The Power of the Push-Up

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I despise push-ups, but fitness classes and magazines keep suggesting I do them. Why should I?

While most of us view push-ups as just flat-out painful, I think, Gillian, with all the information you are about to learn here, you may just find that they become enjoyable.

Keep in mind, push-ups are one the most effective methods for building strength in your back, shoulders and arms. Take advantage of your body’s weight, and achieve the results you desire for free.

Your back muscles tone as they fire up to support the weight of your body and keep your spine straight. Push-ups will improve your shoulder and chest strength as you leverage your body up and down. Your upper arms and forearms benefit as they expand and contract under the resistance of your body weight. Using all the arm muscle together will help increase the tone of your arms.

Consider push-ups as a triple P: Perspective, Persistence and Push-up.

Perspective: View the push-up as beneficial and enjoy your time close to the ground! Persistence is the ultimate key to your success; if you start with 5 push-ups, next time do 6 and before you know it, you will be able to do more than you ever imagined! And here’s how to actually do a proper Push-up:

Hands: Hands are placed just outside the shoulders.

Feet: Hip width apart for greater stability as it forces your abs to tighten, and prevents you from arching your back. Please do not over-estimate the size of your hips (we all do this!) If you need to work up to a full push-up, push up from your knees while making certain that your feet are on the ground for proper weight distribution.

Torso: Your body should be perfectly in line, from the neck to the heels, throughout the push-up. Think of your body moving in one piece like a plank of wood.

Head: Your head needs to be in line with your body. Tuck in your chin and keep your eyes slightly forward and focused (this will help keep your head from bobbing up and down with you.

The top of the push-up: your arms should be straight, with soft elbows (not locked).

At the bottom of the push-up: your elbows must reach 90 degrees for a moderate push-up; for a full range of motion and to increase your strength you may go all the way down to the floor.

Speed: If you go too fast, you will not get a good “pump” in the muscles. Say the word Hap-pi-ness: Hap-pi for the down; ness for the up. The stronger you get, the faster you will be able to say Happ-i-ness.

Breathe: on the way down, breathe in, and on the “push-up”, exhale. Moving with your breath is great for all systems of the body as it maintains exceptional oxygen levels. It will also help you do more repetitions.

Prop options: Use a mat if you are pushing up from your knees. A bench under your hands changes your range of motion and makes it easier to progress from knee push-ups to toes.

How many and how often?

There is always time during the day to “drop and give me 20”: it will take less than a minute. Do it first thing in the morning, last thing at night, before meals, on commercial breaks while watching TV. A great goal is to find out the number of push-ups you can do 2-4 times per day. That may be 5 to start; it may be 20.

In time (a couple of weeks) you will be able to do more than you ever imagined.

If you are looking to increase tone, then you will want to stick to a high number of repetitions. If you are looking to increase your muscle mass, then you will need push-ups which challenge the body. Try these:

Fist push-ups: Done with your knuckles as opposed to the palm of your hand. This decreases the surface area where you distribute your body weight, making your triceps, chest and shoulders work harder.

Closed grip: From the normal push-up position, bring your hands together and make a diamond with your thumbs and index fingers. This exercise challenges the triceps.

Wide push-up: Spread your hands far apart. This exercise challenges the chest and shoulders with its reduced range of motion which takes the pressure off the triceps.

Tricep push up: Hands come under shoulder, elbows tucked into your sides. This exercise challenges your triceps to push you body weight with minimal help from your shoulders and chest.

One-handed push-up: Place one hand directly below your chest; the other hand should be placed across the small of your back. From there perform your push up. WARNING – these are very hard!

As with any good workout you must warm-up and cool down. Start with shaking out your arms, swinging your arms from side to side, and making giant shoulder circles.

After your push-ups are done, stretch to prevent cramps and injury. Take your arms behind your back, interlace your fingers and take a forward fold, allowing your hand to fall towards your head. This opens the chest and the shoulders. To stretch your triceps, reach behind your head like you are going to give yourself a pat on the back (and you should!) with the opposite hand push your elbow down gently.

And Yes! Doing push-ups can help you lose weight. Committing to dropping and pushing out 20 (or 50 or 10) will not only build muscle which helps you burn more calories, it also sets you into a healthier lifestyle.

Beware! It may lead to cravings for healthier foods, water, and peaceful rest.

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