A man in the park doing push ups.


Push ups are one of the exercises that are highly underrated in the gym. This is due to the fact that it is a bodyweight exercise. It gets passed because you can’t load it like a barbell bench press, and it sounds better to brag about how much you can bench compared to how many push ups you can do. Not many people think about push ups, but here is the thing, it is more than just an exercise, it is a skill. The push is a movement skill that not only works the upper body, but the whole body. Your push ups are actually planks, with movement. Everybody should have the skill to push their body off the floor while maintaining core stability. If you have kids, you know how often you are on the ground and have to push your body up, or use your core in some capacity while holding or playing with your kids. 


    The first step you need to take to do a proper push up, is to hold a plank. Like I mentioned earlier, a push up is a moving plank. You need stability from your core to keep your spine and hips from moving. To maximize the stability of the plank, I advocate creating full body tension. You do this by first squeezing the ground with your fingers, push the ground away from you, tuck your tailbone and squeeze the core while squeezing your glutes, and drive your toes into the ground. Stay in this tall plank position for time, when you are able to hold this full body tension plank for 30 second, you can move forward to the next step. 


    Once you build up strength and stability with your core, we can add some movement. The first movement of a push up is the eccentric portion, which means the way down to the floor. Eccentrics are when the muscle, in this case the pecs, is lengthening under tension. You are stronger with the eccentrics for any exercise, and you can build strength by focusing on eccentrics. While holding your tall plank position, slowly lower your body all the way down to the floor. Make sure you keep the full body tension, and keep your elbows about 45 degrees away from your body. Flaring the elbows out to the side is a sure way to stress the shoulder joint. Start with a 3 second negative down to the floor, use your knees to get back to the starting position, and go again. Here is how it can look for each week with progressions: 

  • Week 1 x 3 sets of 5 reps with 3 second eccentric
  • Week 2 x 3 sets of 6 reps with 3 second eccentric 
  • .
  • Week 6 x 3 sets of 10 reps with 3 second eccentric
  • Week 7 x 3 sets of 5 reps with 4 second eccentric

and so on till you can perform 10 reps with a 10 second eccentric. This is a slow approach and may be able to skip a few steps depending on your level. If you stay consistent, you will see results with your push up. 


    Once you build strength with the eccentrics, your next step is to build some isometric strength in the bottom position. Isometrics is when the muscle is under tension without movement. For the push up, this would be the bottom of the push up right before hitting the ground. Start in the top position with your tall plank, with control, lower yourself to the bottom position of the push up and hold it for 3 seconds, then use your knees to help guide you back to the top position. Take the same approach with the eccentric step till you can hold a 10 second bottom position for 10 reps without losing form. 


 Now that you have built some strength with eccentrics and isometrics, let’s have some fun with them together. All you are going to do is combine the two, perform a slow eccentric with a pause at the bottom of the push up . Start here, you will do a 3 second eccentric with a 3 second isometric for 5 reps and use your knees to get back to the starting position. Each week you will add a rep till you can do 10 reps with this count, then you can go to 4 seconds with your eccentrics and isometrics for 5 reps and so on till you can do 5 seconds for 10 reps. This whole process helps build strength and stability in the movement, making the concentrics easier to obtain. 


    By this point you have developed strength and stability with the push up, so now lets work on the pushing part. Start in the plank position, and this time go down with normal speed and when you get to the bottom position, push the ground away from you. The pushing portion is when people will typically lose stability in the core, do not let the tension in the body go away, keep squeezing. If you are still unable to push yourself off the floor and get back into the starting position, you can move to an incline position. In a gym setting, I like using a smith machine. With a smith machine you are able to pick your height that’s best for you and you can easily progress it. The smith machine has many levels for you to choose from so you can pick the right height and slowly progress from there. 

    Stay consistent with each step and you will improve your push up skill. Depending on your level you may skip a step or two, so take some trial and error to find your starting point and go from there. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. 

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