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Learning the Push-up

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Bodyweight exercises are one of the most accessible and effective types of movement that exist. We all have a body and we have been learning how to use it since we were born. We learn how to hold our heads up, sit up, roll over, crawl, squat, walk, so on and so forth. Every stage of our physical development is about gaining improvements in strength and stability.

Logically, then, as adults we should be danged skilled at doing bodyweight exercises, right?

You’d think so.

Being able to do a strict push-up on your hands and toes is not an easy task. A strict push-up requires you to be able to press about 64% of your body weight. So, a 220-lb person is lifting 140 lbs.

Strength is required not only in the chest muscles, but also the triceps and the shoulders. Not to mention the isometric hold that should be happening in the core muscles of the abdominal region all the way down to your quadriceps that hold the legs firmly in position.

When we talk about full-body movements, the push-up is definitely one of the top choices.

It is to your benefit to be able to do it properly. If you are unable to do it properly right now, that’s okay! You can train yourself to build the strength across all your muscles to get there!

You may have seen people doing push-ups from their knees. This is NOT an adequate substitute for learning the push-up. Too many of the supportive muscles are left out of this version. If you currently do knee push-ups, then stop it and start doing your progressions with these versions of the real deal….

Every progression of this movement needs to be done from a strong plank position. What does that mean?

-Muscles are tightened and held firm all the way from the ribcage down to your kneecaps.

-You are up on your toes no matter how upright your version of the push-up is.

-You create a generally straight line from your ankles to the crown of your head (no bending at the hips, knees or neck)

-Your tailbone is neither too tucked nor sticking out too much. In other words, your abs need to be engaged – you should feel them holding your pelvis in place, but not “crunched.”

Start your progressions from a wall or a tall countertop – make sure it is something stable that won’t move while you are pressing against it. When you can do 12-15 of those easily, then find a lower surface to place your hands on.

In the video below, I am using a barbell against a squat rack. In your home, it might be kitchen countertops, then a kitchen chair pushed up against a wall, an ottoman or entry bench, and ultimately the floor!

TIPS: Take video of your progressions! View the video and look for cues that you aren’t holding your body as tightly as you could be.

-Are your hips drooping lower than they should be? Do you feel pain or pressure in your lower spine?

-Are your knees bent – even if they aren’t on the ground?

-Is your head looking up or looking under your body toward your feet? Keep your neck neutral and look at the floor directly under your forehead.

-Position your arms so that your elbows don’t flare out to the sides. Your elbows should make an “arrow” not a “T”. Position them about 45-degrees away from your body. This protects your shoulder joint more than the T position.

-Place hands so that your wrists are under your shoulders. I prefer to get myself set-up in the lower part of the movement so that I can gauge proper positioning easily.

When you prepare to move, hold all your muscles tight and firm, then move smoothly and focused.

You should get better pretty quickly at this movement as long as you put in some practice each day!

Show up. Communicate. Trust the process.

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