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Whether you like it or not, the push-up is considered one of THE best exercises you should do. Why? Because a full plank push-up, executed with proper form, recruits more than 10 (see the list below) muscle groups! Compare that to the bi-(that’s two) cep curls you’ve been doing. Despite the well known benefits of the push-up, many people, and dare I say most women, struggle with this movement. My client observations, reading and CSI-like analysis have revealed two main culprits scaring us away from push-ups: weak core muscles and wrist issues. Let’s address the “core” of the matter first…
Knees vs. Plank
The typical regression offered by instructors, including myself, is to perform push ups from the knees when a plank push-up doesn’t appear to be doable. The idea being to develop the ability over time, progressing from knees to plank. Knee push-ups will certainly strengthen the PRIMARY muscles used in a push-up – the chest, arms and shoulders, but places far less demand on the many other synergistic or “helper” muscles involved in plank push-ups. (Think core here!) The solution then is to perform push-ups in a manner that mimics the plank form but with reduced load/stress. To accomplish that, I invite you to get up off your knees and try an INCLINE push-up instead.
A good starting point for incline push-ups is a sturdy kitchen table. Place the palm of your hands on the side of the table and slowly walk your feet back, creating about a 45 degree angle with your straight body and the floor. Execute your push-ups in this fashion, and as they get easier to do, progress your push-up to a 30 degree angle. The height of a kitchen chair seat or park bench will work just fine. Again, once you can execute full plank push-ups at this level, you’ll increase the difficulty again by moving to an adjustable height step bench or equivalent, progressing from perhaps 12 inches high or 8 inches, and ultimately down to the floor for a traditional push-up!
Okay, but what happens if you get to your favorite fitness class and there is no obvious or convenient substitute for your trusty table and chair? No worries. You can still call upon your knees to support you through the process, but rather than simply doing the push-ups from your knees, try the following trick which I learned last week in my continuing ed. training with Flow Fitness Training:
Assume the high plank, or “up” position. Lower yourself down in plank position. Now lower your knees to the floor and perform the “up” action from your knees. Resume the plank position, lower yourself down, bring the knees down, then push up from knees. Repeat. The push upwards is the more difficult part of the exercise, so you can use the knees to lighten the stress. The lowering action, with gravity, is a little easier, so you can challenge yourself with the full plank position.
The core is good; wrists are bad.
It’s no secret. The wrists bear the weight of the push-up exercise. For some, the number of push-ups executed is not limited by their core or arm strength, but instead is restricted by nagging joint pain or a prior wrist injury that flares with prolonged plank work. Unless restricted by doctor orders, you might try doing your push-ups by gripping some dumbbells and locking your wrists straight. Or eliminate the dumbbell and simply do fist push-ups. In both cases, wearing a wrist support is possible too. Low-plank holds (on your forearms) is a common regression for protecting wrists and the incline push-ups, as described above, serve to reduce the load on sensitive wrists while providing an opportunity to strengthen the muscles around the joint.
The Push-Up works what?
The primary muscles used in the push-up involve the Pectorals, Triceps and Deltoids, but many more muscles are activated as stabilizers. These include the Rhomboids, Erector Spinae, Rotator Cuff, Serratus Anterior, Rectus and Transverse Abdominus, Gluteus Maximus and Quadriceps.