I LOVE PUSH UPS! They are just way too good for you. But they are the kind of exercise that can illicit all kinds of interesting body shapes…good and bad. We often see them whipped out by guys trying to show off or get some sort of “pump” before taking a selfie. Or we see ‘every day’ men and women being put through the ringer by a bootcamp instructor demanding “10 more”! In my 10+ years of being a fitness trainer and conditioning coach, I have seen more people doing them wrong than right. When done incorrectly pushups can result in a lack of strength gains, a waste of time and worse off, injury. However, when correct technique and form is applied, pushups can yield amazing strength improvements across the entire body, especially your core. It is the kind of exercise that is extremely functional. How many times have you been lying on the floor playing with your kids and you go to push yourself up to kneel or stand? Or push open a heavy door? You can do these just about anywhere and you don’t need anything other than your body to do them…unless you want to get fancy! There are also about a hundred different ways to vary them so you don’t get bored.
So how do you know if you’re doing them wrong? Well, if they feel really easy, then chances are somethings not right. Here are some common mistakes I see people make:
- Dropping and propping their hips up and down and not keeping them neutrally aligned with the spine and head.
- Dropping the hips to the floor and not bending the elbows.
- Holding their breath. Muscles need oxygen to fire and more importantly, you need to breathe to maintain proper blood pressure.
- Dropping the head and looking at the toes.
- Placing the hands too narrowly (assuming the individual is not trying to do a tricep pushup) or too far forward. This can put extreme and unnecessary pressure on the elbow joint or the shoulder.
Getting in some good pushups
For the basic push up here’s what you want to do:
- Place your hands outside of shoulder width apart. Then hold your body up in a high plank position. Brace your core. Tighten your midsection but remember to keep breathing. Tone your legs and glutes so there is some contraction in the muscle to keep you steady and balanced.
- Keep your head, spine, hips, knees and ankles in a straight line and keep the head in a neutral position. Note you can also keep the knees on the floor to lower the intensity.
- Next, inhale as you lower yourself downward until your chest almost touches the floor.
- Maintaining a tight core, exhale and press your body back to the starting position.
- After a brief pause at the top contracted position, you can begin to lower yourself downward again for as many repetitions as you can do with proper form. Aim for 2 to 3 sets. Don’t cheat. Do the full range of motion. And don’t forget to track your progress.
If you are new to this exercise and do not have the strength to perform it on the floor, you can also perform this exercise against the wall. However when you do this, you’ll want to place your hands slightly lower on the wall than shoulder level as your body angle will change when lowering your body into the wall.
And for those that need some variety in their pushup life, here’s a few variations to try.
- Maintain a straight line with your body and keep your abs braced
- Lower yourself into a pushup position
- Return to the starting position and extend arm out directly in front of you
- Repeat for the other side.
- Alternate sides until you complete prescribed reps.
Good times for the core – seriously, this will work your upper body as well as your core. Just be sure to keep those abs really tight.
Triple Stop Pushup (This is one of my favorites)
- Keep abs braced and body in a straight line from knees to shoulders. Hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
- Lower into a pushup position, but halfway down pause for one second.
- Then continue to lower yourself until you are 2 inches off the ground. Pause for one second.
- Return to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Prepping 1-Arm Pushups
- Put one hand on a medicine ball or small block and form a pushup position, keeping your abs embraced
- Keeping one hand on the ball, perform a pushup, maintaining a straight line with your body
- After returning to the starting position, switch hand positions and repeat.
And finally, the basic, yet effective Eccentric Pushup – this one doesn’t need a photo. You just perform a pushup like this:
Take about 5 seconds to lower yourself into the pushup position. Than take about 1 second to return to the starting position. You’ll soon discover that you won’t be able to perform as many reps as you would on normal pushups and that these eccentric moves will exhaust you much quicker. You’re welcome!
Tamara Vahn is the owner of Body By You and her 1st child attends MSMD Abbywood Campus with another one to start soon. Tamara is a transformation expert, certified fitness trainer, pre & postnatal fitness specialist, and competition prep coach. She is also a former Miss Fitness Canada and current IFBB fitness pro. If you have any questions or want to suggest a topic for Tamara to inform on, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.