Ever wondered why you still struggle to do standard push-ups from the floor, even after months or years of attending different fitness classes? It is even more frustrating when you have been attending HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) classes and worked yourself so hard just to realize that you can do dozens of knee push-ups, but still find it hard to do a regular push up movement. It seems like your arms just don't have enough strength to push your weight up.
In this post, we will discuss why push-ups are essential, and we will make sure that you learn how to do it correctly, and what you should do to acquire the strength to do the standard push-ups.
Why should you do push-ups?
There are so many new exercises popping up in the fitness industry. However, some movements were practiced long before we were born. They’re still relevant, and they will remain useful in the future. One of these exercises is the push-up. Why? Because it just works!
3 Major Benefits of push-ups
- Push up is a compound bodyweight exercise that, with proper form, activates the full body and strengthens the arms, shoulders, core, and leg muscles.
- With push-ups and many other Calisthenics exercises, you will develop better body awareness; thus, it will mitigate the risk of injuries.
- Versatility! Believe it or not, there is always a version of push up whether you're in your mid-60s and just getting started or an Olympic level gymnast. With the right programming, it can work well as a cardiovascular workout, conditioning, or weight loss.
What is the correct Push-up exercise?
2 things to look for in a correct push up:
The 2 key points below will provide you enough insight to optimize the benefits you will get from the push-up exercise, so I suggest that you pay attention:
1. Strong plank line
- the line that forms from your head to heel should be straight and rigid, so you are engaging all the muscles on your shoulders, core, and legs. Maintain this line as you lower up and down, not sagging the lower back and hips.
2. Elbows pointing backward
- bend your elbows pointing back as you go up and down. This form engages your shoulder muscles and arms best and will give you more room for progress and prevents shoulder injury in beginners.
Correctly performing the push-up exercise will make your training more effective and reduces the risk of injury. Mindful movement during the exercise will lead to safe, long-term, and sustainable progress.
How to get stronger with the push-up?
So here's the big chunk of the battle. We know that the push-up has always been there, but somehow most of us really struggle to follow the correct movement. I will give you 2 parts, which consist of a few drills to tackle this issue. If you follow my advice closely, you will eventually be able to do push-ups and enjoy its benefits.
Here’s how you do it.
- First, improve your shoulder and core awareness.
- Second, know the mechanics and progression of the push-up exercise.
Part 1 Core and shoulder awareness
Almost everyone skips this part and goes straight to doing hundreds of knee or full push-ups and expects to progress. Sometimes it does work, but if you are still here with me, it either didn't work for you or would like to know a better process.
I will teach you 2 drills to help you understand the movement's starting position (the high plank) and improve your shoulders' awareness.Exercise 1: The High Plank pelvic tilting
The push-up starting position is a high plank (plank position on your hands with elbows straight). It makes sense to practice and strengthen it like a sprinter working on hand and foot placement on the track before exploding onto a dash.
In this drill, you'll learn how to control your tailbone/hips in a high plank position, which will engage your core and prevent your back from arching or sagging during push-ups.
Step 1: Go into a high plank position with your elbows straight, legs zipped strongly together, and your hips somewhat at the same level or a little lower than your shoulders. Keep this position rigid by engaging all muscles.
Step 2: You will then tilt your tailbone down (flatten or round your lower back) and tilt your tailbone up (arch your lower back) alternately with control while keeping the rest of the body still. You will feel a strong engagement in your core muscles when you tilt your tailbone down (tuck).Exercise 2 The Straight arm push-ups AKA Scapular push-ups
This exercise isolates your shoulder blades and its muscles. You will get stronger and develop better awareness on your shoulders.
Step 1: Start in a high plank position with a slight tuck of your tailbone (from exercise no. 1) to fully engage your core and hip muscles. Maintain this engagement of the muscles all throughout the movement.
Step 2: Slowly bring your shoulder blades together towards the center of your spine (Sink chest downwards to the floor) without bending the elbows.
Step 3: Push yourself back up by separating your shoulder blades away from the center.
Make sure that you push your hands hard to the floor to initiate the upward movement.
Take note that your elbows are completely straight throughout this drill.
These 2 exercises can serve as your warm-up and as a finisher set at the end of the session.
Warm-up: 1 - 2 sets of 6-10 repetitions on both exercises - the goal is to learn and polish the exercises to develop more awareness on your shoulders, core, and hips. Don't fatigue yourself doing the warm-up.
Finisher set: 3 - 5 sets of 8-15 repetitions before finishing your session (optional depending on your level of fatigue). For an advanced practitioner, a finisher set means finishing off all remaining strength after doing all your main exercises.
Part 2 The mechanics and progressions of push-ups
If you teach 5-year-old math, you wouldn't want to introduce advanced algebra before basic multiplication. If you do, two things may happen that either the child will run away terrified or go crazy trying. Similarly, learning the push-up exercise, going straight into the standard push up training is a major mistake for most people who failed to achieve this fundamental skill. To progress and get stronger, you need to assess your strength level first before starting your program. Once you know your level, you will slowly work your way up the progression scale, and for sure, results will come your way.
Understanding the mechanics of the push-up
My goal here is for you to be independent in doing this exercise, so I want you to understand the movement's mechanics. This will help you to decide on how and when you can progress.
The basic rule: the higher you place your hands, the easier it will be. You will then gradually progress to lowering your hand placement as you get stronger until you can do the standard push up from the floor. Doing this method has no limitation in terms of age and level; even a 90 year old can start with the program without overstraining. Aim to do 10 repetitions or more of the version you're working at before you progress to lower hand placement.
2 Steps approach: Assess and do the work!
Step 1 Assessing your push up strength level - Find a stable surface like a countertop, bench or an adjustable stallbar mount then try to perform push-ups as many as you can with proper form. If you can do less than 5 - go higher with your hands; if you can do more than 10 - go lower. You are on the right height if you find the 5-10 repetition level.
Step 2 Keep working at that level until you can do 3 sets of 10 repetitions consistently and then go lower.
Make sure that you are keeping your core tight by tucking your tailbone slightly throughout the movement. This will keep your form clean while you will have that extra benefit of working out with your core the whole time.
It's not complicated! Keep your practice sessions consistent, and you will be surprised at how much you can achieve.
Get a free e-book- "Beginner's programme for Calisthenics - A complete 6 weeks step-by-step guide to get you started" as a gift from us!
Here is my tip on finding the height where you can place your hands on, stack books, or yoga blocks to increase or decrease the height gradually. Be careful: Don't stack them too high as it can become unstable.
Putting it together! The basic push up routine that you can do 2-3 times a week as a stand-alone workout session or in conjunction with your fitness routine.
A1 High plank pelvic tilting 1-2 sets of 6-10 reps.
A2 High plank straight arm push-ups 1-2 sets of 6-10 reps
B Elevated hand push-ups 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.
Ensure that you progress only to a lower height if you can do 10 reps with good form on all sets.
C1 High plank pelvic tilts 2- 5 sets of 8-15 reps.
C2 High plank straight arm push-ups 2-5 sets of 8-15 reps
C exercises are optional, depending on your energy level after all of the previous exercises.
The key thing is you progress your repetitions from here, even with just a few reps in the next session. E.g., 1st session, you did 2 sets of 6; 2nd session is 1 set of 7 and 1 set of 6.
Wrapping it up! Just to make sure you get it right.
- Know the correct push-up form and have it pictured clearly in your mind.
- Learn the proper high plank position and develop awareness on your shoulders by doing phase 1 exercises.
- Assess your push up strength, start your program, and be consistent.
- Don't forget that we are here to help you on your journey; feel free to contact us anytime if you have any questions.
Remember that you can't read your way into your first push up, neither can you pay somebody to do it for you; you've got to do it yourself. That makes bodyweight training skills very valuable as no matter what, only those who put effort will get it. Don't delay anymore; start your practice session now in spite of not being familiar with many exercises. If you feel too lonely doing it alone, you're welcome to join our fun group and progress together in our Calisthenics Fundamentals class.