The Push up is one of the most common of exercises and because of this, I believe, it is a movement that is taken for granted. Not only is it assumed to be easy to perform but it is highly underutilized in training programs and therefore not much attention is given to its technical reform.
I use push up variations in all of my athletes’ programming and I even use a push up assessment with a new or returning athlete and honestly I am very surprised at the number of people who cannot perform a push up properly.
This article will get you refocused on proper push up form, get you to perform more repetitions and prepare you for more intermediate and advanced progressions down the road.
When performing all exercise movements correct posture and control should be in the forefront of one’s mind. I tell my athletes that the push up is a moving front plank; the whole body moves as one unit from the top to the floor and back up.
So many times I see the hips remain high while the chest descends to the floor or the opposite happening where the hips drop below the shoulders especially at the bottom of the movement. Whether it is a lack of strength in a particular area or it is a lack of control of the body by moving too fast and becoming disjointed, maintaining proper body alignment is crucial to a proper push up.
If an athlete’s push ups look more like a convulsing fish on land rather than a smooth movement they need to be brought back a few steps to progress forward. The best way to do that is to get them elevated.
Using a bar on a rack or Smith machine set it up to the proper level for the athlete to be successful. Have them start with the hand in a position where they will be the strongest. I ask my athletes to put their hands in a position where they would be if they were to push me across the room. Usually the hands are positioned just outside the body where the thumbs are very close to the armpits.
Set them up on the bar in this manner and before they move tell them to tighten the glutes and core. As they descend to the bar have them pull their body to the bar as if they were compressing a big spring with their chest, this will hopefully eliminate the desire to descend too rapidly as well as maintain tension at the bottom of the movement before they come back up.
The movement should be smooth with no compensation of body position. If the hips drop tell them to tighten up the glutes and core. If the elbows flare outward tell them to keep them tucked. One great cue I got from the IFAST strength and conditioning coach, Mike Robertson is to look like an arrow at the bottom position. Your head it the point and the elbows should descend downward to make the rest of the shape. If the elbows are flared out the arrow shape is not achieved.
The elevated bar is a nice progression tool for the push up. As the athlete gets better at performing them try adding repetitions and start to lower the bar until they are ready to perform push ups on the floor once again.
For further explanation of the progressions above check out the video below:
I have always held firm on the personal philosophy that everyone is able to find something physical that they enjoy for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Though I am a proponent of weight training and enjoy traditional sports, these things only represent a small percentage of activities attributing towards a healthy life.
Hiking, dancing, yoga, martial arts and those spandex filled aerobic classes are also ways one can get healthy, learn new skills and actually enjoy physical fitness.
Once you have found your favorite physical sanctuary and have practiced for a while I am a big supporter of putting yourself to the test and competing in that physical activity. In this article I will give you my top three reasons why everyone should compete.
Now I am going to use the idea of competing not solely as a game or formal setting against other opponents; competing can also be against yourself, doing something you never done before. For example, if you enjoy hiking maybe getting ready to tackle Half Dome in Yosemite is your personal competition.
Like finding your own individual outlet of physical activity, competing comes in many different forms and everyone is capable of it.
[Re]Focus your Training
Isn’t it amazing that once something is set on the calendar that our minds click into deadline mode and we being to construct a plan of attack? That summer wedding, Hawaii vacation or BIG birthday looming around the corner all have us eating more consciously and working out just a little bit more to get to our desired goal. A competition has the same effect on the psyche.
Simply training day in and day out for the sake of maintaining your personal physical and mental health is all good but the focus can shift into more of a maintenance mode rather than pushing towards a goal. When in maintenance mode the body is fairly well adapted to the stress being put upon it so the exercise effect might not be the same as it once was and you won’t get the same mental stimulation from it either which may cause boredom and give yourself some permission to skip some workouts.
A competition gets us in the gym lifting weights or in the pool swimming laps because you know that every training day might not be the best you’ve ever had and you need to get the reps, laps and miles in.
Competitions keep our training focused, continuous and more rewarding once we complete it.
We All Need a Challenge
We all hear that we should minimize stress in our lives so we live longer, feel better and are more pleasant to be around, however I find this notion to be only half true. Life is stressful at every turn and human beings need the challenge of stress to adapt and overcome obstacles which will make us stronger through our experiences.
It is not the elimination of stress rather the management of stress that all humans must learn to deal with to be truly successful. Being in a competition is a great way to be in a controlled (not life or death) stressful situation that can be overcome.
Dealing with a plan on how to achieve something you have not done, or trying to do something better than the last time is a form of stress management along with the performance itself, dealing with nerves, spectators and all the highs and lows during the competition.
Being put through that type of ringer and coming out on top replicates many of life’s challenges in a small amount of time and gives us the necessary practice of stress management which will make us more successful in every aspect of our lives.
A Feeling Unlike Any Other
You can feel good after a training session, a long run or a mile in the pool but there is something about finishing a competition that unlocks a hormonal door in our bodies and releases a special vintage of dopamine and gives us a feeling like no other.
All of the training, hard work, perseverance, and highs and lows are all rewarded with this sense of accomplishment feeling that cannot be obtained through any other avenue.
Once you reach your goal and obtain that feeling it can never be taken away from you, it is permanently etched on your life’s epitaph. It is this feeling that also drives us to keep going with our lives and take on new challenges and get better at our craft and truly experience all that life has to offer.
I encourage you to find a challenge and go for it.
For my latest kettlebell competition results check out videos below.
There are a few different ways to get weight overhead safely. In this video I demonstrate the difference between a military press, push press and jerk and how to use them in your training programs. Check out the video here:
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