Rethinking the push-up

Whenever I walk into a gym and see people working out on a bench press machine, I want to scream: “Get off of there and do some push-ups!”

Weight training does improve strength and endurance, but it has limitations, while some of the old standbys, like the push-up, are not only more functional but are less likely to injure. Weight-training equipment isolates movement in a single plane: But this is not how we move in the real world. And that can cause problems. What have come to be called “functional exercises” – like the simple pushup – enhance the movements we perform in our daily lives. They require us to raise and lower weight while controlling unnecessary movement throughout the rest of our body, especially the spine. This is really the kind of exercise that serves us best, no matter what kind of shape we are in.

When you perform a push-up properly, you draw in your abdomen and maintain a tabletop flatness to your back throughout the movement. You engage the deep muscles of your stomach, back, and hips while you work your chest, shoulders, and arms. This improves posture and can prevent low back pain.

Though many of us associate the push-up with punishment – we remember our gym teacher, when we were late for class, saying, “Drop and give me 20!” – it can be performed by almost anybody, almost anywhere, without special equipment.

Traditional pushup

A traditional military push-up is done from a prone position with your weight supported on your hands and toes.

1. Place your hands to the outside of your shoulders with fingers facing straight ahead. Your feet are together or up to 12 inches apart. When viewed from the side, your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.

2. Begin by bending your elbows and lowering your entire body as a single unit until your chin touches the floor or until your upper arms are parallel to the ground.

Complete the movement by raising your entire body in a straight line and return to the starting position. Your arms should be straight without locking your elbows while your entire body stays in a rigid line.

Building up to it

Not sure you can do one? Don’t worry, there are plenty of modifications to help you build up to performing a standard push-up. And while these adaptations lessen the weight you will have to lift, you will still be getting the benefits that come from doing this core-stabilizing exercise.

3. Stand arms’ distance from a wall and place your hands against the wall at a height that is parallel to your chest. Keep your feet .at on the ground, stomach drawn in and lean into the wall. Lean in and away in the same way you would if you were parallel to the floor.

4. Try placing a large stability ball between your extended arms and the wall as you perform wall pushups.

5. Place your hands on a low table or on the floor slightly forward of your shoulders; rest the weight of your lower body above your kneecaps with your lower legs raised slightly off the floor and your feet crossed at the ankles.

6. Lower yourself to the table or floor maintaining a flat back (think of your belly button pressing up against your spine) and raise your body back to its starting position. As you become stronger, you can perform the table version while resting weight on your toes. Do as many as you can while maintaining a flat back and stop as you lose good form.

Once you can do no more, rest for a few minutes and then begin anew. Two to three of these AMAP sets (as many as possible) will be a great workout.

Advanced push-ups

7. Place your legs on a large Swiss body ball to increase instability while you struggle to stay balanced.

8. Control the degree of difficulty by moving your hips further from or closer to the ball.

9. Try adding some rotational movement to your pushups. From your favorite push-up position, raise your body up and balance on one arm as you turn the opposite hip and arm up toward the ceiling. Repeat and turn to the other side.

So the next time you’re looking for a total body workout and don’t have the time or inclination to go to the gym, remember the push-up. Drop down and give yourself 20.

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