Oh, the push-up.
Not going to lie, it took me a while to be confident doing a push-up on my toes, with proper form. It’s not easy.
When I was teaching bootcamp, the most common exercise I found myself helping my bootcampers with, mainly my women, was the push-up. As I continue my fitness journey and professional career as a trainer and instructor, I keep coming back to the importances of foundation exercises. That is why the Bridal Bootcamp highlights going #backtobasics (more workouts are coming this week!). Without a strong foundation, it’s much more difficult to progress your fitness.
In my book, a push-up is a fundamental, bodyweight exercise that most people should be able to perform with proper form. And because I love you guys so, I’m sharing some tips on how to master the push-up.
First, let’s highlight a couple of alignment issues that I saw on a regular basis.
THE SAGGY NECK.
Now, I’ll admit, while I have progressed my push-ups, I fall victim to the head sag at times. Head migrating forward during a pushing (or pulling) exercise is characteristic of a overactive sternocleidomastoid, upper trapezius, and levator scapule, all muscles in your neck/shoulder musculature, and weak deep cervical flexors. During a push-up, we want the head to be in a neutral position, meaning your eyes will be looking slightly ahead of you.
As I watched boot campers perform push-ups with a saggy head, they often seemed to count a head sag as a repetition. Lowering your head does not count as a push-up. Resist the urge to sag the head.
THE SCOOPY BOOTY.
The dive-bomber booty. The saggy lower half. It was hard to think of a title for this…It wasn’t until I started reading more tips for performing a push-up correctly, that I realized how much of a difference it makes to squeeze your glutes, quads and hamstrings when doing a push-up. Along with keeping your core tight and belly button pulled to the spine. When your lower body is tight, it works like a lever during the push-up.
THE SCALENE TRIANGLE.
Okay, I had to look up types of triangles to remember the name of this one – one sides or angles are equal. I noticed this a lot in class: arms out in front at an angle. I know it might seem harder, it usually is, but hand should be right under your shoulders or ever so slightly behind. This ensures you are utilizing your chest muscles (pecs), triceps and even biceps.
HOW TO DO A PUSH-UP.
A simplified description:
Plank, squeeze, and pretend you are a lever. Come into plan position to set up for your push-up, fingers spread wide. Squeeze those glutes, quads and hammies. Retract those shoulder blades on the way down, get arms at 90 degrees or chest to ground, and push the ground away on the way up.
- Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do a push-up on your toes. The mind is a funny thing – The Workout Bud often brings this up when I struggle with a pull-up. Part of it is mental, I know. Part of it is making sure I am recruiting the correct muscles and using them properly.My girlfriends were over this weekend for wedding shenanigans. Just before dress shopping, we were talking about workouts. Two of the girls do barre on a regular basis and talked about how they need to work on their upper body strength. They both said they couldn’t do a ‘real push-up’ i.e. push-up on their toes. They performed a knee push-up with good form and fairly quickly, which let’s me know they can perform at least a few push-ups on their toes. But, when they went to do it on their toes, taking some of the cues I gave them, they struggled a bit. Because they told themselves they couldn’t.I fall victim to this all. the. time. Tell yourself that you can do it. And then do it.
- Retract your shoulders on the down. When The Workout Bud and I were taking classes at Force Barbell for a month, one of the best tips I learned from Tyler was to retract my shoulders on the down. In bootcamp, when doing a reverse fly, I liked to tell clients to imagine there was a card or coin in the middle of their shoulder blades and to squeeze it during the movement. Similar thing with push-ups. As you lower, imagine your shoulder blades moving from the outside of your back to the middle of your back.
- Keep fingers spread wide and push the floor away on the way up. Fingers spread wide gives you more surface area and grip. And my other favorite tip to tell people – push the floor away on the way up. Makes it a lot easier to get back up!
- Elbows should go back, at a 45-ish degree angle, not out to the side. You remember gym class and having to do push-ups. Most of us put our arms out super wide and performed a push-up. This is no bueno. By shooting your elbows back rather than out, recruits your pecs, triceps and biceps! (Check out more tips at Pimp Your Push-up)
- Practice, practice, and then practice some more. Back when The Workout Bud challenged me to 1,000 push-ups in 1 week, I became pretty good at push-ups. Then I didn’t do many for a few months and I felt like I had to start over again. The past month or so, I’ve been trying to do 100 push-ups at least 5 days per week. I usually do them in increments of 10 or so throughout the day. Pretty soon, I was back busting them out.
You might be saying, Jen, I took all your tips, I even reviewed some of the other resources you left below, and I just can’t do it still. No worries, my friends. Like any good trainer, I have regressions!
My favorite regression and on I sometimes use myself – push-up on a box, desk, chair or step. When doing a push-up, you are literally pushing your entire bodyweight. By doing it on an incline, you are decreasing the amount of weight you push-up. Start on a higher incline as you work your way down to a ground push-up, moving to a lower incline each time.
And, don’t be afraid of the knee push-up. Personally, I only whip this out if I am mid-workout and I’m too tired to do a push-up on my toes with good form. I find it to be too much of a regression compared to an incline, because I am only push-up about half my body weight.
For push-ups on your knees, make sure to keep your body is a straight line still. Resist the urge to keep your booty lifted or just lower your upper body to the ground.
1,000 push-ups in 1 week!!!
Just kidding. When I talked to The Workout Bud about this challenge, that is what he told me to do and I reminded him that not everyone who reads the blog is as crazy as we are.
So, I decided to challenge everyone to do a certain number of push-ups at least 5 days per week. Take your current fitness level into account when choosing where you will start, but also make sure to challenge yourself a bit. If you are used to doing push-ups, you will likely be sore the first couple of days, but once your body adapts and you find that you can bust out push-ups, you will be knocking them out!
- 25 push-ups per day (5 days out of the week)
- 50 push-ups per day (5 days out of the week)
- 100 push-ups per day (5 days out of the week)
I am going to go back to my 100 per day, probably in increments of 20-30 each time, instead of 10. You could pick 50 per day and make your goal 50 per day, UNBROKEN. Actually, maybe that is what I’ll pick…hmmm.
Either way, the goal is to get your doing push-ups and begin able to master this fundamental body weight exercise.
For more tips, tricks and variations, check out some of my favorite articles:
- 82 Push-Up Variations You Need to Know About
- How to Progress Your Way to the Perfect Push-Up
- How to do a Perfect Push-up! (video)
- How to do a Push-Up: Proper Form & Technique (video)
- Push-up Progression: Go From 0 to 20 Real Push-ups
- 5 Ways to Power Up Your Push-up
Got my first interview for a personal training gig this afternoon. I have a few others lined up next week, one with lululemon and another that I am DYING to get.
Be sure to check in and let me know how your push-ups are going. Feel free to tag me on Insta or hashtag #backtobasics2015 or #pushupMaster.
How many push-ups will you pick per day for the challenge?