The Powers of Pushups

July 6th, 2010 by Amy Gonsalves Leave a reply »

If I could only do two activities for physical fitness for the rest of my life, I’d choose to run and do pushups.  Which is kind of weird, when I think about it, because I can’t say I enjoy pushups like I enjoy running. 

Pushups are just a really great exercise.

I remember a few years ago I had a bootcamper snort when I said that about pushups.  He said “yeah right” as he snorted.  Then we spent some serious time working on his form and he learned what I was talking about.

(I pay extra special attention to the snorters, and their form.)

So how can we make pushups something everyone can do?  There are a lot of different ways to modify a pushup until you are strong enough to do a straight-leg pushup. 

***NOTICE: there is no such thing as a “girl” pushup or “boy” pushup.  No.  Such.  Thing.  There are “straight leg” and “bent leg” pushups.  That’s it.

  1. First of all, think about the chest muscles you use to perform a pushup.  Chest muscles really only have a few functions they serve on their own: pushing away and gathering in, like during a hug.  The fibers themselves run in a fan shape from your shoulder joint and armpit across your ribs to your sternum.  You will mainly be using the fibers that function to push away from your body when you do a pushup (or bench press; a chest flye with dumbbells will recruit the fibers used in a hugging-type motion.)
  2. Secondly, think about where your hands and arms are in relation to those chest muscle fibers.  Make sure to keep your hands roughly underneath the muscle fibers you are trying to recruit in a pushup.   If you have your hands too far in front of you, you are likely to not only miss the effectiveness of the move but also put your shoulder joint at risk. 
  3. I should also mention, you must bend your arms when you perform a pushup.  If you aren’t bending your arms, you aren’t doing a pushup.  (I’m not sure what that is, but it isn’t a pushup.)
  4. Third, keep your body as straight as possible when performing a pushup.  Think about your heels, knees, hips, shoulders, neck and the crown of your head forming a straight diagonal line.  Maintain that same line whether you perform the pushup on your toes or on your knees.  (Keeping my body straight takes the most effort for me—after 75 pushups, I feel them not in my chest but in my abdominals and back from working to keep my spine and body straight!)  If you see your toes, you’ve lost your alignment.  Look at the ground halfway between your hands or even six inches in front of your hands.
  5. Work to bring your chest down to the floor and keep your upper arm parallel with the floor—anything deeper than that will likely cause you to lose your form and alignment and recruit other muscles to help you perform the move.  Wait to make them fancy until you’ve built a solid base of strength in all of your muscles, not just your chest and shoulders.

Listed from easiest to hardest on the scale of basic pushups:


Wall Pushup-- Easiest since you aren't supporting your body weight

2. KNEE PUSHUP with your hips straight above your knees—your straight line here includes your hips, shoulders, and head

3.  ELEVATED KNEE PUSHUP keep a straight line with your knees, hips, shoulders, and head but with your hands on an elevated surface you won’t be pushing as much weight as you would if your hands were on the floor

4. KNEE PUSHUP with your hips past your knees – now your straight line includes your knees, hips, shoulders, and head

5. ELEVATED STRAIGHT LEG pushup- keep on your toes and your straight line includes your heels, knees, hips, shoulders, and head but again with your hands being on an elevated surface you won’t require as much strength to perform the move

6. STRAIGHT LEG PUSHUP—here’s the fun one to perform as your next party trick!  Keep that body ramrod straight and show off your hard work.

Then tell those snorters to snort off.

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