Push ups get a bad name. Mostly, I think, because few people are ever taught how to do them correctly and are therefore put into a situation where they are likely to be unsuccessful when they do them.
For example, I can recall being forced to do push ups when someone didn’t listen to Coach in football practice. Those were a grind: full pads and a helmet, not fun. But, at no point in 6th or 7th grade football, did the coach say, “okay team, we are going to actually teach you how to do these right so 10 years from now you actually retain the skill.”
We just did them. Ass up, head down, doing the worm, it didn’t matter.
Or a story from a female athlete of mine, who we had taught how to do push ups well.
“Our coach got mad at us and told us to do push ups until he wasn’t angry with us anymore. Well I did about 4 or 5 and was gassed. So, as I held a plank, I looked around and all my teammates were just lifting and lowering their butt or head or maybe bending their arms a few inches. I felt embarrassed for them.”
Granted she was one of those athletes that just absorbed everything we gave her and didn’t accept less than her best all the time. But the fact remains, this scenario is occurring for young athletes everywhere.
And the thing I think is MOST important to understand, having watched years and years of evaluations with incoming young athletes, almost all kids under the age of 13 can’t do push ups well.
And, let’s face it, most adults I evaluate can’t do push ups all that well either.
So, by the end of this, I will help you understand why so many movement specialists love to use push ups as part of their training, but also a number of unique variations that will allow just about anyone to do a quality set of push ups!
First off, why push ups?
They are highly effective to train not only the chest and the arms but also engage the core and hip muscles isometrically. Those muscles have to brace and hold tight to allow for full body involvement to push the body from the floor back to the top.
Additionally, the range of motion allows for excellent mobility of the scapula (shoulder blades) both in the descent, where they retract towards the spine to the ascent, where they protract around the rib cage.
And finally, there are almost ENDLESS variations out there. BUT, all variations that are cool and sexy only work if you can do at least 5 good quality push ups with your toes on the ground.
That, for most of our population, is a struggle.
So I will give you a few variations that can help you on your way to crushing your push ups.
Keys to consider with any push up
- Chest should be on a full stretch without the shoulders rolling back forward (imagine your chest being stretched as far away from the sternum as possible)
- Full ROM (range of motion) is the goal and should supercede your focus on a certain number of reps to get the most out of your push ups
- Body should remain locked in (trunk, abs, butt, quads) to get the most muscle working for a common goal. If form breaks down for one rep, try to fix it. Two reps, stop and rest.
Variations to try if you cannot perform a full ROM push up on the ground
- Elevated Push Ups
– I like these best because you can likely find things that are closer and closer to the ground to progress yourself back to the floor. Plus there are no extra equipment needs
- Band assisted Push Ups
– You need something high to attach the band to with this one, but it is a great tool to get a good push up pattern established, as long as you don’t continue to rely on it.
– Attach the band to a door frame via a pull up bar or door anchor utility strap (Link)
– Put the band around your waist and remember, the more resistance the band, the more ASSISTANCE in this situation.
Sets of 3-5 reps performed with massive tension throughout the body will get the blood flowing, and make you feel great! Then, you can head back to the gym ready to crank out all those sexy push up variations you see on YouTube!