Push Up Domination

When it comes to the upper body, the push up is the last kid picked for a game of dodge ball of the exercise world, far behind the reigning king since the beginning of time, the bench press. I don’t want this to turn into a “the bench press sucks” post, because it doesn’t – if  done correctly, which many people don’t – but more of a celebration of the awesomeness that is the push up.

1.  It’s shoulder friendly

Shoulder pain is a frequent complaint of those who often sacrifice themselves upon the bench press alter. Now this could be due to a breakdown in form,  lifting with their ego instead of their head, or a host of other reasons, but suffice to say there is a lot going on in the bench press, and thus there are more things that can possibly go wrong during the lift.

With the push up, the opposite is true for most. With the reduced load, there is a lot less stress on the shoulder joint than during the bench press. Also, because you’re able to move your shoulder blades freely through space instead of having them pinned down against the bench, you get a lot better stabilization of the shoulder which translates to a much safer exercise.

2. It’s a full body exercise

If you’re looking for a full body exercise , then look no further. Have you ever noticed that as someone starts to fatigue (or if their strength levels aren’t up to par), their push up starts to resemble more of a candy cane?  They push their upper body up, but their lower back and legs hardly move at all. That’s because the push up, on top of being a fantastic strength exercise, is actually one of the best core exercises out there because it gives you immediate feedback – if your core is weak, you won’t be able to keep your spine stable while you’re pushing through the ground and your form will suffer because of it.

3. Anywhere, anytime

Pushing yourself up from the ground is one of the simplest movements that there is and there are so many different variations to choose from that there is no reason (aside from having lost both of your arms in an epic ninja battle) to not do them. You don’t need any fancy equipment to have a great workout, and there are enough challenging variations out there to keep you busy for a very long time.

  • Squeeze your butt cheeks and keep your entire body tight.
  • Don’t let your elbows flaring out at 90 degrees; Turn your hands out & keep your elbows tucked in fairly close so that your upper body resembles a “W”.
  • Only go down as far as you can without letting your hips & lower back sag.

Here are few variations that I recorded that require almost no equipment to get you started. Keep in mind that this is just the beginning, and once you master the basic push up a whole wide world of pushing opens up to you.

What say you, faithful readers? Do you have a love/hate relationship with push ups? How do they fit into your program? Once I get at least 10 comments below,  I’ll post some more advanced push up variations that you can use to build some serious strength & muscle.

Photo Credit: 100 Pushups

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  1. Andrew says

    I really love pushups. However, considering my current training is geared towards maintaining or slightly increasing strength while I diet, I do not have much if any assistance work in my program. That being said, whenever I do any type of conditioning circuits or mobility/activation work, I always make sure to throw some in.

  2. Kendra says

    Totall love hate!! They look so easy when you see some meat-head popping out 100 of them in a row, then I get down and try a few and my wet noodle arms can’t even give me one! I know they are good for me, but boy am I bad at them!!

    • says

      Haha. They look easy for the first 20 and then after that their form goes out the window and it looks like they’re humping their invisible lifemate for the next 80 reps – sad but true!

      P.S. – I had one of my female bootcampers tonight actually knock out a set of 6 pushups while keeping her core tight and getting her chest all the way to the ground. There is much hope for you =)

  3. Cherie says

    I have really weak core muscles, so when I started learning push ups, I did them against the wall with my body on a small incline. Then I moved to the counter top in the kitchen, then the sofa. Then I took yoga and we have to do hindu push-ups between every pose. They burn so good! XD

  4. RJ says

    My road back to sexy started with a new puppy and it’s need to be walk twice a day or household destruction would ensue. After a few pounds dropped I started throwing in a push-up or two (sadly that was about max) in to the mix. But over time they got easier and when then got too easy I add the incline variety and then add a few pounds in a naps sack to in crease the workload. And after a few months my make shift poor boy workouts was offering some solid physical and emotional encouragement to continue working hard and invest in some “proper” equipment. 35 pounds of fat later, from high 20‘s to very low single digits BM with the compliments that come with it, I will thank that new puppy and credit the good old push-up for getting it all started.

    • says

      They don’t call them man’s best friend for no good reason, huh? It’s amazing how what was once hards gets infinitely easier with enough time and consistency put in. Once I post the more advanced and challenging variations, maybe your good ‘ol friend the push up will make a triumphant return to your life.

  5. Aaron says

    I love pushups and pullups! They are my vacation workout staple when I don’t have access to a gym… well that and doing beer curls.

  6. Michael says

    I was pleasantly surprised at being able to stack 90lbs on my shoulders for decline versions when u got me to do em’ 🙂

  7. Nancy C. says

    I do the torso elevated pushups on the bar of a Smith machine but using the bench looks like the next progression for me. I have to be really careful with benching. The only thing that seems to spare my shoulders are versions using a dumbbell with a neutral grip.

    All those other ones seem pretty advanced to me…can’t wait to see what’s really consider advanced!

    • says

      The neutral grip sure is a beautiful thing, huh? Sadly I was only able to film a few of the more difficult variations because some of them are just out of my league for right now. I’m thinking about switching to an entirely bodyweight routine for a few months and seeing how things go.

  8. joakim says

    If only there was a way to load the push-up with lots of weight I doubt the bench press would have been invented.

  9. Ulfur says

    I’ve always loved pushups and have been able to do 20-25 good form pushup my whole life. I’ve always been very thankful to my PE teachers because while I was never into any sports as a kid my work ethic in PE was such that I never cheated or tried getting out of stuff like most of the other kids would do. They usually just wanted to play ball and couldn’t be bothered with all this running, situps and pushups they made us do. I simply did what I was asked and I credit high-school PE for a lot of my strength and attitude towards exercise today.

    I believe pushups (along with a few others) are absolutely fundamental in strength and body development, especially for younger people that are still maturing and should probably lay off the heavier weights.

    That said, currently I don’t do any. These days I’m going for the body recomp holy grail of shaving fat while adding muscle so I lift heavy. However, on vacation where I might not have access to a gym or limited time (it’s lame to have your girlfriend or friends wait for you just because you can’t go a day without hitting a gym) doing a few quick pushups and other bodyweights in the morning is a great way to stay on track.

    Also, after the body recomp phase is done I’ll move on to conditioning and core and my old favorite friend, the pushup, will return in a big way.

    • Dieter says

      I have always been a fan of pushups and all of the pushup variations. My personal favorite is one arm push ups. During high school before I began working out in the gym I read Pavel’s book The Naked Warrior. The basis of the program was the one arm push up and the pistol, both of which I have included in my training ever since. Each time I train I generally do sets of push ups and one arm push ups to failure.

      I can testify to the fact that a push up is a full body exercise because of all the tricks that Pavel teaches to keep your push ups strong. These include gripping the floor with your hand, utilizing the valsalva manuever to brace your abs, squeezing your glutes, and keeping your body as tense as possible. Without doing so, you cannot properly execute a one arm push up. You need to stay tight until the last rep. As you said, for this reason I can really tell how weak my core is compared to my pressing strength. I won a bet a few months ago on how many I could do with my non dominant hand (the drunken bet was for 40 reps, I somehow got 42 reps) but by the last few it was all I could do to keep my ass from sagging.

      • says

        Nice reps, man!

        Very true, Dieter. The one arm pushup is a fantastic upper body strength exercise in general, and one of the best anti-rotation core exercises that there is. You simply can’t do it correctly if your core is weaker than puppy love.

        • Dieter says

          Thanks man, I appreciate it. Although, I’ve got to say, it was an odd feeling to have only one arm so sore the next day.

    • says

      I’m right there with you, Ulfur. The pushup is a great fundamental exercise, and it’s crazy to me that there are people out there bench pressing when they aren’t even able to do a simple bodyweight pushup. I’ll post a few variations that you can definitely put into your strength program during your recomp phase.

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