How to Push Up
People think of the push up as an upper body exercise and it is; but it's so much more than that. It requires you to develop strength in the upper body, but it also works the trunk, glutes & legs, that have to be held strongly in place to make the exercise possible.
This is another basic functional movement. In its simplest form you are just pushing yourself up of the floor, something which (much like the squat) we should all be able to do.
In this blog I'll go through the basic move and look at some techniques that will really help you to improve and strengthen your push up and get the most from this brilliant exercise.
What are we working? Chest, Shoulders, Arms, Back, Core, Bum (yes, I’ll explain).
Straighten Up. Keep your Head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankle all perfectly in line. Imagine a straight line running from your head down to your ankles. Pull in your belly button tight. A strong, engaged mid section means you don't have to struggle or wobble through the rep. Also squeezing your glutes (bum cheeks) and knees and ankles together will help. This continues that strong engaged feeling through the length of the body. Some people recommend taking the feet further apart. This does make the body slightly shorter and gives you a wider base, but you loose the benefit of the strong core and glutes that you get when you squeeze the ankles together. Look to the floor, don’t look up or tuck your chin in.
Keep Shoulders Back & Stable. Use the muscles of your upper back to keep the elbows tucked in & shoulders stable. Pull your shoulders right in and down. Imagine you are trying to screw your arms into the floor or squeeze an orange under your arm pits.
Hand Position. Place your hands just below plane of your shoulders. A lot of people have their hands too high and too narrow/too wide. To get the best effect and most stable position keep them below shoulder level so you can feel your upper body-weight just on top of the wrists. You hand should be just outside the shoulders. Not too wide otherwise you'll make it hard to keep the shoulder stable and you limit your range of motion. Not too narrow as that push up variation that targets the triceps more. We're looking for a happy medium.
Pressure on Outside of Hands & Grip the Floor). If the hands are passive you can risk hurting your wrist and you are not pushing from a strong foundation. Keep your hands flat but grip the floor and engage the muscle of the forearms.
Take it Through a Full Range of Motion. Start from a straight arm, then take your chest right down to the floor. Touch it with your chest or nose. This will ensure maximum muscle activation. Then return to a straight arm.
Work at a Controlled Tempo. Don't bounce through the reps. Take your time, control the descent, touch the floor and push up forcefully. A 2 second down, 1 second up count is ideal.
That's the basic move, but it's not that easy for most people. So if you can't even get one push up to the floor without collapsing in a heap or you find yourself stuck on the floor making strange animal noises, what can you do to rock your push up?
Knee Push Ups
Most people's first port of call when they are learning to push up is the knee or half push-up. This is where you rest your weight on your hands and knees instead of hands and toes.
Although this a perfectly decent exercise I don't think it's the best way into full push ups. You are not working through the full length of the body so you won't get the core training a full push up gives and the step up always seems to be too much no matter how good you get at them. This move is also beyond quite a few beginners, so you end up with a badly performed exercise that risks doing more harm than good.
When you are learning to push up, work the whole length of body and take the shoulder/chest through a full range of movement. In order to do this you need to reduce the resistance by elevating the upper body
Elevated Push Ups
A good starting point for complete beginners is a wall press. The problem with this of course is that the your head hits the wall before your chest so you can't get the best range of movement. The angle of your wrist is also a little sharper than is ideal but it still allows you to work with a full length move.
You'll find that the wall push up gets easy pretty quickly. Once you can comfortably do 20 reps you can move on and progress.
Kitchen units or better still stairs are a great next step. You'll be starting the move at a 45 degree angle and the challenge to the chest shoulders and core is greater but still manageable.
Using stairs you can progress literally step by step as you get stronger. Once you can do 20 on one step take it down a step then start with 8 add 2 reps a week until to get up to 20 then go down again. Make sure each rep is full and the body is straight.
High Plank Holds
You can do this alongside your stair push ups. It's basically the starting position of the push up. When you are in the position focus on all the key technical points of the set up. Straight line through the body, head neutral, lats engaged and shoulders pulled down, arms screwed in, hold the floor, squeeze the ankles, knees and glutes together. Work on holding the position for about 30 seconds to start with, then add at least 10 seconds a week until you are up to a couple of minutes.
Elbow Plank Holds
This is not so much about push up position but a good supplementary exercise for the core and good core strength means a good push up. Again really focus on position. The elbows just below the shoulders, hips in line with shoulders and ankles, squeeze glutes, hips and ankles together. Start at 20 seconds and build.