The Perfect Push Up

Like most people who begin their fitness journey, you are focused, excited and ready for change. You will step foot in the gym for the first time with no plan, no knowledge of how to use the machines and have no idea how to use free weights. You will take a second to think about what you can possibly start with that is simple, requires no equipment, but trains the upper body and you will probably want to do all of this without looking like a newbie. Can you take a guess? It’s known by millions, used to test the level of fitness in the military and used in those epic films where the action stars are sweating, pumping iron and training as they prepare to win the boxing match - which all sounds very similar to Rocky. Have you guessed it yet? It is the PUSH UP. Push ups were as hard as bricks when I began working out. They certainly weren’t easy (like most exercises) for me and they were something I pushed aside for too long. I steered towards the machines and free weights, which were basically the cool stuff I saw in the magazines and online. That was the whole reason why I went to the gym, I wasn’t going for push ups - I could do those anywhere?! In hindsight, I wish I had done the opposite. I neglected push ups due to my lack of knowledge at the time and I didn't understand how the push up is the foundation to all pressing exercises you progress onto. A lot of gym goers start with press ups - I see it all the time. Women in particular like to start with push ups because they often feel that their upper bodies lack strength. What I often notice is that people will drop down to the floor, attempting to push out as many reps possible to near enough failure with bad form. Believe me when I say this - I love it that females in particular are going after what they want and not just shying away in the cardio section. The main problem is that they are using incorrect form and in addition to this, they have not yet built the level of strength needed to go into 'full press up mode'. You can’t just jump into the deep end like that as it only sets you up for frustration. I am going to break down the steps to mastering this exercise if you are still new to it or even if you are far into your fitness journey, yet still desperate to concur push ups and make them a strong point. Firstly, you need to look at the from a physics point of view. When in a full press up position you are resisting the weight of yourself from head to toe. The force in you pulling down and the resistance is your weight on way back up. If we can remove some weight it becomes easier. So, by lowering the knees to the floor or changing the angle of our body (so imagine leaning on your kitchen top let’s say, you reduce the weight bearing down) we make what was initially impossible to just about manageable for you. Now that you have made the exercise safer, proper form can be monitored and you are now competent in your ability to nail it! Where you should start?

  • I want you to start on a high incline, so nearly standing with a slight forward lean and on the balls of the feet.

  • Put both hands roughly outside shoulder width, feet the same.

  • Next pretend you own a tail and took it underneath you like a scared dog would do. You will feel the butt tighten and abs engage.

  • From here slightly tuck in your elbows - as if you want to stop someone from tickling your arm pits. From above you will look like an arrow shape. Now you’re ready!

  • Commit and bend both elbows simultaneously slowly lowering your chest towards the surface until the elbows and shoulders are parallel keeping aware of your body position.

  • Once you reach the bottom, forcefully push down hard through both palms, maintaining the tail tucked under, abs tight and push your chest away to the starting position with the elbows locked and head straight ready for the next rep.

Hallelujah!! You have completed the push up! How do I progress? Now you’ve learnt the basics, it’s a case of practice and perfecting practice to teach your mind to become more efficient and effective. This only comes from putting the time and effort in. You should start to notice how less energetic and smoother it feels. You won’t have to over think what you should be doing with your body as it will become second nature (don’t think you can forget everything, or else you will slip into bad habits) and then you know it’s time to challenge yourself further.

  • I would start with added reps to build some endurance. Working up to 20-30reps.

  • Next add serval sets going for the same number.

  • Once you are doing 2-3 sets without feeling puffed out you can move to the next version.

  • Depending on what it is you are using to do them on, you now need to move down lower towards the floor, not massively, a few inches is enough, but making sure it is lower than where you were and I promise the difference can be drastic. Use the same steps as above and rise and repeat the process.

I followed your steps, I am on floor now but can’t even get one rep! What should I do? This is going to differ for everyone; some people will be fine on the floor doing their first full rep and it will tip others over the edge. If struggling, I would take some body weight away again. Lower both knees to the floor, cross the feet or keep them together - the choice is yours as it’s preference based and doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you maintain the same position you had in the full version - nothing changes. Start increasing the reps like you did on the high incline until they become easy. This won’t take long if you stay consistent and don’t give up to soon when it gets tough and progress seems slow, please be patient and trust me. After mastering this, it's eventually time to turn it up a notch and take the full push up head on with a can-do mind set. My tips are to fully commit and envision how you want it to look and feel. There are some studies to show visualisation training prior to performing a given task, dramatically improves your chances of succeeding. For example, for sport athletes and power lifters, it will dramatically improve their chances of succeeding. Give it everything you have don’t half heartily go for it, you will fail! There will be times when you don’t get 1 press up, yes it sucks.. although sometimes it happens. You plan out how you want it run step by step, but a lot of the time it can take a U turn. What matters is don’t give up hope just yet. There is there one more trick up my sleeve... Continue in the full press up which stays the same but this time we are going to reduce the range of motion to your strengths. Most people are strongest at the point in the movement where the elbows are parallel with shoulders. Beyond this position, they’re often the weakest. This is due to the muscle being fully stretched. You have strength in this position, you’ve done the full range of motion press up in the first stages (incline and knees) although the resistant is greater now and it requires further strength in the muscles. So how we manage to build this new strength is by working with what you can do and your range of motion.

  • Find something that matches the distance you can go down, use a soft ball or a few cushions in case you fail to put beneath you.

  • From here, lower down to the object lightly touch it and then explode back up.

  • Get used to this, build up confidence and execute the movement with control and certainty in your mind and body.

  • After building up the reps it’s now time to position the object even lower and build the rep up again.

  • Keep with this strategy until finally you are at the floor. I can’t give a precise time frame for how long it will take you, but remember that progress big or small is still progress. Go at you own pace and enjoy the process. You will get there, stayed focused and in no time, you’ll look back on how far you have come.

Now get started and follow my advice to perfecting the perfect push up!

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