Rediscover the humble push-up

Rediscover the humble push-up

One thing is certain: for a simple but effective upper-body exercise, few beat the push-up. They build upper body strength quickly and require very little co-ordination.

In fact, you can combine skipping, pull-ups, crunches and sit-ups to make a superb workout in a confined space. But for now let’s concentrate on the push-up.

The nice thing about push-ups is that they’re accessible – just add gravity.  While there are many variations to the push-up, there’s really only one way to start correctly.

  • Put your hands flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, with your elbows in. Keep your legs straight behind you.
  • Keep your back straight and your eyes looking towards down to the floor just past your hands. Keep your stomach tucked in.
  • Starting with your arms in the fully extended position, lower yourself slowly to the floor, until your chest touches. Don’t lie on the floor.
  • Pause, then slowly push back up to your original position.
  • Repeat this sequence. Count two seconds up, two seconds down. Breathe in on the way down, out on the way up, not the other way around.

How many push-ups should you be able to do? Not many, if they’re being done properly. If you can do more than 20, slow down and make them more strenuous.

There’s a sound reason for this: your muscles respond to how long they’re stressed for, rather than the number of repetitions. Check your progress. The easier it gets, the slower you should go. Try four seconds up and four seconds down. If you’re doing them properly you’ll only be able to do push-ups every second day, which is how your body will get the most benefit.

Make them harder

When you become bored, or very fit, try these variations:

  • One-armed push-ups really test the arm muscles and your sense of balance. In the standard push-up position, keep your hand on the floor and the put the other behind your back. Keep your chest centred over your hand and do as many press-ups as you can.
  • Feet elevated push-ups put the pressure to perform on your deltoid muscles, which make up part of your shoulders. Doing enough of these can make your deltoids look like cannonballs. You’ll need a sturdy chair or box on which to put your feet, while keeping the standard push-up position. Now continue as normal. Your deltoids will notify you of their concerns this evening, but especially tomorrow morning.
  • For sheer show-off value, the clapping push-up is a winner, but its value as an exercise is debatable, unless you’re a boxer. You just do your push-ups very fast, so that your upper body is airborne, during which time you clap your hands. Hint: if this appeals to you, you may also like cars with spoilers and skirting on them.

Focusing on specific muscle groups

  • Try fingertip push-ups to build wrist and hand strength. This may be handy for sports such as golf and tennis, where a strong grip is important. Alternatively, if your brother-in-law specialises in bone-crushing handshakes, this’ll help you crush right back. To do fingertip push-ups, find a non-slip surface on which to support yourself on your fingertips, rather than the heels of your hands.
  • The further apart your arms, the more of a workout your chest gets.
  • To target your triceps, put your hands together on the floor, with the tips of the thumbs and index fingers touching to form a triangle.

Combine push-ups with pull-ups and crunches for a good workout, and do them every other day.

Image via Thinkstock