The Push up is an extremely effective upper body exercise. It mainly works the triceps (those flabby bits at the back of your arm), pectorals (chest) and deltoids (shoulders). However, when done properly, it also works the abs, glutes (butt) and thighs!
It’s deemed a compound movement, because it uses so many muscles—so you will burn more calories than doing an isolation exercise such as the pec deck machine at the gym—I also believe the push up is also a lot safer, as I injured myself quite badly on the pec deck.
The push up is great for both men and women. Many of my female training clients have achieved full Push ups, even when they initially considered themselves very weak. It’s just takes a little practice and determination.
In fact, a few of those women I train, now find regular push ups too easy, and do the clapping version instead.
Push up Workout Overview
- Frequency: 2-3 times a week, with at least 1 rest day in-between.
- Tempo: take 4 seconds to lower, and push back up in a second or less
- Repetitions: 6-12 reps, depending on your strength levels.
- Sets: 3
- Rest: 3 minutes between sets if you are trying to build strength. But if you are already strong enough, and would like to work more on burning calories, then cut your rest to a minute or less.
How to do a Push up
- Before you begin exercising, please do a warm up [CLICK HERE], to help prevent injury.
- Start off lying face down on the floor, on your toes.
- Hands flat on the floor, wrists just below your chest. Then move your hands a few inches further apart, so your forearms are vertical (this will ensure more even pressure on your hands and wrists). Imagine an arrow shape from one hand to your head, and back to the other hand.
- Keep your body rigid—squeeze your butt, and tilt your pelvis forward to contract your abs.
- Push up with your arms until they are locked straight, breathing out as you do so.
- Your hands should now be directly under your shoulders.
Continuing the Push up movement:
- Keep your butt and abs squeezed, as you breathe in and take 4 seconds to lower your body close to the floor, then push back up.
- Most people are taught to aim for their chest to nearly touch the floor – but in practice, I find that when people aim for this, they tend to sag their hips—it almost looks as though they are peeling themselves off the floor ☺
- Instead, I aim for my nose to come close to the floor before pushing back up. This keeps my body much straighter. Please be careful—don’t attempt this version unless you can do it safely in a steady and controlled manner.
- If you can lower safely in a controlled manner, but can’t push back up, then don’t worry—just carry on practicing the lowering part, and your strength will build. Later, add a 1 or 2 second hold when you’re just an inch or so above the floor. Eventually you will surprise yourself and push up 🙂 It’s such an achievement when it happens.
Variations to the Push up
Easier version: Knee Push up
- If this exercise is too difficult and you can’t control the lowering in the toes to the floor version, you can make it much easier by doing it on your knees, with your legs bent towards your butt.
- If you find it too hard to push up, then just work on taking 4 seconds to lower. Then add a 1 second hold when you’re only an inch from the floor, and eventually you will be able to push back up.
- Remember to create a rigid straight-line from your knees to your head, whilst you squeeze your abs and butt before you lower.
More difficult version: Elevated Push up
- It’s the same as the regular Push up, but with your toes on a flat, elevated surface, such as a bench.
- It still works your triceps hard, but some of the tension shifts to your upper chest and shoulders.
- The higher the surface, the more difficult it becomes.
For more triceps action: Diamond Push up
- You can place even more tension on your triceps by putting your hands on the floor in the centre of your body, with your thumbs and index fingers touching, to form a diamond shape.
Extremely difficult: One-Arm Push Up
It’s not just the effort required to press your body with one arm that makes this difficult, it’s also the strength in your core to stop your body from rotating.
There are so many other Push up variations you can try, when these become to easy.
Let me know how far you’ve got with your Push Ups in the comment box below.
George D. Choy
Personal Trainer & Calisthenics Instructor
Gymnacity in Oxted, Surrey, United Kingdom