By Jenny Gusella, ACE, CFSC, Personal Trainer and Orangetheroy Fitness Coach
Push-ups are a staple of any workout program from youth to adulthood. You don’t need any equipment, you can do them anywhere, and they are easy to modify them to make them simpler as well as more advanced. However, according to anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered from my clients, push-ups are among the more dreaded of the exercises we do. Reasons range from “I’ve just never been able to do them” to “I feel so weak, I can’t even do one” to “Can’t I just do them from my knees?”
Usually, in life, when a situation isn’t going the way we want, we make an effort to fix it. We aim to improve our situation so we can move on and be happier. If you are someone who dreads push-ups, we can fix your situation, and, if you progress properly, it will feel empowering, not defeating.
Why fix it? First of all, it’s one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises out there, working your chest, arms, core and even your legs all at once – if you have it in your arsenal, you open up opportunity for greater strength gains. Second of all, push-ups are revealing themselves to be a great indicator of cardiovascular health. A recent study published in the JAMA Network open found that men who could do more push-ups were less likely to experience cardiovascular issues, with those who could do 40 or more seeing the greatest risk reduction. That’s not to say if you just get good at push-ups your heart will become healthy, but practicing some push-ups and seeing where you need improvement may inspire you to pick up a more complete fitness routine (including push-ups, of course!) which will ultimately lead to a healthier heart.
Now, let’s meet you where you’re at to determine how to tackle these push-ups! Find which statement below applies to you, start there, then work your way down as you get more proficient. When you practice push-ups, try to aim for 3 sets of around 8-12 reps.
1. “I cannot hold the top of a push-up” If you can’t hold a high plank (from your hands) then you will not yet be able to perform a push-up, so let’s start there. Try holding a plank for 10 seconds. Make sure your wrists are right under your shoulders, your back is flat enough to hold a mug of coffee on top, and your butt isn’t way up in the air. Increase your plank hold by 5 seconds every few days. By the time you can hold a plank for 30 straight seconds, you’re ready to move on.
2. “I cannot do 1 full push-up” Let’s start by elevating your hands. Find something like a bureau, set yourself up in a plank position with your hands on the edge, and perform a push-up with your chest coming all the way to touch the bureau. Was that easy? Then find a lower piece of furniture, maybe your dining room table, or a coffee table. The lower your hands are, the more difficult the push-up will be. Once you find an elevation that’s challenging for about 8-10 reps (but you can complete it) then find a lower piece of furniture!
3. “I can do a couple but my form really falls apart” Let’s go back to basics. A perfect push-up should start as a perfect plank, then when you lower down, your chest and your hips lower at the exact same rate, and your elbows stay tucked in at least 45 degrees to your body. Keep your eyes looking a few inches in front of you so your head doesn’t drop. Your chest should be able to touch a small pad on the ground below you. Practice doing as many perfect ones as you can, and then do the rest of your push-ups back at step 2 with your hands elevated.
4. “I’m happy with how many push-ups I can do” That’s great! Some fun ways to make them more challenging could be: slow down the tempo, lower to the count of “3…2…1”. Elevate your feet, make sure to stay in that perfect plank. When you push up, jump your hands up into the air. Or try doing push-ups on just 1 foot.
Last step: add some fun music to your routine! Might I suggest “Push It” by Salt-n-