The (Not So) Humble Pushup
Let’s face it, not everything gets the credit it should. Whether it’s the hardworking but quiet coworker, the offensive lineman on a Superbowl winning team, the crust on the pizza, or just good old water, some of the best and most effective things in life often get overlooked. The same certainly holds true for exercise.
There are days that you simply can’t make it to the gym. Whether it’s time constraints, travel complications, or simply a bad case of the ‘don’t wanna’s,’ there are times that a lengthy, equipment-heavy workout just isn’t going to happen. Even if your gym is in your garage or you pound the pavement as a runner, sometimes all you’re gonna have access to is a small patch of carpet and ten minutes to yourself.
That’s ok. That small patch of carpet is where the push-ups live.
And push-ups are amazing.
Push-ups primarily target the chest, shoulders and triceps, but they include a plethora of your other muscles as well – especially the most prominent areas of your abdomen. Talk about hitting the beach muscles!
The real trick to making push ups (or almost any exercise) really effective is this: intensity and form. Do them right, and do them hard. Do something half ass, and expect half ass results – don’t half ass your push-ups.
To do a push-up correctly:
- Start with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
- Place your feet how you feel comfortable.
- Your body should be a straight line.
- Look slightly ahead, not straight down.
- With your elbows controlled (not flying out wide), drop slowly until your chest touches the floor.
- EXPLODE back up.
The explosion is important – explosive movements are intense movements, and intensity builds muscle. Ever see an Olympic Sprinter? Those guys are as muscular as a human gets, and it’s from explosive, fast-twitch movement. If you want to build strength and muscle, and not just endurance, that’s key.
As you come down, you want to control your body. It may sound silly, but a good way to keep your form ‘pure’ is to clench your buttocks and then tense your abdominal muscles. This will line up your core, and help get you set in the proper straight-line a push-up requires. This is the negative part of the rep, but when you hit the ground you’re in the concentric (lifting) part of the exercise and you need to move fast. Control down, explode up. And just like when you’re lifting the heavy weights, breath in on the negative (down motion) and exhale hard on the concentric (pushing up).
Ok, so now you’re doing push-ups correctly.. how else can we make them really work for us? Here’s one super effective (and FAST) method.
First, start by finding how many push-ups you can do in a single set without stopping. Whether it’s ten or fifty, keep them clean and use good form.
Next, take that number and cut it in half. If you did forty push ups without stopping, your number is twenty.
Do four sets of this new number, with about a minute of rest in between. Again, if you did forty push ups, you are now doing four sets of twenty, resting between each set for about a minute. If you can’t complete the push-ups for each set, do as many as you can do and then drop your knees – complete the full amount by reducing the weight (it’s similar to a dropset with weights). It’s important to not stop, but to just continue from full push-ups to knee push-ups, and to only use your knees if you absolutely must.
Be sure to find your max after a couple weeks, because it will be increasing rapidly.
This workout can be done in an amazingly short period of time (about ten minutes, plus stretching) and requires absolutely no equipment. You can do it anywhere – a hotel room, outdoors, wherever! – and it’s amazingly effective. The key is intensity, not time, and making a great exercise work for you. Short rest periods between sets, and pushing to and past failure with the dropset of knee push-ups combine for amazing effect.
The push-up may be a humble exercise, but the results won’t be.