Nailing the Push-Up

Of all the infinite (almost) variety of exercises of which the human body is capable, I would have to rate the simple push-up number ONE. Of course, this is just my own opinion. But the push-up accomplishes so much in one basic movement. If you are only going to practice one exercise today, I recommend you do some push-up's. Unless you came to bootcamp yesterday, because we did a ton of them there!

First off, the push-up involves a plank position. This is a great start as it demands the use of all the core muscles (abdominals, back, glutes and hamstrings) just to hold the proper spinal position. Then, once the arms begin to bend and straighten, the entire shoulder girdle comes into play, strengthening the chest, upper arms, and upper back. It seems to me that you get a great amount of bang for your buck here!

Unfortunately, most women neglect the upper body and allow these muscles to become seriously weak. So weak that many women can't execute even one real push-up. There is absolutely no reason why this should be the case! With a little practice, anyone can get down and give me twenty.

Women often practice "knees-down" push-up's when they are unable to do the regular, military-style variety. This usually results in very poor form, bad alignment through the shoulders and spine, and very little, if any, strengthening. I understand that if you are in a class situation, sometimes this seems like the best alternative. Better than not doing anything at all while the teacher is demonstrating push-up's. But I have some suggestions for ways to practice at home in order to get stronger while learning to maintain the correct form.

Begin by practicing just the plank part of the push-up. Align your arms so that they are vertical. Your spine should be perfectly straight from the top of the head to the heels. If you can't feel what is happening in your body, use a mirror to check your position. Hold your plank for at least 30 seconds. Build up to a full minute, and then to two minutes. If you feel shaky in your plank, that is great! It just means that your muscles are working! But take a break if you cannot maintain your perfect form. Don't let your hips or shoulders sag at all.

When you can hold a plank for two minutes, you are ready to begin to add the arm movement. Start by placing your hands on an elevated surface. You can use the wall, the edge of your kitchen counter, the edge of a heavy table, bench, step, or chair. Make sure the surface you choose is completely stable and will not move! Then check your plank pose to be sure your spine is straight from the head to the heels. Tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button toward your spine. Then bend your elbows, hugging the elbows toward your ribcage. Do not let your elbows flare out to the sides. Aim for about a 90 degree angle in the elbows, if possible, at the bottom of your push-up. Then push against your surface to straighten the elbows. Nothing else should change or deform during your push-up. Do not lift or sag in the hips or spine.

When you are able to execute about 10 push-up's on your chosen surface, try lowering the position of your hands to a more challenging level. For example, if you can do 10 push-up's against the wall, try using your countertop next. After that, try using a bench or step. Work your way down toward the floor. Then, once you can do 10 push-up's, work your way up to 20. However, if you feel sore or tired, don't do any push-up's at all. Give your body time to rest and recover in between your workouts in order to build strength.

Good luck with your push-up's and let me know how you are progressing!