I love push ups. They might be a really old school exercise but they deserve more credit than they often get, at least in the world of performance. Many dismiss the push up as too easy because they can rip off 25 or so reps in a row and well, it doesn’t look as cool as the bench press. Others believe doing 25 reps at a time is a superior way to get strong and fit. Still other gym goers might see them as military style punishment or have flashbacks of high school PE class. I was inspired to write when I saw Kevin Garnett do what I could only cringe at and identify as some kind of push ups as I nearly spit my burger out while watching the Celtics and Heat playoff game last Friday. I love the Celtics and I love KG. I think he is a great competitor and player. However, those push ups were U-G-L-Y. My neck hurts just watching.
Although the bench press has taken over as king of upper body pushing exercises (How muchya’ bench?), I prefer the push up. Now I’m not saying that people shouldn’t bench press. The bench press is still awesome at making people strong, no doubt about it. But when it comes to bang for your buck, push ups kick ass. This is the progression we commonly us at Ambition Athletics:
- Push with hands elevated on stacked wrestling mats (if needed)
- Push up on the floor
- Push up with weight vest or chains
- Push up on rings
- Add weight to ring push up
- Slideboard 1-arm push up progression
- Add weight to this progression
- 1- arm push up
Why do I like the push up so much? Well, as you can see from the list above there are plenty of ways to progress and make it more difficult without doing 100’s of them. Reps can be kept relatively low and total body strength built to a high level. And speaking of total body strength, it’s also a great core exercise. Lots of people do planks and other anti-rotational work and they’re a great core exercises, but the push up is a plank too or more depending on the progression used. You get to work on two things at once. And the last reason, for shoulder health. Corkscrew your hands into the ground and find your lats as you do your reps and you will be building some good scapular stability as well as chest, shoulder and triceps strength. More importantly than naming those muscles is the movement, upper body pushing. Just make sure that to keep your shoulders and neck healthy you aren’t doing them like KG or The First Lady (see below). What the two of them are doing isn’t going to help your shoulders stay healthy, improve your posture, or build strength (also see here). I saw the video below months ago and didn’t want to comment but the opportunity has presented itself, blame KG. This is a fine example of how not to properly perform a push up, especially in a contest such as this one with Ellen. Clearly there is no standard. It appears that simply bending both elbows to any degree at the same time counts as 1 rep. Please, for the love of all things strength, keep your elbows in, your body tall and rigid, and perform a full range of motion, a.k.a. chest to the floor.
– Mike Baltren