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July 28, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

As I mentioned in the previous blog on pull ups, one of the best ways to train your body is with body weight exercises such as pull ups, push ups, body weight squats, etc.  The push up is one of the most basic fitness exercises out there and many people perform them at some point in their fitness regimen, whether it is on their own, with a personal trainer, or in a group class setting such as a boot camp or circuit class.  However, it is critical to perform push ups with proper form and proper range of motion to truly get the benefits of this excellent exercise.

When done correctly, the push up is excellent for strengthening and building the muscles of the chest, triceps, shoulders, and deep abdominal wall (when done properly the deep abdominal wall muscles act as stabilizers to maintain a neutral body position (plank) while performing the push up).

To perform a push up correctly, begin in a prone position with the hands at shoulder level and slightly wider than shoulder width.  With feet together, legs straight, and toes curled up and under so that you are on the balls of your feet, push your body off of the floor without locking the arms at the top. Exhale during this movement.  You should maintain a straight line from your head to your feet – do not let your butt (or middle) sag toward the floor (this is a sign of a weak abdominal wall). Lower your body back toward the floor until you are approximately a fist away from the floor with your chest and repeat.

There are a multitude of variations of the push up that you can perform to make them more challenging or to target different muscle groups.  You can do a close-grip push up to hit more of the triceps. A wide-grip push up hits more of the chest and shoulders.  You can split your hands so that one is forward of the other, you can put one hand on a medicine ball and the other on the floor, you can elevate your upper body on a box, or elevate your lower body on a box or swiss ball, or you can perform explosive push ups where your hands actually leave the ground as you drive the body upward.

Your imagination can help you create many other variations, but you must be able to do the basic push up correctly.  If you cannot, try these modifications:

  • Modified push up from the knees
    • With your knees on the floor, allow your hands to walk out, maintaining your hands under your shoulders.  From this position perform a push up as described above but allow your thighs to come to the ground – this eliminates much of your lower body weight.
  • Swiss ball push up
    • An advanced version of a push up is to place your feet or toes on a Swiss ball and, with your hands on the floor, perform a push up.  However, with this same apparatus you can greatly regress the push up.  Rather than putting your feet on the ball put your thighs on the ball and your hands on the floor and perform a push up.  Once again you are eliminating much of the weight from your lower body.  As you get stronger and better you can begin to walk your hands out and have less of your body on the ball to progress this exercise.

Push ups can be done anywhere and are an excellent upper body and core exercise.  With the multiple variations one can perform they are a must in any exercise routine as long as they are done correctly with full ranges of motion.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 1, 2010 7:32 am

    Modified Push Ups -As I read your blog post, I couldn’t help but think of the Push Up Bench as the most effective way for people who struggle with push ups , to be able to do them correctly (with full range of motion). Most modified push ups make them easier but only allow one or two variations. The Push Up Bench has 11 different levels to work through on the way to a full push up.

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