The change, it had to come.
I’ll call pushups a core exercise because everyone probably has done pushups sometime during their life, or at minimum know what a pushup is. Just to be clear when I say it’s a core exercise, I refer to the pushup being a core part of most workouts that are using body weight instead of weights. Having said that I guess you could say that pushups are also an exercise that work the core as your core should be engaged when doing them. Your experience with pushups probably is the standard pushup where our hands are under our shoulders and you move your body up and down.
So let me use this post to show you other ways to do pushups that can work other parts of our body or just be more of a challenge.
Before I do that I want to spend a bit of time going over what a ‘standard’ pushup is. As I mentioned earlier, we place our hands a little wider than shoulder width below our shoulders, more aligned with where our pec or chest muscles are. If we are using the pushup to target our chest muscles it makes sense to have the hands aligned with the chest, just like when you do a bench press exercise. If you have your hands ahead of your shoulders it will be more difficult to execute the exercise, and we are engaging muscles that we don’t want to. Now that we know where our hands need to be, lets look at the feet. The feet should be placed about shoulder width, and you will want to be on your toes.
Hands – done. Feet – done. Let’s move onto our mid area, the hips. It can be common when doing pushups that the hips lower below their natural position, or rise up like a bridge. This usually happens because we become fatigued and have disengaged our core. Knowing this we want to make sure that our hips are aligned so they are in their natural position. One last point about how are body should be positioned. It’s common that I get asked where do we keep our head? Do we keep our head aligned with our body, looking down, keeping the spine neutral or do we lift our head up, looking forward? You will hear people telling you to do it both ways. The notion of looking forward is that it makes the pushup harder to do. I have also read that keeping the head up while doing pushups puts unneeded pressure on the vertebrae in the neck. In my opinion, I prefer to keep the head down in it’s natural position. If I want to make my pushups harder, I will slow down the cadence. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean. Taking 5 – 7 seconds to lower your body and 5 – 7 seconds to raise it will make the pushup dramatically harder.
I think that’s it. Wait, one more thing. While doing pushups be sure to keep your core engaged. You should be actively contracting your abs, glutes, back and even the quad muscles. When doing pushups these muscles act as stabilizer muscles which will actually help you keep your body aligned properly. Keeping these muscles engaged will also strengthen them.
Alright, let’s get into some options we can use to change the boring pushup into something way more exciting! Well, a little more exciting.
- Target the triceps – You can actually use the pushup to also target the tricep muscles. By placing your hands alongside your body (your elbows should be touching your sides) instead of having them aligned outside of your shoulders, and also below your chest, your pushup movement almost mimics a tricep push down movement. When doing this type of pushup try to not let your elbows move out to the side. It may not be the best movement to work the triceps but if you don’t have equipment than it’s a great option.
- Upper chest burner – Try doing pushups with your feet up on a platform. A 12 inch platform should work to use the pushup to target the upper chest.
- Adding an explosion – Figuratively not literally. Start your pushup being in the down position, your body on the ground. Now as fast as you can bring yourself to the upper part of the movement. If you have done this as quick as you can and with as much force as you can your hands should come up off the ground. That’s the explosion. The benefit of this particular pushup is it will add speed to anything that uses that type of movement, such as striking.
- Add your knees to it – We can make the pushup more than a chest exercise by adding another movement to it. While in the lower position of the pushup, bring the knee from one side to the elbow on that side. Hold it for 3 – 5 seconds then return the foot back to where it should be. Raise your body back up so you are in the upper position of the pushup, then lower again and repeat using the other side. By adding this movement to the pushup you are engaging your core muscles even more. It’s tough! Do only as many as you keeping proper form.
- Incorporating your legs – We need to have a strong core to execute pushups properly. If you able to keep proper form when doing pushups, and your hips are not sinking, try this one. Starting in the upward position extend one leg out so it is parallel with your body. Keeping this leg out do five pushups then change to the other leg. Do this until fatigued. Try to not let the hip rotate down on the side where the leg is out. If you cannot keep your hips properly aligned than you may want to forego this type of pushup.
- Known by many names – Hindu, Judo, Jewel thief, Dive bomber and a bunch of other names I’m sure. This pushup is a great way of adding dynamic range of motion to the exercise. A benefit of this pushup is you are using muscles that may not get the same resistance when doing a standard pushup. Let me explain how this one is done. Start in the upper position and have your hips up high, so you form the letter A, or you look like the shape of a tent. Here comes the tricky part, well tricky for me because I have to explain it. Now that you have your hips up and high, lower your body leading with the head moving forward as if you are trying to curve your body under a hypothetical laser beam. Think of that laser beam being around your mid-section when complete. So in a sense you are trying to curve your body under that beam, avoiding it. At the end of the movement you should have your arms straight, head up, because you should be at the upper position of the pushup. Your arms will be further back than when you normally do a pushup because of where they were when you started and your hips will be much lower, which is ok for this pushup. The ending position is very much like the cobra stretch except your hips and legs are above the ground, not on it. Now, do the reverse to get back to the original position. Does that make sense? It’s a little hard to explain but I hope you get the idea.
Six choices. Six different ways of executing the ubiquitous pushup. Try them out. Play with them. Have fun.
But always remember, form is very important. Don’t try these different options if you are unable to keep form. And be sure that you are always using full range of motion. You will never get better if you cheat. You’re cheating the exercise and you’re cheating yourself.
If you can execute the standard pushup well but are having troubles with the six above, don’t worry about it. Who cares. I don’t. You’ll get there eventually. No need to rush. Measure your progress against yourself, not someone else. If you feel you’re ready to get away from the standard pushup then do it. You will be sore afterwards from the change and your body will benefit from the change.
The key is progression, not the amount you can do.
Yours in health,