13 Benefits of PushUps
Merely mentioning the name brings vivid imagery to the mind.
Stop and give me 20!
Over time, people have come to realize that the push-up–the ancient and mighty push-up–is one of the best exercises a person can do.
In the rest of this article, I’m going to explain why that is.
Why do Push-Ups Anyway?
Let’s look at these 13 reasons to respect the push-up:
- The push-up requires no special equipment, and certainly requires no gym membership. All you need is at least one arm. The pushup can build strength and some muscle size without any special equipment.
- Because of #1, the push-up can be done anywhere. If you can find a couple square feet of unoccupied floor space, you’ve got room to do a push-up or 10. Not only do you not need a lot of space, you don’t need a specialized gym.
- Because of #1 and #2, You can always find time for push-ups. The only reason you can legitimately say you can’t find time for pushups is that you don’t want to find time for push-ups. Put the phone down for 30 seconds and give me 10. See?
- Push-ups are compound exercises. Depending on how you perform them, push-ups work your chest, back, shoulders, arms, abs, glutes and more. The key is to activate your abs and glutes to maintain a plank, while doing your pushups; that isometric exercise helps to strengthen the parts of the body not active during your push-up.
- Related to #4, push-ups are a great core exercise. To stabilize your core during the exercise, you have to engage your abs to keep the body stable. No more crunches! Make sure you’re doing these in pristine plank position–with all your muscles activated: abs, butt, and chest primarily.
- Also related to #4, push-ups may increase your metabolic rate…..but are you exercising or not?. There is a common myth that by being more muscular, you’ll burn more energy and therefore fat. Not convincing. What is convincing is that push-ups are a form of exercise….and if you’re taking the opportunity to go from sedentary to active, you’ll be burning more energy and therefore more fat.
- Push-ups add a bit of cardio. Try doing 30 or 40 push-ups and see if your breathing doesn’t start to pick up speed. I dare you.
- As a result of #7, Push-ups get your synapses firing. It’s well established that physical exercise increases brain activity. So this is more of a reason to do exercise at all versus a reason to specifically do push-ups, but it’s a point in the favor of push-ups all the same!
- Push-ups offer all sorts of variety. You can change the emphasis of the exercise by changing positions. Move your hands close together to work your chest more. Move your arms out more to exercise the back. Elevate your legs to put more weight onto your arms; lean forward and push against the wall to put less weight on your arms.
- Push-ups save time. This is really a benefit of bodyweight training in general. It takes enough time to get your gear on and shower, much less adding the time to drive to and from the gym, remembering to bring a snack and water, locking up your stuff, etc. Who needs that?! Drop and give me 10…right now!
- Push-ups rarely cause injury. Sure, you have to learn proper form. But by giving them proper attention and listening to your body, you can avoid many of the injuries you’ll encounter if you’re trying to lift heavier and heavier free weights. The trick is to keep making the push-ups more difficult so you improve your strength. This is where push-up variations and progressions come in–see below.
- Push-ups build willpower. OK, maybe this one applies only to me. 🙂 Push-ups are a little boring, even with some of the variation. I’d rather be writing or surfing the web, to be honest. Forcing yourself to dedicate the time to repetitive exercises–no matter how awesome–helps strengthen your willpower muscle. (there is a willpower muscle, right?)
- Push-ups build self-esteem. Here’s the answer to #12. Once you get into it and start seeing results, your self-esteem improves and it becomes an addiction! Much the same for any workout program, but if you’re not intrinsically motivated and you need to push yourself to start, this can be a way to keep going once you’ve got the ball rolling.
So How Do I Do Them?
Push-ups can be done a number of ways, so let’s cover a few of the most effective, and a progression you can employ if you’re not strong enough to do push-ups right now.
I’m a minimalist when it comes to fitness – there are literally thousands of tips you could find by scouring website after website for every guru’s pushup guidance, but like anything else this can lead to overkill.
Too much information!
In the interest of simplicity, I dug around for some of the most important pointers on proper form. The guys at BuiltLean have a good posture checklist for ensuring proper pushup form:
- Keep your head and neck straight
- Keep your shoulders back and stable
- Keep your hands below the plane of your shoulders
- Pressure on the outside of your hands
- Keep hips and torso straight
- Ensure full range of motion (all the way to the bottom)
- Controlled tempo
The standard pushup technique is to bend at the ankle, keep the rest of the body straight, and to point the elbows back at a 45 degree angle.
Don’t overdo it, and don’t keep going if you’re actually feeling pain in your joints. Be smart about it!
What Other Kinds of Pushups Should I Consider?
There are many alternative pushups that can add complexity and difficulty to the movement. As I mentioned in the last section, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with options and consider 3,000 varieties of pushup. There are only a handful that really serve a purpose in my minimalist mind.
Let’s review some of the more interesting and useful ones:
- If the standard pushup is too difficult, and you have trouble doing pushups with good form, start with wall pushups. Wall pushups involve leaning against the wall while standing, so you’re pushing your own weight horizontally in space. Next, try box pushups where you’re doing a pushup style movement but putting your knees on the ground to decrease the amount of your bodyweight you’re lifting. Getting good at these should prepare you to do a traditional pushup.
- To work your triceps a little more, try the diamond pushup. Diamond pushups involve placing the hands next to one another below your chest, rather than spreading them apart to your sides. Some people can’t do so many of these when they first try them, so be patient!
- If the standard pushup is too easy, you can try decline pushups. Decline pushups are performed with the legs elevated on a bench or other surface, higher than your feet would normally be in a flat/plank style pushup. This puts more of your body’s weight on your arms and increases the load for a more challenging exercise.
- To really become a kick-ass pushup master, work towards the one-arm pushup! The one-arm pushup is an advanced exercise in which you spread the legs a little more and use one arm as the third point in supporting the body like a three-legged stool. This one will definitely take some preparation, but it’ll get you some attention when you master it.
- To achieve the one-arm pushup, one intermediate exercise is the Self-Assisted One-Arm Pushup. The Self-Assisted One-Arm Pushup involves resting one arm on a small object far away from you, and the other straight below you in one-arm pushup position. The less active arm does just a little of the work, while the primary arm below you does most of the lifting. This is a move you should only try to master once you can do 20 or 30 standard pushups, or 10-20 decline pushups.
- Finally, if the self-assisted is still a bit too tough, you can try the incline one-arm pushup. The incline one-arm pushup is the same as the incline pushup above, but you only use one arm to push your weight back while leaning against the wall.
Is 100 Pushups a Day Safe and Beneficial?
Many calisthenics athletes do a routine every day, but most of them focus on different exercises each day. If you’re like me, you pick a bodyweight WOD so you don’t die of boredom.
What if, to build your chest muscles and feel stronger, you wanted to do a 100 pushups a day challenge — would it benefit you? Is it safe?
Ideally, I recommend varying exercises for the sake of overuse. You might cause injuries in the shoulder if you’re doing that move too often–especially if you’re not 100% sure you’re doing with proper form.
Having said that, some well known calisthenics practitioners like Herschel Walker are known to make thousands of daily pushups part of their training for extended periods of time.
Also keep in mind it’s probably best to allow around 48 hours between workouts to allow your body time to recover. The main concern is overuse injuries plus failure to allow your arms to recover.
For that reason, I think 100 pushups a day is probably unwise for most people.
So that’s my brief overview of the pushup. What other variations do you find useful? Any pointers that should be included which I haven’t covered?
Let us know in the comments!
Image source: Flickr