push the earth away from you as hard as you can (without locking out your elbows).
5. Catch yourself at the top and slowly bring yourself back down until your elbows are at 90 degrees. Pause and then push yourself back up with just as much force as you did before.
6. Repeat 4 & 5 for as many repetitions as you’re comfortable with.
Note: If you’re a beginner, you may want to start with knees touching the floor. No matter what level you are at, if you find that after a few reps your shoulder’s collapse or become sore, go back to the start to reset and go again.
Now remember these are designed to be a harder movement than the ones you’re used to. If you’re one of those guys or gals that can regularly pump out 50+ push-ups this is going to be a very humbling experience for you. If you have the patience to persevere with them and keep your ego in check, you will see huge benefits in functional strength gain, postural alignment and shoulder, arm and chest definition.
Depending on the level you’re at, you will be aiming for the following benchmarks:
Beginner/Novice = 5-12 reps
Intermediate = 12-20 reps
Advanced = 20-30 reps
Expert = 30-50 reps
Jedi Master = 50+ reps
To give you some perspective, my training used to consist of a 50+ push-ups at the end of a workout before I could finish up. I now do these ‘proper’ movements within my session while still fresh and generally hit between 25-30. If you want to mix it up a bit you can have a play around with some of the following push-up adaptations. Do these only once you’ve mastered the basics.
Start in the regular push up position. Slide your right hand straight up along the ground and bring your left knee up close to your left elbow. Keeping the other hand and foot planted, complete 1 push-up in this position. As you come back up, move forward – sliding your left hand up and your right knee to right elbow until your left leg is straight and right hand is beside your chest. Repeat process, switching sides for each rep. Work your way up to 10 reps forward and 10 backwards for a great chest, core and leg workout.
Feet Elevated Push-ups
Perform the push-ups detailed in the article, only with your feet raised up on either a bench, chair, box or milk crate. It is really important that you focus on not letting your bum and lower back sag during this movement.
Start in our prescribed push-up position. When you go to push off, allow yourself to go a little lower than 90 at the elbows. Now push the ground away from you as hard as you can, trying to put as much air between your chest and the floor as possible. Throw in a quick clap before resetting your hands to catch you as you come back to Earth, making sure you have a gentle bend in your elbow – like a spring coiling ready to explode up again.
Again, starting in the same prescribed push-up position – except only this time we are going to turn our hands so that our fingers point to our toes not our head and your hands will sit a little lower alongside your bottom ribs. Making sure the weight is equally distributed through the first knuckles and heel of your palm complete a number of push-ups. You will feel this movement a little lower down your chest and your abs will really kick-in. It is a much more difficult movement and you will probably exhaust your muscles much sooner than some of the other variations.
This is another great variation to keep your body guessing. Form a diamond shape with your thumbs and index fingers. With your hands flat on the ground directly below your sternum (where your stomach muscles meet the bottom of your ribs), lower yourself gently down until your chest lightly touches the back of your hands. Now push back up quickly making sure you keep good form.
That’s about it from me. I hope my ramblings have given you some food for thought and a deeper understanding of how the humble push-up can support your fitness goals. If you have any questions, please fire them at me. I’d love to help you in any way I can.