Few exercises show total body strength like the perfect pushup.
This seemingly simple exercise can be complex. Most people will have to work up to doing push ups properly using what's called push up progression. It's common to do pushups incorrectly - hips drop too low and don’t come up with the shoulders, people let their shoulders go up towards their ears, or they barely go down before shooting back up.
A good pushup fits the following criteria:
- Hips go down with your shoulders.
- Forearms are as vertical as possible.
- Head/Neck is neutral and in line with torso (head not dropping before chest)
- Shoulders packed not raised towards ears.
- Hands inline or below shoulders.
- Elbows do not lock out at top.
- Keep a good tempo, but don't fly off the floor either.
Learning to do pushups takes time and patience. Pushups are a multi joint movement that is taxing on the body and can take time to learn correctly. When working on pushups, be sure to modify for your current level of fitness, not how you think it should be done or the hardest way.
Grease the Groove
It is possible to cut down the time it takes you to learn pushups and not kill yourself in the process. Russian Special Forces trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline, utilizes a technique called Greasing the Groove (GTG) to accomplish just that. GTG is an unconventional form of increasing strength that involves training a specific movement every single day. Strength is a skill and like all skills, one must practice to get better. With this technique, you would train frequently but never until failure.
In order for GTG to be successful, you must follow the following rules:
- Train everyday
- Train multiple times per day
- Never train till failure (only about 50-80% of your max effort)
- Only works with one to two exercises at a time
- Never train if tired or sore
- Only work at your current ability (even if focusing on modified variation)
- Minimum 15 minute rest between sets
Here is a sample routine:
- Wake up in the morning – 1-2 reps
- Before dressing for work – 1-2 reps
- Lunch Break – 1-2 reps
- Before Dinner – 1-2 reps
- Before bed – 1-2 reps
At the end of the day this person would have gotten 5-10 reps and overtime this number will creep up as the max effort rep count does.
NOTE: The above is just a sample, you can get away with doing the exercise once or more per day.
GTG can work for almost any exercises, but is especially great with body weight movements. If you focus on strict form and do as much as you can, overtime you will get stronger and stronger.
You should only work at your current ability. This means if you can only do 1 pushup now, when using GTG, you only do 1 pushup, until you feel strong enough to add more reps. But what if you cannot do one? There are modifications that you can use to help get you there.
Think of a push up as a moving plank. Your body should stay in a plank position, the only different being that you are moving towards the ground and back up. Utilizing an incline position decreases the amount of your own body weight you are lifting, allowing you to do more work.
Incline pushups can be done against a wall, windowsill, chair, bench, or using a smith machine at the gym with the bar lowered.
- Set a manageable incline
- Hands will be a little in front of your shoulders – that is OK here
- Control yourself on the way down
Aim for 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps and as you get stronger lower the incline until you are on the ground.
If you can get only a few pushups, focusing on negatives to get your number up. The negative/eccentric portion of the movement is where the muscle is lengthened under load. In this case that muscle is the chest, and the load is your body weight.
- Position yourself in a high plank.
- Lower yourself slowly towards the floor staying in control for as much of the movement as possible.
- Once you are on the floor, DO NOT push yourself up.
- Instead re-position yourself into a high plank and repeat.
Aim for 2-5 sets of 3-5 reps here. For the purposes here, the slower the better.