Proof the push up isn’t just a warm up for the bench press
It’s a common misconception that you can’t make the push up more challenging with more resistance. In fact, there are more ways to add resistance to your push ups than there are to the bench press.
Many of the common methods are to shift more body weight on one arm or to elevate your feet, but here are some methods that go beyond those ideas.
-Move your torso directly against gravity-
The classic push up is done with the body in a strait slant that angles downward from your shoulders to your toes.
While it’s textbook form, your torso is moving in an arch off of the floor.
I like to slightly lift up my hips and tighten my abs and butt so my spine is parallel to the floor kind of like a table top. By maintaining this position during the push up, you move your torso more directly against gravity thus slightly increasing the resistance.
-Challenge your ability to control the push up-
The more you need to control your muscular contractions, the more work your muscles need to do.
One way you can increase the challenge is to use a full range of motion for each rep. Forget the idea of coming within a few inches of the floor. Every inch counts so allow yourself to keep going down until the floor physically stops you. From there, be sure to push all the way up so your elbows go fully strait without locking out.
Another way to add challenge through control is to put a slight pause at the bottom of each rep.
I used to quickly go through the bottom position of each rep causing a slight bouncing rhythm with my push ups. By putting a 1-2 second pause at the bottom of each rep you’ll be training your muscles for greater control and force them to work harder. Once you’ve mastered full control through the entire range of motion you can use some unstable props.
My favorite is the use of suspension straps and gymnastic rings. These devices allow for friction free resistance which means you’re going to shake like a leaf the first time you use them.
This shaking is good though. It means your muscles need to use greater contraction to not only move your body but also to control it.
I also recommend using rings or straps with a pretty wide anchor point setup. Something about 5-6 feet apart is great for adding more challenge. This is due to the fact that the straps always want to return to a perpendicular position to the floor when weight (your body) is supported on them. This causes the handles to fight you a bit as you pull them towards each other while pressing your body upwards.
-Narrow your hands to increase your range of motion-
I used to do push ups like I used to bench, with my hands spread apart and my elbows out as if I was doing the chicken dance at a wedding.
I learned that while this position allowed me to lift more weight, it required less ROM at my joints and also put more stress on my shoulders.
Now my standard push ups are much more narrow with my hands directly under my shoulders and my elbows either at a 45 degree angle or pointed strait back to my feet. This position allows more muscle activation by using more range of motion at each joint and a greater distance my body needs to travel as a whole.
The extreme version of this is to bring your hands close together directly under your chest.
I like to use a medicine ball to take some of the tension off of the wrists.
-Making your lever longer-
Most folks know you can make your push up easier by doing them on your knees and harder by doing them on your toes. You can make the lever of your strait body even longer with a simple 2X4.
And then of course you can always add extra weight to your push ups.
-You can place chains around the back of your neck.
-You can wear a weight vest. I recommend one that has the bulk of the weight towards the upper part of your back and chest. Cheap vests that load the weight around your waist can put a lot of stress on your lower back.
- You can place a sandbag across your shoulders. Again, you’ll probably want to become proficient at the table top push up first so you can do this without the weight rolling down your back.
- You can have someone lay on your back. Small children get a kick out of this and you get more weight and resistance. Plus as they grow you get some gentile progressive resistance.
- You can use figure 8 bands. While not technically weight, a simple figure 8 excer-tube can be a cheap and portable way to add loads of extra resistance.
-Mix and match-
Of course you can combine any of the methods above. You can do lever push ups with a narrow hand placement or wide-set strap push ups with a loading chain.
All of these methods have their pros and cons so I recommend looking into what you like best for your level of fitness and goals. I also invite you to be creative and come up with some challenging variations of your own.