As I'm getting ready to head to Canada this week, I was thinking about which exercise I wanted to feature this week. Then it came to me - let's do a body weight exercise! And, one of my favorite exercises for the upper body and core is the push-up. I know that a lot of ladies skip this awesome upper body exercise, but you're missing out on so much!
Strengthens the muscles of the upper body.
I love a functional movement. A lot of trainers will talk about everything as a functional-this and a functional-that. But, a functional exercise is something that you are going to use every day! If your biceps look huge, that's great! But how often do you do bicep curls in your daily life? (And no, putting a beer to your lips doesn't qualify as a curl!). The answer is: you don't! But think about the mechanics that are involved in a push-up. How often do you have to push yourself up? If your grandma fell on the ground, she would need to use the muscles of her chest, back, shoulders, and even core, to push herself up! The push-up targets all of these in one quick and easy movement.
Core strength and stabilization.
Another bonus of the push-up is its focus on core stabilization. In a perfect pushup, focusing on keeping the core tight and engaged is essential. Those stabilizers are working overtime when performed with good form and can create better abs than crunches! So stop the endless crunches, PLEASE!
Another passive, but equally important, benefit of the push-up is its relation to proper posture. As you strengthen your core (both the abdominals and low back muscles), it will help prevent the daily "hunched-over," posture. This posture then commonly leads to low back pain, all of which can be avoided by creating a stronger core!
Easy to do anywhere. (and with so many variations!)
Here's the best part of the push-up. All you need is your body! There's no excuse not to drop down and give me 20! Seriously though - the push-up is the perfect body weight exercise. There's no bulky equipment; no user error! All you have to do is work on mastering the perfect form! Once you do that, you can modify the push-up for whatever needs you'd like! As you progress, you can play around with hand positioning, negatives, or single leg variations!
So how do you do a correct push-up?
1. First things first, start in a hand plank! Hands are going to be just outside shoulder width, finger tips in line with shoulders. Arms start at the top, fully extended, core rigid.
Tip: This part is SUPER important. Squeeze those glutes and clench the core. You want to maintain that rigidity throughout the ENTIRE movement.
2. Slowly lower down, making sure to go through the entire range of motion. In a proper push-up, your head is tipped slightly forward (not down!), elbows tracking alongside the body. Don't let those elbows flare! As you advance, you will be able to add depth to your push-up. Never let go of that tight core!
Tip: A common error is to perform a push-up either too fast or without the full range of motion. Make sure to take your time as you perform each movement, fully extending your arms in each repetition.
3. Push through your hands, focusing on keeping that core tight, bringing your arms back to full extension.
Beginners: To work on the full range of motion in the push-up, start on your knees, making sure that the weight is shifted forward over your hands, just as you would in a plank. Maintain the same tight core! If you need to modify even further, another great option is doing a push-up from a standing position, either against a wall or a table. This allows for the same range of motion, but reduces the weight that the chest and shoulder muscles have to bear.
Advanced: Try lifting one leg as you lower your body down for an additional core challenge!