It’s funny how so many people will say that the push up is one of the best exercises around, but then claim it can only build a little strength and muscle before you need to use weights.I don’t blame most folks for considering the push up as a beginner exercise. The reason is because most folks never develop their push ups beyond what they learned back in gym class.
But the push up is a killer exercise which can help you build just as much, if not more, muscle and strength than any bench press or weight machine. You just need to know how to take it beyond 3rd grade gym class.
Here are some ideas to get you started, but keep in mind these are just scratching the surface.
Rule #1- All push ups start from the floor and press up.
I always start push ups by lying on the floor and then tensing up all of my muscles before I start my first rep. This includes the muscles in my chest, shoulders, arms, abs, legs and even my hands. Doing this will ensure much more muscle activity and tension.
Rule #2- Go up until you straiten your arms, and go down until the floor physically stops you.
Forget the idea of coming within a fists witch of the floor. Bigger range of motion = bigger gains. So milk every centimeter you can out of every rep. Come down until you touch the floor but don’t rest on the floor to ensure you maintain the tension in your muscles. Pause at the bottom and then move right back on up.
Rule #3- Elbows back and in tight!
Many claim that pulling back your elbows makes the push up harder on the triceps. They are right, it does work the triceps harder. It also makes the chest, shoulders and even your back work harder. It’s also a heck of a lot easier on the actual shoulder joint. The more your elbows go out to the side, the less action there is in the target muscles and the more stress there is in the joints.
Rule #4- Squueeeeeeze!
It’s common for folks to allow their elbows to swing out as they do push ups, even a few inches. To really torch your chest actively pull your elbows in and squeeze your sides as you push yourself up.
Rule #5- Hips move as much as your shoulders.
This is something I even see professional trainers do. They start on the floor and push up their chest a good 12 inches until their arms lock out, but their hips only lift about 3 inches.
Again, range of motion is huge. The more of your body you can move over a greater distance the more your muscles will work. I make it a point to keep my back flat to the ground throughout the entire push up. This means my body isn’t in a strait line at the top of the push up, but it does mean my muscles get a better work out, my abs are tighter and there’s no stress on my lower back.
Rule #6- Tighten your back
The push up is very much a back exercise. Tightening your back will keep your shoulder blades form moving and lock them down low. This will bring less stress off of your shoulder joint and make your chest and shoulder muscles work much harder.
Rule #7- Keep your entire palm flat and pressing into the floor
Tight weak wrists plague our society. Doing push ups with your hands on the floor builds strong wrists, strong hands and flexible joints. So be on the look out for having the inside of your hand lift off the floor and having your weight go to the outside of your palm. This also tends to happen with the elbows swinging to the outside. Oh, and forget about push up handles. They just inhibit gaining the strength and flexibility. Of course conditions like arthritis can be exceptional cases.
Rule #8- Lift your chin
How low do you go? Low enough that you have to look up to keep your chin from hitting the floor at the bottom of the rep. If you find your self looking at the floor the whole time, keep going lower at the bottom of each rep.
Rule #9- Hands shoulder width.
Wider hands have their place, but over all they just shorten the range of motion at the joints and place more stress on the wrists. Over all, hands should be roughly about shoulder width. When I start my push ups on the floor my thumbs are pointing inward and are under my pectorals.
That should be enough to elevate your push ups to anew level, and we haven’t even begun to talk about technical progressions like shifting body weight around. For now, just be sure to get these rules mastered. Again, I’m a big fan of taking a quick video of yourself doing push ups. How you think you’re moving and how you really are moving can be 2 very different things. The camera doesn’t lie and can teach you volumes within a few minute on how to greatly improve your push up technique.
Bonus! #10- Rotate your upper arms inward.
Imagine you’re trying to screw the top of your humorous bone into your shoulder socket sort of like you’re rotating the pit of your elbows forward as you push yourself up. This slight rotation will place far more stress directly into your target muscles while taking that same stress off the joints in your wrists, elbow and shoulder.