Updated: Feb 10, 2021
“Drop and give me 20!” is a well-known phrase that any person dreads hearing. Wishing it meant drop to the ground and, with fatigue invading the body, hand out a 20-dollar bill. Once you hear that commanding phrase, you instantaneously know that you have to belt out 20 good old push-ups.
Or, how about when a friend on social media nominates you for a push-up challenge in support of a cause? I do believe these causes are noble as it does help spread awareness; however, that means you have to film yourself performing this notorious exercise.
The push-up is the most basic of bodyweight exercises that can be done by anyone, anywhere, and in any style. I can list at least 30 variations, from beginner to the "are-you-insane” advanced. When you have no other equipment available aside from your body, especially during a pandemic when you're stuck at home, the push-up is a phenomenal and one of the most functional exercises, relatable to everyday movement, in your fitness library.
Interestingly, there’s a reason it’s one of the top prescribed exercises in the military. Not only do you develop a dreamy set of boulder shoulders, t-shirt sleeve-filling triceps, button-busting pecs and a solid core but, its functional purpose is to train the soldier to forcefully push an attacker away. Alternatively, if you’re not in the military, it helps develop strength to get up from the ground, perhaps push a car stuck in the snow, or shove an unsuspecting friend into the lake.
I can imagine, at this point, that you must have an inquisitive look. However, if you understand the functional purpose behind an exercise, you’ll give yourself more reason to do it. Some don’t like the push-up because it’s hard and that’s the point. Heck! You’re pushing up about 70% - 75% of your own bodyweight from the toes, 15% less in the modified position, according to Dan Ketchum from Livestrong.com.
In most cases, if you don’t want to do an exercise, you probably need to work on it the most. If it doesn’t challenge you, there won’t be any growth. As with anything in life, we learn and grow from our challenges, improving ourselves every day. As adults, we don’t remember our first steps but, watching my children learn, it’s appears to be a difficult feat… pun intended. Despite falling on your rear end, you kept on practicing. You practiced until you were able to run.
“Your struggle today is your strength tomorrow.” - SGT Ken®
With regular and progressive practice, anyone can master the push-up. It requires patience and awareness of which muscles you are targeting.
Breaking Down the Standard Push-up
Set yourself up in a straight, prone position (chest facing the floor), placing your feet together or about 6 inches apart. Your hands can be roughly shoulder width apart at armpit level, arms straight, fingers pointing straight forward, palms flat to the ground, and chin slightly tilted up. The hand position determines the muscles groups you want to target. A narrow hand position, where the gap between the hands is small, will work the triceps and shoulders more. A wider hand position will target the pectorals (chest).
Inhale and lower your body by only bending at the elbows, keeping your core tight, shoulders away from the ears, and your elbows pointing back. You'll feel a light tension in the area where the shoulder meets the chest.
At the bottom, exhale through your mouth, push your body away from the ground, squeezing the floor between your left and right hands, keeping your core engaged, and your elbows pointing back, about 45 degrees from your body.
Some things to note...
If you find your hands sliding forward, pause and readjust your form. Having your hands to far forward can cause unnecessary fatigue in your shoulders and lead to a possible injury.
Always keep your shoulders away from the ears, meaning, don’t shrug.
Don’t tuck in the chin. First off, you risk slamming your forehead on the ground. Second, keeping the chin slightly tilted up allows for a neutral spinal position and keeps the airways open.
Modify When You Need To
If the push-up from your toes is too much, there’s the modified version "on the knees." You’re not actually on the knees. You’re hinge point will be the base of your thighs. Ensure that you still maintain a straight line from your shoulders to the knee. You can also try doing push-ups against the wall or start from the up position and slowly go to the down position (Negative Push-up). Whichever option you select, set up with the same hand and core cues as with the standard push-up.
AND GUYS!!! Don't settle for compromised form over doing a modified push-up. There's nothing wrong with doing the optional versions. It's about bringing the muscles (pectorals or triceps) to fatigue or failure, not impressing your friends. Focus on you and your own capabilities.
Adjust for Success
If you’re starting to feel the fatigue settling in, especially during a physical fitness test or social media challenge, widen your hand position to get more chest involved. Also, give yourself a pep talk or a cue to help you finish the movement. For example, I’d remind my clients that they’re “pushing the floor away,” rather than pushing their bodies up.
Try doing 1 and add 1 more to the count every day. Before you know it, the next time you’ll hear “drop and give me 20!”, you’ll smile and easily do 50.
Remember. All it takes is that first rep.
Ketchum, D. (2019, June 27). How Much of Your Body Weight Do You Lift in a Push-Up? Retrieved September 2020, from LiveStrong.com: https://www.livestrong.com/article/444004-how-much-of-your-body-weight-do-you-lift-in-a-pushup/