Push-ups, simple yet impactful exercises, hold a significant place in various realms of physical training. Whether you’re in the military, engaged in sports, or focusing on fitness, push-ups are a go-to choice. These exercises are so common that they can be performed almost anywhere, making them accessible to all.

According to James Whitener III, a strength and conditioning coach at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida, push-ups are more than just a basic exercise. They serve as a foundational movement that lays the groundwork for more complex exercises. One of the key benefits of push-ups is that they demand awareness of the body’s positioning, from the head down to the toes. This awareness, known as kinesthetic awareness, is crucial for understanding how your body moves in space.

Developing kinesthetic awareness through push-ups not only enhances your performance in this particular exercise but also prepares you for more advanced movements. For instance, mastering push-ups can set you up for success in exercises like deadlifts or squats, which require a similar understanding of body positioning.

To reap the full benefits of push-ups, it’s essential to maintain proper technique. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to focus on to perform push-ups effectively.

General things about push-ups

Regular push-ups
Regular push-ups

Definition and terms

What is push-up? The push-up, also known as the press-up in British English, is a popular exercise where you start by lying face down and then raise and lower your body using your arms. This movement works out various muscles, including the chest muscles (pectoral muscles), triceps, and the front part of the shoulder (anterior deltoids).

  • In American English, the term “push-up” was first used sometime between 1905 and 1910.
  • On the other hand, the British term “press-up” was initially recorded between 1945 and 1950.

Both terms refer to the same exercise, which has become a staple in workouts worldwide.

What makes push-ups great

Push-ups are fantastic for toning not only your chest, shoulders, and arms—especially those:

  • deltoids
  • triceps
  • pectoral muscles

But they’re actually a powerhouse for your whole body. According to Mr. Whitener, they don’t just focus on the upper body; they also engage your core muscles and improve coordination. When you maintain a strong plank position during a push-up, you’re not just working your arms and chest; you’re also activating those core muscles, and sometimes, even getting some involvement from your legs.

Tessia De Mattos, a physical therapist and coach specializing in strength, conditioning, and performance rehabilitation, agrees, highlighting the versatility of push-ups. They’re like a one-stop-shop for fitness because they target so many muscle groups simultaneously. Whether you’re aiming to strengthen your arms, tone your core, or enhance your overall coordination, push-ups have got you covered.

How to do push-ups?

6-step guide

Let’s begin by getting into a classic plank position. First, place your palms firmly on the ground, spreading your arms a bit wider than your shoulders. Ensure your palms are aligned with your shoulders. Dr. De Mattos emphasizes the significance of mastering regular planks because if you struggle with maintaining proper form during a plank, you might find it challenging to execute a full push-up later on.

  • Step 1: Start by making sure your body is in a straight line. Stretch your legs out behind you so they’re fully extended. Your hips, knees, and ankles should be in a straight line too.
  • Step 2: Keep your body stiff and straight as you lower yourself towards the ground. Keep your face looking down and stop just before your nose touches the floor.
  • Step 3: As you lower yourself, make sure your fingers are pointing straight ahead and your elbows are comfortably a few inches away from your sides. Watch out for your elbows – they shouldn’t stick out too much as you go down.
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Now, let’s move on to the next steps:

  • Step 4: After lowering yourself, bend your elbows at around a 45-degree angle. Then, push yourself back up to the starting position.
  • Step 5: As you push yourself up, focus on pressing your shoulder blades back and down. Imagine you’re pushing them towards your bottom.
  • Step 6: Keep going! For a regular workout, repeat these steps until you reach momentary failure. This means stopping when you can’t do another repetition with proper form. It’s crucial not to push yourself for that extra rep if it means sacrificing your form.

Things you should take notice while doing push-ups

Common mistakes

Here’s a tip to ensure you’re doing the push-ups correctly: use your smartphone to film yourself, as recommended by a personal trainer, fitness influencer.

Dr. De Mattos points out two common mistakes to watch out for:

  • Letting your belly sag
  • Arching your lower back instead of keeping it aligned with the rest of your body.

It’s really important to maintain proper alignment throughout the exercise to avoid straining your muscles or risking injury.

How many repetition?

The number of times you should do push-ups varies based on your current abilities and what you want to achieve. According to Patroklos Androulakis-Korakakis, a researcher at Solent University in England and a strength coach, for most people aiming to improve their health, fitness, and strength, it’s best to focus on reaching a point called momentary failure.

This is when you feel too tired to do another push-up with proper form, rather than aiming for a specific number of repetitions. By pushing yourself to this point, you’re challenging your muscles and making progress towards your goals.

“Reaching momentary failure, or coming close to it, guarantees that individuals are giving their muscles enough of a challenge to promote strength and muscle growth,” he explained.

If you find it challenging to do more than just a few repetitions before reaching this point, there are simpler variations you can try. As you advance, you can return to standard push-ups and then gradually move on to more challenging variations to keep pushing your limits and getting stronger, according to Dr. Androulakis-Korakakis.

Variants of push-ups

To make the push-up easier …

Wall push-up
Wall push-up

Wall push-up

Here’s a beginner-friendly exercise to get you started: the wall push-up. If you’re new to push-ups, Hampton Liu recommends giving this a try.

  • Begin by standing facing a wall, making sure you’re an arm’s length away.
  • Place your hands on the wall about shoulder-width apart.
  • Lean in towards the wall until your face is almost touching it, then push yourself back to your starting position.
  • Repeat this movement for as many repetitions as you can manage.

Once this becomes easy for you, you can move on to a kneeling push-up to further challenge yourself.

Kneeling push-up

Let’s introduce another variation: the kneeling push-up. If you’re still working your way up to a standard push-up, this modified version can give you a helpful boost.

  • Starting from a kneeling position to lessen the amount of weight you’re putting on your arms, shoulders, and chest.
  • This allows you to build strength gradually while maintaining proper form.
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As you become more comfortable with the movement, you’ll be on your way to mastering the standard push-up. Keep up the good work!

To make the push-up harder …

As you improve your push-up skills, you’ll find that you need to do more repetitions to reach the point of momentary failure. Dr. Androulakis-Korakakis explains that pushing yourself to this point maximizes the recruitment of motor units and muscle fibers. This stimulation is crucial for triggering adaptations in your muscles, ultimately leading to increased strength.

“Reaching momentary failure is an effective method to ensure that individuals are fully utilizing each set,” he adds. So, how can you push yourself to reach this point? Here are some strategies to help you get there and make the most out of your workouts.

Raised leg push-up

Raised leg push-up
Raised leg push-up

Let’s introduce another challenging variation: the raised leg push-up. Once you’ve mastered the standard push-up, you can take it up a notch by elevating your feet above the ground.

  • Starting with a slight elevation, such as placing a few books underneath your feet. This slight change in elevation will increase the difficulty of the exercise.
  • As you progress, you can experiment with using a short stool, about a foot off the ground, and then gradually work your way up to using a chair or even a railing for an added challenge.

Each step up in elevation will intensify the exercise, helping you build even more strength and endurance. Keep challenging yourself and watch your progress soar!

Narrow (or diamond) push-up

  • These push-ups involve holding your hands close together with your thumbs and forefingers touching, forming a diamond shape between them.
  • You can work your way up to these by gradually bringing your hands closer together.
  • Start by moving them slightly closer until it feels comfortable, then continue to bring them closer and closer until they touch.

This progression helps you build strength and control, preparing you for the more advanced diamond push-ups.

Weighted push-up

Once you can easily perform sets of 10 push-ups, you can increase the difficulty by adding extra weight.

  • Placing a small weight plate on your back to increase the resistance.
  • If you’re working out at home without access to weights, you can improvise by using a backpack filled with heavy books as a makeshift weight.
  • The additional weight should challenge you enough to reach the point of momentary failure within about ten repetitions or fewer.

This variation helps to further strengthen your muscles and promote muscle growth.

One-armed push-up

According to Mr. Liu, mastering this exercise requires exceptional core strength. As you push up with just one arm, your core muscles play a crucial role in maintaining stability throughout the movement. This variation not only targets your chest, shoulders, and arms but also serves as an excellent core workout.

  • To perform a one-armed push-up effectively, it’s important to engage your legs and core to keep your body steady.
  • Spreading your feet further apart to enhance stability as you execute the movement.

This modification can help you maintain proper form and balance throughout the exercise.

And if you’re interested in push-ups, check this YOUTUBE video below!

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