Friday, October 06, 2006

Top 8 Things To Know To Become a Best Push-Uper

You don't need to join the Marines to enjoy the many benefits of doing a proper push up (sometimes referred to as a press up). A basic push up does not require any equipment other than your own body weight. It can be done anywhere there is a firm surface. And it works the chest, the shoulders, and (to a lesser extent) the triceps. So, it is an excellent exercise for general upper body strength. It can also be varied to meet many needs.

  1. Before doing any kind of exercise, always remember to warm up. Warming up reduces the risk of injury and gets muscles ready for action. You can actually lift/push/pull/etc. more if you go through a proper warm up routine, as compared to diving straight into the exercises. Make sure to stretch your shoulders and wrists - key joints in push ups.
  2. Assume a prone position on the floor or other hard surface that's able to support your body weight.
  3. Place your hands under your shoulders with your palms on the ground. Curl your toes upward (towards your head) so that the balls of your feet touch the ground.
  4. Raise yourself using your arms. At this point, your weight should be supported by your hands and the balls of your feet. This position is called "plank," which is used for other various exercises. This is the beginning and the end position of a single push-up.
  5. Lower your torso to the ground until your chest almost touches the ground. Keep your head neutral to prevent either your forehead or your chin touching the ground first, which would decrease the effectiveness of the exercise. Try to have the tip of your nose pointed directly to the ground as you're going down.
  6. Raise yourself by attempting to push the ground away from you. The power for that push will inevitably come from your shoulders and chest. The triceps are also contracted but the primary exercise for the triceps isn't the push-up. Continue the push until your arms are just about straight.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the remainder of the exercise.
  8. Stretch the chest and shoulder muscles during your cool down cycle. Proper stretching and cool down routines are just as important as the warm up, but, unfortunately, are quite often overlooked.

Some tips:

  • The reason that the phrases "until your chest almost touches the ground" and "until your arms are almost straight" are used is a principle in strength training which isn't widely known. In any exercise that makes use of muscles extensively, in order to get maximum efficiency from the exercise, you should always keep the muscle involved in the motion and not let it rest. In this case, for example, if you let your chest touch the floor while coming down, your weight will be supported by the floor and not your chest and shoulders. Since they aren't supporting your weight anymore, the chest and shoulders will relax. Therefore, they will experience a more violent contraction when you start to push (not to mention the one second they aren't contributing to increase your upper body strength). Similarly, when coming up, if you let your arms become completely straight (i.e. lock your elbows) your weight gets supported by the bones in your arm (i.e. the skeletal structure) rather than your muscles.
  • Imagine a straight line from your shoulder blades to your knees and try to keep it straight. If you bend at your hips, you will not only reduce the effectiveness of the exercise (since you aren't exactly lifting your whole body anymore), but might also get unnecessary pain in your abs or lower back.
  • For variation, you can let your elbows shoot out from your torso when you come down or keep them tucked to the sides. This variation has no significant effect on the difficulty of the exercise but rather changes the muscles worked. If you keep your elbows to the sides, you will use more of your triceps; if you keep them wider, you will use more of the chest muscles.
  • If you want an easier exercise, you can do the push-ups with your hands being on higher ground than your feet. You might do this by putting a box or some books between the hands and the floor. The more "vertical" you get, the easier the exercise will be.
    Since your weight is shifted backwards during this exercise it will inevitably give the bottom of your pecs (full name: pectoralis, the chest muscles) a slightly harder work out than the rest.
  • There are a couple of ways to make the push-up harder. You can reverse the previous tip: put your feet up higher than your hands. You can plant your feet on top of a box or on a couch.
    Another way is to add weight to your torso. This can be accomplished by putting those books on your back while you do the push-up or having your child sit on your back. In this case, your weight is shifted forward and you will work the top of your pecs a little more. You can also bring your hands closer together on the floor for increased difficulty (will favor the inside pecs).
    If none of these are hard enough for you, you can consider doing the push-up with only one hand!
  • Here's a tip not only about the push-up but about strength training in general: Doing any exercise slower than normal or with more repetitions will generally make it more difficult.
  • If you would like an extended range of motion, you can do the push-up between two benches, with one hand and one foot on each bench. This way you can lower the torso to a level below your hands.
  • One tip that helps keep proper form is to squeeze your buttocks together. This forces your spine to straighten out, not allowing you to "cheat" and arch your back.
  • Once you reach a level of strength and endurance that will allow you to do 20 or 30 push-ups in a row, try doing lots of small sets. 10 push-ups without stopping is a fairly easy level of conditioning to reach. Try setting a timer for 15 minutes and every time it goes off, do 10 pushups and restart the timer. This allows your muscles to recover in between sets, and you will quickly find yourself able to do hundreds of push-ups within the space of a few hours.
  • Sleep and eat. Doing pushups stresses your muscles, making them weaker. Sleep, rest and nutrition allows your muscles to recover and heal after you stress them. When your body recovers, it builds the muscles you stressed back stronger so that they will be better able to handle the same level of exertion. So, sleep and eat.


  • As with any strength training exercise, if you feel intense and/or sudden unexpected pain in your chest and/or shoulders, STOP IMMEDIATELY! If the pain is in your chest and/or shoulders, you have either done more push-ups than you can handle or you aren't ready for the exercise you are undertaking. If it is the latter, start with lighter exercises that target the chest before attempting the push-up. If the pain is somewhere else, you are doing something wrong. If the pain persists, consult a physician.
  • Positioning your hands closer together to make the push-up harder has diminishing returns. When you want to make them be really hard, try putting your hands together so that they form a triangle. However, if you put them too close together, you might have trouble balancing your torso during the lift and put extensive (and unnecessary) strain on the bones of the arms and shoulders. This might lead to aching of the bones well after the exercise or problems in the shoulder joint in the long run. The danger zone varies from person to person and from one body type to another. A general guideline to follow is: When you place your hands on the ground, extend your thumbs inward toward the opposite hand. If your thumbs are touching each other, you are at the limit. If you want to place your hands further together, consider the other mentioned methods of making the push-up harder. Trying to clap when you come up with your arms straight is another good variation of the push-up. When you do this, though, make sure you hold your tight, straight, position.