The Push Up

The Push Up.

Seems like a straightforward title right?

For me, not so.

The push up is such a widely used move, however, there are thousands of ways to do them, thousands of ways to make them harder and thousands of ways to make them easier.
Ask anyone to do a push up, and there will be differences. Everyone has their own version.

But what’s right? What’s wrong?
How can you progress or regress them at a measurable rate?
Let’s weigh in on these key points to start.

Now, I’m going to get this out of the way to start with. Everyone will do this slightly differently as everyone has slightly different limb lengths and joint movement. But that’s okay.
The important point is that we can all perform the movements similarly enough with a few small tweaks.
So how do we do a push up? 

So let’s start with the top and bottom of the push up, the beginning and end of the push up.

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As you can see from position ‘A’. It looks like a fairly simple position. And yes most people can get into this position easily enough.
But here’s the kicker as you descend, ideally your shoulder blades should not move – and don’t worry this isn’t impossible. It just takes a little practice at two small little tweaks to your technique

Numero Uno – Elbows/Armpits

That may sound really silly, but think about how to stabilize your shoulder blades so they don’t move backwards and forwards  – it’s actually kinda difficult to figure it out right
So try this:
Imagine you have a sponge in your armpit. I now want you to squeeze all of the water out of the sponge.

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Feel that tension right there? that’s locking in those shoulder blades and activating something the gym rats call your ‘lats’ Those ‘lats’ are going to aide your shoulder stability so that you can perform a push up without moving them.
It probably makes things really hard, and you’re wondering how your elbows now work?
Well it’s a good thing thats the second tweak were going to look at. 

Number Duno (my spanish isn’t great)  – Elbow Position/Angle

Once you have squeezed the sponge you probably find that your elbows are ‘lower’ and pointing backwards rather than to the sides. Guess what? That’s a good thing! This is going to allow correct pushing mechanic to occur.
The main point here is to trust your strength and allow those elbows to bend whilst keeping locked in, let them bend backwards

If you’ve successfully managed to nail these two tweaks you’ll find at the bottom position of the push up you look like an ‘Arrow’ or ‘Triangle’ that’s awesome. It means you’re doing the right thing.

Now for the Pushing Up Part

This is a little easier to do, and a little more straight forward. So I’m going to focus on one particular cue for you to practice..
Most people think about ‘straightening’ their arms to push themselves away from the ground. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but I like to use another cue.
Think about squeezing your chest muscles together to press yourself away from the ground – you’ll feel your chest like up like the 4th of July! which is exactly what we want, greater chest activation to really target those muscles.

So now you know a few cues to help aid your push up, you might find that you actually struggle a little with this new style. That’s okay! Most people do!
Let’s look at ways to make push ups easier or harder (if you’re already a push up machine)

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Progression/Regression

If you’re finding it to hard to do one on your feet or knees – not to worry, because we are now going to look at how to regress and progress the simple push up.

Most people generally regress or progress by alternating between knees and feet. This isn’t wrong. In fact if you got no tools or aids around you, it’s actually a pretty good way to progress or regress push ups.
However, I’ve found by working with clients that there is a more effective push up progression/regression technique. By introducing incline/decline push ups.  Let’s look at these

Incline Push Up

Basically this means having your chest higher than your feet.
Start with something around waist high or something of similar heights, like a park bench. And do push ups on your knees using the technique discussed before. If you find this easy after around 4 sets of 10 (give yourself 1 minute breaks) progress to your feet as needed. E.g. 2 sets on feet, 2 sets on knees until you can complete all on your feet.
Then find a platform slightly lower – like some stairs and repeat the same process.
Of course you can use different things to create the incline and vary the incline as needed. As a rule of thumb though, the closer your chest is to being at the same level as your feet – the harder the push up gets.

Decline Push Up

This means having your feet higher than your chest. You can progress or regress this in very much the same way as incline push ups. Just think of the reverse – the higher your feet are then your chest, the harder the push up will get.

So to summarize

  • Focus on squeezing your lats ‘imagine squeezing that sponge’. This will help fix your shoulder blades and create a stronger upper body hold

  • Let your elbows bend BACKWARDS. This should make you look like a triangle/arrow in the bottom of the push up

  • Focus on squeezing your chest muscles together as your press away from the ground. This will create more activation through here rather than your triceps

  • Use incline and decline variants to progress and regress

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That’s it folks!
Some small cues for you to help perform the Push Up.
Take your time, start small and become a Push Up Ninja!

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