EXERCISE BREAKDOWN: BASIC PUSH UP
HOW TO DO IT
As ever, we have a whole host of progressions below to suit your strength level, but here are the basics:
HANDS ON THE FLOOR – But you knew that bit right?! Just wider than your chest would be appropriate.
BODY STRAIGHT – we want a neutral spine, long neck, hips level with chest… no sagging please.
CHEST LEVEL WITH HANDS – your nipple things should be level with your hands.
LONG SPINE – we want to feel tall and powerful.
EYES ON THE FLOOR – look ahead and you’ll lose your neck position, look straight down – make sure this long spine travels all the way to the neck and you’re not straining to look up.
START MOVE BY PUSHING CHEST OUT – We need to be ACTIVE on the way down. We are not simply falling, we are putting ourselves in position. Start the move by expanding your chest.
TUCK ELBOWS IN – Most people will feel stronger at first when they let their elbows splay out. But there’s no future here, except in weakness and injury. Ignore this desire and tuck your elbows in.
CHEST HITS THE FLOOR – Keep going until your chest hits the floor. Taps the floor anyway. Your chest should be on the floor, your hips a millimetre off. We want all our weight forward, all our weight in our arms and chest. Find the tension here, make sure you feel the load in your arms and Pecs.
SQUEEZE CHEST AND PUSH THE FLOOR AWAY TO COME BACK UP – Our body position doesn’t change. We hold still and reverse the movement. Practice until you can feel your pecks reversing the movement, powering you back up.
In The Strength Sessions Programme, you need to first define how many reps you need to do, then pick the progression that fits. For Basic Push Up strength, these are your options:
HANDS ELEVATED – so that you can train proper push-up mechanics, keeping your body straight, even before you have the strength for real push ups.
PARTIAL RANGE STRADDLE PUSH-UP – The easiest way to start push ups on the floor. The range of motion is shorter, but at least it’s the real thing.
STRADDLE DEEP PUSH-UP – straddle being slightly easier than legs together for most.
FEET TOGETHER PARTIAL – almost full push-Ups now!
FEET TOGETHER DEEP – almost-almost full Push Ups now!
CHEST TO FLOOR – great, perfect Push Ups!
1 SEC PAUSE – to master even more mechanical work at the bottom.
EXTRA DEEP PUSH UPS — for the advanced.
GYMNASTIC – for those ready for increased control and strength demand.
EXTRA DEEP GYMNASTIC — more range: more results…these are tough! Strength and control needed to master these.
ADDED LOAD — fun for the very strong who have a weight vest or plate handy. If you don’t, fear not, you can do move to the typewriter…
TYPEWRITER 1 – Where you take all the load in each arm at the bottom of the move.
TYPEWRITER 2 – Where one side dominates the drive back up.
ONE-ARM – here’s me doing them. Not bad, but I don’t do many. Too much torque through my spine. Good to know you can do them. But don’t do loads until you have better control than me. Stick to typewriter 2.
HOW TO DO THE TYPEWRITER PUSH UPS
TYPEWRITER 1 – to get used to having all your weight through one arm at a time…
START IN A NORMAL PUSH UP POSITION — and lower yourself down as normal.
Slide to one side – and gently touch your chest on the hand.
Slide all the way to the other hand – tapping the chest just the same
Slide back to the middle – pause, and then
PUSH BACK UP — with your customary power and style of course.
These are much harder than normal push ups, but not close to Single Arm Push-Up strength. A real step in the right direction though, and even if you are good at push ups, the combination of increased mechanical stress on the arm you move towards, and the general length of time you do these for…it makes it tough!
TYPEWRITER 2 — To get used to using almost entirely one arm.
START IN TOP OF PUSH UP POSITION — hands W I D E
GO DOWN TO ONE SIDE — tucking your working elbow into your side and straightening your other arm as much as possible.
SLIDE TO THE OTHER SIDE — smoothly, concentrating on keeping the chest under tension.
POWER BACK UP — Focusing on the chest, delta and triceps of arm you’re leaning on.
IF YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH, MOVE FURTHER AND REMOVE A FINGER! — or simply work towards totally straight spare arm which stops it from helping.
REVERSE THE MOVE! — or you’ll be all one-sided!
HOW IT GOES WRONG & HOW TO FIX IT
Where to start?….. people butcher these in so many ways its untrue. Why? Because even though it’s ‘just a push up’ it takes body control and more strength than people give it credit for. Lets take a look:
Hip Sag – Possibly the most common error of all. If your hips sag on a push up, it takes the weight out of it. It puts your back in a bad position and takes your core out of the equation. It looks lazy, it looks bad.
The fix – Master the plank, practice so you know where you are, mentally shift and don’t try and do as many for a while. Adopt the gymnastic mindset and dedicate all you got to learning the posture – your will get a better body this way.
Shrugged Shoulders – Anyone with rounded shoulders, forward head posture (computers), and anyone who hasn’t had much practical training – this is going to happen to you. Train yourself out of it before its too late.
The fix: Rehearse the movement standing up. Learn what a long neck feels like and make sure you can hold it throughout. Don’t let your hips sag.
Forward Rounded Shoulders – If your shoulders don’t hike up, they will probably want to round. Its a defensive or closed position. Your body will want to go here. The fix is simple, make the chest stretch and feel your shoulder blades squeeze together at the back of the movement.
Hip Hike – Less common, but equally as amusing to watch is the classic hip hike. Here’s the thing – push ups can be hard. We, consciously or otherwise tend to try and manipulate our body to make them easier. The thing is, we can’t see it! Being a push up and all – our eyes are on the floor! So we can go mad – contort our bodies into all sorts of funny positions and then race out as many push up things as we can. You won’t get far like this though – so fix it. The Fix – practice, awareness – use a mirror, film yourself, get a spotter. More importantly, learn the correct feeling of good posture, then maintain it throughout.
Wrong Level – Do a push up you’re not ready for – as about 70% of people do (in my esteemed opinion) – and you will have bad technique. You can’t fluke it. It will look bad and do enough of it and it will hurt you. It will NOT make your muscles look better (compared to using the right level of push up for you) – it will grind your tendons, stress your ligaments, mess with your shoulders and stress your neck. Naughty.
Wrong Mind Set – When I’m training a client, we are not trying to do 100 push ups. We are not taking on some stupid gimmicky challenge, we are using the push up to get strong, to create an effect. With that mindset, we are not kidding ourselves that we are ‘fit’ because we can hit an arbitrary number that is actually a very different challenge for everyone as we all have different structures, weights and issues – we are creating change in our bodies – do it right and you won’t need to boast about how many push ups you can do… your body will show it.
TOO MANY/POSTURE BREAKS IN ANY OTHER WAY – I will add to this over time. There are too many ways people butcher their push ups. It usually, fundamentally stems from letting posture break and having the wrong mindset… discussed in the ‘why do it section’.
ON THE TYPEWRITER PROGRESSIONS SPECIFICALLY…
IT GETS ALL SHOULDERY – your thumb should be in contact with your breast plate. At the bottom of the move. Your chest should be push out and exposed to the stress. If you can’t handle that, you might round your shoulder and let your thumb move too high up the chest. Don’t do this. It means you need more strength and more practice!
TWISTY TWISTY – Your body will do everything it can to take the stress out of the chest. Watch out for excess twisting. We may want a subtle rotation to increase the stress on the chest, but you mustn’t twist towards it, and as you travel hand to hand, your torso must be square tot he floor.
PULLING WITH THE SPARE ARM – When you’ve mastered these babies, you’ll have a completely straight ‘spare arm’ as you push back up. I like to get you to use a bent arm at first, but be conscious not to use it too much to assist. Then once you’re good, work towards straight it or removing it to ‘prove’ you’re not using it to cheat.
GLUTE LOCK —> STRETCH YOUR CHEST – Simple powerful focus. Say it to yourself every rep and you’ll get better and better.
ELBOWS IN – I’m not explaining anything else here.
HIPS HIGHER THAN CHEST – If your hips want to drop and you look like your humping the floor when you do push ups, try focusing on keeping your hips one millimetre higher than your chest for the whole time. It will help.
PRESSURE BACK OF NECK – Try this: sit tall, picture a double chin, try and give yourself one (if you need to try), then with your head in that position, without tilting it, slide your head backwards until you feel a slight pressure on the back of your head. Feel your chest stick out? Feel Strong? THIS is where you are strong. Get this feeling as you do your push ups. You will feel like your head is pulling away from the floor, like you have further to travel (you have). This will help you avoid most of the ‘broken body’ posture errors discussed above. I reckon that makes this the worlds greatest push up tip.
SEEK THE STRESS IN THE WORKING ARM – yes I know, you want to be really good at this and to beat your numbers. But as we say, all reps aren’t equal and remember why you’re putting yourself through this in the first place! The more force you can handle, the better your body will be. So feel for the hardest / best position you can at the bottom, and focus on overcoming the force on the way back up. Don’t let your body avoid it.
WHY DO IT TO YOURSELF??
It’s a fundamental skill – pushing, pulling, squatting, bending, hanging, crawling, twisting… these are all fundamental human movements. Most decent programmes will be based around these. The humble push up is a great way to introduce yourself to proper pushing technique.
Chest, shoulders arms – Push ups will build your chest, shoulder and arm muscles and you will look goooood!
Core Strength and Motor Control – When in this position, we need basic core strength and control, learn it here and you’ll be able to transfer this to other activities down the line.
Easy to Scale – we can practice on a chair or a table, making it really easy and just drill technique, then we can take it all the way to extreme performance with elevated feet, severe amounts of extra weight or amazing gymnastic skills. Like I said, it’s a fundamental skill. It shouldn’t really be about will you do it, more about which type suits you, appeals to you and inspires you. You could work on your push ups for life – every time you hit 6 perfect reps move to a slightly harder style. Imagine what you could be doing after 5 years of that…
Convenient – you don’t need much stuff. Just the floor, and yourself.