The Push Up
The push up is one of the best movements for full body strength building. But it is also one of the most butchered exercises you will see on a daily basis. From military style push ups done chest to ground for really high reps to kneeling pushups done in boot camp style classes. The push up CAN be an amazing exercise for strength and hypertrophy. But you have to change the way we view the push up. Many lifters would much rather destroy their shoulders on heavy barbell bench presses, dumbbell presses, dumbbell flyes, or machine presses. The push up done correctly can replace any one of these exercises and give you more bang for your buck then the above exercises can.
But you have to change the way you think about the push up. You have to start viewing the push up as a full body exercise that engages the entire body when it is implemented correctly. If you do conjugate style training where you are hitting a different variation of a press every week the push up is a must have for your programming because there are so many different variations to pick from.
The push up can be regressed to the absolute beginner, and progressed to the strongest lifter for strength and hypertrophy. I would argue anyone that the push up engages more muscle groups than almost any other bodyweight exercise.
Building your perfect push up form.
- Proper Alignment. Our bodies must be in alignment through the entire set. Your posterior chain should be in a straight line from the top of your head, all the way down to your heels. No lower back sagging, chin tucking or twisting during the set. A push up is a moving plank.
- Moving in a vertical plane. We must move only vertically. Straight down and then straight back up. Your wrists, elbows and shoulders should all stay in line. There should be no flaring out of the elbows at the bottom. Everything must stay stacked.
- Staying stable and tight. A lot of people fail or think they cannot do push ups simply because they lack either the strength or the awareness to keep a strong braced pillar, and lower body. Remember the push up is a full body exercise. You should be squeezing your calves, quads, glutes, core, upper back and rear delts the enitre time.
- Arm position. I have seen a million different pushups by many different people. There are people who say push ups should only be done with shoulders packed and elbows tight to your sides. I don’t like this variation for almost everyone. This position adds more stress to your shoulder joint. The push up is just like every other exercise. Your arm length dictates your push up form. Someone like me with long ass monkey arms can barely do any push ups with my shoulders at my sides. I need a wider push up arm width than most to keep my forearms perpendicular to the floor. Then you need to think about what you are trying to accomplish with the push up. But one thing that must stay the same through every variation is you must remain stacked, wrists, elbows, and shoulders at the top.
- Upper back activation. Your upper back is a major factor in a strong push up. The one aspect of the push up that many people miss is the upper back activation. The descent of a push up is a row. We want to retract our shoulder blades and lats to pull our torso down to the ground. Do not just drop to the deck and then push yourself up. Body control is key here. Your upper back should be equally as sore as your pecs and front delts if you are correctly implementing these cues.
The One Push Up Variation You Must Avoid.
The only thing kneeling push-ups make you stronger at is kneeling push-ups. They won’t help you get stronger at doing normal push-ups.
When you do a kneeling push up you are only using a small amount of the muscles in your body required to do a real push up. It’s impossible to build the core strength, and learn to develop full body tension with your knees on the ground.
The kneeling push up also puts your shoulders in an unsafe position. The only way to get to the proper range of motion on a kneeling push up is to drive your elbows way past your torso putting a ton of unnecessary stress on your shoulders.
A push up is a moving plank. Most people can’t do regular push-ups because they lack the core strength and connectivity to their bodies ability to synergistically use all the muscles in their quads, glutes, core, upper back, shoulders, and chest together to do a full push up. This is something that carries over to all big strength movements and the push up is one of the best ways to learn how to do it.
Developing a strong pillar will make you stronger and more resilient to injury. The kneeling push up makes you more prone to injury and does nothing to develop proper core/pillar strength.
When you do kneeling push-ups the angle of your torso takes your pecs almost completely out of the movement and it just becomes extreme shoulder flexion when your elbows drive too far past your torso.
So how do you get stronger at doing push-ups then?
Elevate your hands on a bench or box
This regression provides all of the benefits of a regular push up. By shifting our hand position higher instead of dropping our knees to the ground we can perfectly mimic the regular push up and still integrate all of the muscles needed to do a full push up off the ground.
Your whole body should be tight, with zero sagging in your lower back. This position recreates the normal push up position with your entire body still able to brace and work together to press off the box.
Start by pulling your shoulder blades down and back to maintain proper shoulder position through the whole movement. You should feel the tension in your lats before you press up, that tension must stay through the whole push up.
Your upper arms should be at a 45-degree angle from your torso and your forearms. When you lower down you want to lower down at an angle where your forearms are parallel with the floor at the bottom.
The push up is one of the ultimate full body strengthening tools you need to have in your strength training arsenal.
When you get strong enough to do 10, 20, or even 30 perfect push-ups, you can then start loading your push-ups by using a weight vest, or putting plates or chains on your back. You can also use band resistance in a rack, or using rings set close to the floor.
Here we have two awesome more advanced push up variations that will challenge your core, and all of your muscles needed to stabilize your upper body for a strong press. These are great to use as a primer before a bench press, or as an accesory movement after your big upper body lifts.
The push up should never leave your training toolbox. It is one of the best exercises you can do. Especially if you can execute it with perfect form staying under tension the entire time.
The push up can be progressed for the strongest lifter, and regressed to the beginner level. This is a foundational exercise that should be mastered before moving on to the bench press.
How do you know when you have mastered the basic push up? For men I would say being able to crank out 20 perfect tight push ups would be my marker for moving up. For women 1o would show great stability and strength to move on.
Do you need help adding the push up to your training plan? Fill out my coaching application and lets talk about a plan for you.