You can’t do one, maybe you can do ten. Maybe you love them, potentially (likely) you despise them. The fact is you should be able to do them.
Push ups form one of seven basic human movements that we should all be able to perform freely and efficiently for optimal health, strength and quality of life. In July last year we posted about overhead presses and how they are so much more than ‘shoulder’ work. A lot of you dislike them but the post reasoned how and more importantly, why they feature in your classes. You should go back and read it, it’s a good one. The point is that strong, effective pushing (moving a load away from the torso in either a vertical or horizontal direction) is an essential daily necessity. The others?
Lunging (say no more), squatting, rotating (oblique crunch, cable rotations), pulling (dumbbell rows), hip hinging (bridges, cable hip circles) and gait (walking, running etc).
These movement patterns matter because, in the words of Gray Cook (World renowned corrective movement specialist):
‘Fundamental (daily) movements get stored in basic patterns, as do frequently reproduced movements. Although a trainee may want to look at a pattern’s parts to enhance understanding – which is how most people end up training like bodybuilders; chest/triceps, back/biceps etc. – we as exercise and rehabilitation trainers must understand that the brain recognizes sequences and uses them to generate true function and realistic movement.’
You are not a body builder so do not train like one. This is all well and good, but if you can’t even do one push up, what are you supposed to do?
Grease The Groove.
Popularised by Russian strength coach (and the first trainer to bring kettle bell training to the U.S.), Pavel Tsatsouline, greasing the groove works based on the following formula:
Specificity + Frequent Practice = Success
Basically, if you want to get better at something then do that one thing. All the time. It’s not rocket science….in order to get better at push ups you should be doing them at every opportunity, every day. Each time you get the chance, do a set of pushups. Perform some form of push up (kneeling or full) whenever you have spare seconds in the day. Do this every day. Do it now. Stop reading this and do three or four on the floor right now. Even if you’re in the office…..If you only ever attempt push ups in class once or twice a week then your progression is going to be slow. Take the requisite steps to help yourself.
Why does this work? When you repeatedly perform a movement, your muscles gradually get more efficient at the movement. During this neurological process of getting more efficient (which has also been discussed in previous posts) it becomes easier for your muscles to repeat that movement. Hence, doing more push ups, makes you better at doing them. This technique will work with any movement. Driving, dancing, surfing…whatever.
The definition of insanity is expecting a different result from the same behaviour. Change the behaviour. Do more push ups.
Straighten your back and neck.
One of the biggest benefits of Push-Ups is how they strengthen the core. Build a stronger core through your Push-Ups by eliminating any arch in your back (up or down) and maintaining a perfectly straight neck and back. An easy way to make sure you have perfect Push-Up form is to place a dowel rod (long stick) straight down your spine. The rod should contact your body at three points: the back of your head, your upper back (between your shoulder blades) and your hips. It’s OK to have a space between the dowel rod and your lower back, but the space should not be bigger than the thickness of your hand.
Squeezing your glutes throughout the Push-Up activates your core and eliminates any arch remaining in your lower back.
Tuck elbows in.
When you set up for a Push-Up, your hands should be directly under your shoulders, and your elbows should be pointed at an angle away from your body. Many people mistakenly position their hands in front of their shoulders and flare their elbows out (a T position). The correct position is an arrow, in which the elbows go back. By tucking your elbows, you are able to engage your triceps and pec muscles to a greater degree than you would in the T position.
Squeeze Shoulder Blades.
By squeezing your shoulder blades together, you protect your shoulder joints from damage and ensure your upper back is functioning properly.
Finish Every Rep.
One of the most common Push-Up mistakes athletes make is failing to perform a full range of motion. Touch your chest to the ground (foot bar, green mat) at the bottom of every Push-Up and fully extend your elbows at the top. Don’t let your ego get in the way. If you can’t do Push-Ups all the way to the ground, elevate your hands to a bench or a rack bar and try again. After a couple of weeks of practicing elevated Push-Ups, you’ll be able to get to the ground with no problem.
Cook, Gray (2012-02-13). Movement (Kindle Location 6642). On Target Publications. Kindle Edition.
The Naked Warrior – 1 Dec 2003
by Pavel Tsatsouline