The pushup is often taken for granted – or dreaded entirely – but, if done right, it can serve as a great total-body exercise. Most people may assume pushups are simply an upper body exercise. While they do certainly target the chest, arms, and shoulders, this bodyweight move has the potential to target and strengthen a number of other muscle groups.
Let’s start with the basics which (aside from hand position in some cases) you’ll want to keep in mind for any variation on the move as well:
-Start in a plank position with your pelvis tucked in, neck neutral, and palms directly under your shoulders, making sure your shoulders are rotated back and down.
-Brace your core the keep your back flat, and begin to lower your body by bending the elbows while keeping them pointed slightly back.
-Lower your body down until you come to about a 90-degree bend in the elbows, chest almost grazing the floor.
-Extend your elbows to push your body back up to the starting position.
-Rinse and repeat for as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form outlined above.
-If you’re not quite yet strong enough to complete a standard pushup with proper form, there are some different positioning options to change the leverage, and decrease the load on your upper body as you progress to a full pushup:
Modified (knee) pushups
Using the same mechanics of the standard pushup, but keeping the body in a straight line down to your knees rather than your toes.
Modified (incline) pushups
If pushups on the knees are still too much, you can find an elevated surface for your hands, such as a bench, or even a wall.
For those who have mastered the standard pushup and want to spice things up, there are several options to add difficulty and complexity to the move:
Hands are further apart than the standard pushup, one to two hand-widths from shoulder distance apart. More emphasis will be put on the chest and shoulders, and this may actually be another easier position for beginners.
Hands are closer together than in the standard pushup, starting right under the chest, closer than shoulder-width apart. The elbows will be tucked in closer to the body as well, and more emphasis will be placed on the triceps.
The opposite of the incline pushup, this time with the feet on an elevated surface (i.e. box or bench), putting more emphasis on the upper chest and shoulders.
Starting with the hands in a narrow pushup position, ‘step’ one hand out into a standard (or wide) pushup position to lower your chest. As you extend the elbows to push back up into the starting position, ‘step’ the other hand back into narrow position. Given that you are moving across the floor, your feet will be following the same movement of your hands.
*ONLY to be attempted if you are confident in your upper-body strength* Again, using the same setup as the standard pushup, but using more force when coming up to extend the elbows, driving through the palms so the hands come off to the floor, then landing lightly on the ground to bend the elbows and lower the chest again. Add a clap at the top for extra difficulty if you’re feeling fancy.
Another plyometric variation: starting with the hands and feet narrow in plank position, both the hands and feet will jump out wide, bending the elbows to lower the chest as you land. As you extend the elbows to push back up, drive through the palms with force as with the plyometric pushup and jump the hands and feet back into narrow position.
-Evelyn O., Exercise Physiologist at Dedham Health