Sunday, April 21, 2013

All About The Push-up

A lot of people can found themselves in a situation with no gyms near by. In similar situation the push-up keeps us happy.

What is a push-up?

from Wikipedia

A push-up (British English: press-up) is a common calisthenics exercise performed in a prone position by raising and lowering the body using the arms. Push-ups exercise the pectoral muscles, triceps, and anterior deltoids, with ancillary benefits to the rest of the deltoids, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis and the midsection as a whole. Push-ups are a basic exercise used in civilian athletic training or physical education and commonly in military physical training. They are also a common form of punishment used in the military, school sport, or in some martial arts dojos.

The main benefit of push-ups is that it's an effective compound movement which can be progressively made harder and harder in order to build strength and size. 


The most basic way to perform a push-up for complete starters is to use a wall.

This a pretty easy version and many people are much stronger than that right from the start but if you are rehabbing some kind of an injury such as pec tear this is an easy and safe way to put some stress on the muscle and increase the blood circulation.

After working up to 100 wall push-ups the next strep is the knee push-up. This exercise is a little harder than the wall push-up but still not difficult. The main thing you have to remember is not to bend too much at the hip. The first illustration below shows the right way to do it:

Note how the girls is keep her body straight instead of pointing the butt to the sky like the below photo:

This is not the correct way to do knee push-ups and does not require more strength than the wall push-up. The exercises does not develop the needed core strength for progressing to more difficult push-up variations.

After being able to do something like 20 knee push-ups you can switch to low box push-ups like the picture below. 

There a few form key points you should pay attention to:

- Straight body

Your body should be kept straight like in the picture above = no bending at the hips or lower back. Keep you ab muscle tight.

Here is what NOT to do:

Note the huge lower back arch - this will only bring you lower back pain in the end of the day. To avoid this problem keep your abdominal muscles very tight. If you want you can also record a video of yourself doing push-ups in order to make sure that you are not making any mistakes. 

- Elbows, wrist shoulders should be kept in alignment

Another huge problem for many people is elbow and shoulder pain because of push-ups. The main reason for that is flaring the elbows like that.

Note how the elbow and wrists are NOT in alignment. This is a mistake.

When you flare your elbows too much the shoulder get in vulnerable position and may get hurt. The best way to avoid this is to keep your elbows close to your body while maintaining perfect alignment of wrist, elbow, shoulders. 

Note how his elbows and wrist are in perfect alignment (elbows on top of wrists). Make sure you  do push-ups like that in order to avoid joint pain. 

- Using too wide grip

Wide grip push-ups are great but some people may experience shoulder pain. In that case use a more narrow grip and keep your elbows closer to your sides.

Once you are able to perform about 20 reps of low box push-ups switch to "regular" push-ups.

The above principles apply.

Range of motion

The range of motion of a regular push-up ends when your chest slightly touches the ground. The main benefit of using a full range of motion is that your developing strength through the full capacity of your joints. Also by using full range more muscle fibers get hit. For example if you stop your push-up half way down you will work mainly your triceps while your chest will receive sub-par stimulation.

Poor range of motion

Full range of motion

A good way to increase your range of motion even further is to use books, chairs or push-up bar stands.

You can use more books if you want even larger range of motion.

This is a decently hard push-up variation. Note that the form is not the best because he is looking at the camera instead of keeping the neck in neutral alignment.

Those are called push-ups stands. They are a pretty good tool but in many cases expensive. The stands decrease the stress on the wrist and increase the range of motion. You can also use those non circular dumbbells and achieve similar result

Note that she is using non circular dumbbells - this will keep you stable. Avoid using regular dumbbells for push-ups - it's too easy to hurt yourself.

Dangerous ! Avoid

Another way to increase the range of motion and save some strain on your wrists is to use kettlebells. The bigger the kettlebell the more stable it will be.

Alternatively you can also buy two cheap and/or no working clothing irons and use them as handles as well.

How do I make the push-up harder ?

After you become proficient at doing regular push-ups you can try some of the following variations:

Close grip push-ups 

Close grip push-ups which are also known as military push-ups increase the range of motion and force you to use more triceps strength during the exercise. It's a good variaiton to do if you have shoulder issues.

Your elbows should be kept close to the sides. This will make your triceps scream. Make sure that you keep your body tight and don't arch your lower back too much. Most people tend to forget about form when doing those type of press ups.

Diamond push-ups

Diamond push-ups are another solid variation that puts a lot of stress on your triceps. While that's pretty cool many people experience elbow pain when doing the exercise. Using push-up stands helps a little but still if you feel pain avoid the movement. There is no need to be stupid and get hurt when your body is telling to stop.

Push-ups with feet elevated

You can greatly increase the difficulty of a push-up by placing your feet on a chair or a box. That way you shift a big percentage of your bodyweight to the front and your upper body works more. This type of push-ups actually mimics the incline press and is pretty good for your upper pectorals (chest muscles). 

By increasing the height of the box/chair you are also making the exercises harder.

Eventually you will start doing handstand push-ups against a wall.

The handstand push-ups is an advanced drills that works the hell out of your core, triceps and shoulders. However it's not the best way to develop a good chest because the pectorals are already shortened and cannot contribute that much to the movement. The progression for developing the handstand push-ups is as follows:

Handstands against a wall for time

The best way to build the shoulder strength required for a handstand push-ups is perform handstand against a wall for time. Work up to a few minutes and switch to partial handstand presses.

Simply lower yourself as much as you can and push back up. Your triceps will hate you. Over time try getting lower and lower until your head touches the floor. 

Once that get's easy you can increase the range of motion just like we did for regular push-ups. You can use books, paralettes, stands, chairs...

The range of motion now is extreme and the exercise super hard. Once that's easy you can try the handstand-push-ups without using a wall for support.

No support. Harder than it looks. 

Another great way to make any push-up variation harder is to make yourself unstable - the best way to achieve similar condition is to use rings. You can buy a pair or make them yourself. 

Ring push-ups are extremely good exercise for the chest. Most people report extreme soreness after doing them and at the same time the exercise is quite shoulder friendly.

Weighted push-ups

Another good way to become strong doing push-ups is to simply add weight. You can use chains, bands, plates...etc.

  Using a back pack for push-ups is a good option.

Using chains makes the exercises harder on the triceps and easier on the chest because at the top you are lifting the whole chain while at the bottom it's touching the ground and there is less stress.

Another option is to ask somebody to load a few plates on your back. Make sure that the plates are resting on your upper back - otherwise most likely your form will suffer and you may even hurt yourself.

You can also buy a weight vest and use it instead of a backpack...It's a little expensive however and we are cheap motherfuckers.

Although not actually a weighted variation the push-up with a band is a good move. Similar to the chain push-up it works the triceps harder because at the bottom the band is not as "heavy" as it is at the top.

Push-ups with emphasis on the core

The push-up is known as a shoulder, chest and triceps exercise. However there are variations that will burn your abdominal muscle like nothing else.

This is the so called T-Push-up. It's pretty tough on the obliques and the whole core. Perform a regular push-ups and then simply point towards the ceiling. Keep everything tight and don't break at the hips or knees when doing this exercise. 

This variation is called Spider push-ups. While you are doing a push-up bend your knee and touch your elbows. It's harder than it looks.

This is a one leg push-ups. In order to do it simply elevate one of your legs while doing a regular push-up.

This is a physioball push-up to jackknife. At the top of a push-up with feet elevated on a ball simply bring your knees to your chest.

This a single arms single leg push-up - at a top of a push-up lift your leg up and opposite arm up.

Really Difficult push-up variations

Planche push-ups - push-ups with no legs on the ground

This variation is super tough. The most famous progression is written by Coach Sommer and can be found here.

Here's how a planche push-ups looks like:

Ninety Degree Push-ups

This variation requires tons of core strength and years of dedication and work.

One arm-push-up

One arm push-ups are actually quite hard but not as hard as the previous two. Here the famous Al Kavaldo explains how to do the exercise.

Explosive Push-ups

Martials artist, boxers, MMA fighters and many other athletes have been using explosive push-ups to build power. Below are just a few of the many possible variations. Before attempting the following make sure you have build a solid foundation.



Q: What do you think about the debate bench press vs push-ups?

A: I've written a post on that subject here.

Q: Do you you have a good program to increase my push-ups numbers?

A: Yes, you can find it here.

Q: My neck and back hurt during push-ups. What to do?

A: Make sure you keep your spine straight, in alignment.

Q: Should I do knuckles push-ups to make my wirst stronger?

A: Yes, it's a good idea. Start slow and take it from there.

Q: Qould you recommned the wrist push-up?

A: You can read my post on the subject here.

Q: What's your take on the perferct push-up?

A: You can read my opnion here.