Monday, October 6, 2014

Raise the roof for Push Ups!!

This week we're just going to get right to the point.  Under the microscope today: push ups.

Why Do Push Ups?

Push ups are a great full body exercise that can be scaled and is equipment-less.  Push ups can be made easier by inclining your upper body, or harder, by inclining the lower body.  Not only does the chest get a good workout, but the shoulders, back, and core muscles all play a role.


Shoulders – Just like the rows we looked at, you want to remember to keep your shoulders “back and down”.  There’s a tendency to push up between the shoulder blades, or sink down creating a gap – we want to keep the shoulder blades level 

Hand placement – Generally your hands should be fairly wide.  The exact placement is dependent on your body’s physiology.  For some people a really wide stance will be more comfortable, for others, a little bit closer feels more natural.  Splaying the fingers wide and pressing into the pad where your fingers connect to the hand will help take some of the pressure off the wrists.  Alternatively, push ups can be done with fists to avoid excessive wrist flexion.  Starting out, the wrists may be quite weak, but over time they will get stronger too.  Doing push ups is one of the best ways to strengthen the wrists for doing push ups.

Core – Core engagement is (always) uber important.  When you “engage your core” you want to keep your spine from excessive arching or rounding.  To get a little bit more core work out, brace your core – which is akin to making your stomach tight, like someone is going to punch you in the gut.  If you feel lower back pain when doing push ups, it’s likely that you are letting your tummy & hips sag and your back is arching - try finding a more neutral spine position.


Sharp shooting pain is always bad.  If this occurs in any movement you are doing, stop doing that movement and seek professional help before attempting to do that movement again. 

As mentioned above, you might have some discomfort in the wrists or lower back when doing a push up.  Try strengthening your wrists by decreasing the intensity of your push up and working your way back up.  Issues in the low back are likely due to poor alignment of the spine.  Bring the midsection up slightly, and hold in place using the core muscles. 

Push ups are a body weight exercise and therefore, the more you weigh the tougher it will be.  It’s important not to concern yourself with what other people are doing and work at your own level.  The numbers vary according to which study you look at, but push ups from your knees use about 50-60% of your body weight, where as from your toes is approximately 65-75%. 


The variations listed below range in intensity/difficulty from least to most difficult.

Wall Push up – Wall push ups lessen the load by reducing the incline of your body.  Just like you would a regular push up, place your hands wide against the wall, keeping your core tight and your shoulder blades even, lower your body by bending at the elbows to 90 degrees, and push yourself up, being gentle on the elbows at the top (ie. Don’t slam yourself to the top – this is hard on the joints!).  As you come down the elbows should be out to the sides, away from the body.  Over time, walk the feet further away from the wall, and increase the angle of your body.

Knee Push ups – The next step up is a push up from your knees.  All the same tips apply, being sure to keep a straight line from the top of your head to your tail bone throughout the whole movement.

Standard push up – Same as on your knees, but instead, you’re on your toes!  To start out here, spreading your legs wider apart can help with balance and stabilization.  To make this one harder, incline your feet with a step, or a chair.

There are many ways to “play” with push-ups!  In addition to the options listed above, elements like instability (Swiss ball/bosu), offsets (one hand/foot raised), and plyometrics can be thrown in for an extra challenge.  If you need more ideas, check out some of these on one of my favorite sites Breaking Muscle.  The push up is a great full body exercise whether you’re doing your first one or your millionth one.  

What level of push up are you working on? Share in the comments below!! 

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