The Humble Pushup Is One of the Best Body Weight Exercises Known to Man
I admit that pushups are not my favorite exercise. I can do my fair share of them, but I am unlikely to beat a well conditioned dude in a pushup contest. I attribute my aversion to pushups from my time in the Marine Corps. They were used as punishment for every imaginable type of infraction. Drop a rifle, do twenty pushups. Not address a senior Marine in the appropriate manner, twenty pushups. Ask to use the head (bathroom) at the wrong time, more pushups. Didn’t shine your boots until they gleamed like silverware (these were the old-school jungle boots which weren’t made of the suede leather material today that don’t need shining)? You got it, pushups. Some people love pushups. I love to hate them. Despite my feelings about pushups, this body weight exercise is fantastic at sculpting your shoulders and arms, building up your pecs, and making your back look just incredible. That’s why pushups will always be a big part of my fitness and conditioning regimen.
How Much of Your Weight Are You Lifting With Each Pushup?
Proper pushups are not easy, especially for women. By proper, I mean legs and back straight, head aligned with body, hands underneath the shoulder, and elbows at 45 degrees in the lowered position. After a couple of sets of pushups in good form, your arms, shoulders, and back can get toasty. If you’re doing a workout program like P90X, P90X2, or Insanity, Tony Horton and Shaun T will have you perform 8-12 sets of pushups at a time. I can totally understand the desire to drop to your knees. And, after a few grueling sets of pushups, you might even be wondering to yourself: How much weight am I really pushing here? What percent of my body weight am I lifting? If I do pushups on my knees, how much load am I taking off? The answers might surprise you.
Strength and conditioning experts have done research into this area. Studies have revealed that men lifted about 66.4% of their body weight with each rep when they do a pushup on their toes. On their knees, they lifted about 52.9% of their body weight. In other words, a 180-pound man will lift 119.5 pounds per rep doing a regular pushup and 95.2 pounds doing a pushup on his knees. (According to my scale, I’m pushing 103 pounds doing a regular pushup and I weigh 154 pounds) Women lift slightly less of their body weight per rep, but the difference is negligible.
If you want to know with certainty how much weight you are actually lifting with each pushup, use a bathroom scale. Put the scale on level ground and place your hands on it and do a pushup on your toes. This is the weight you’re lifting. Try to do the same thing on your knees to see the difference. Keep in mind that the number on the scale will vary depending on your arm position (i.e. military, diamond, wide, etc.).
Doing a Perfect Pushup
To get the full benefits of doing pushups, you must do them correctly. Whether you’re on your toes or on your knees, it’s important to have the proper form. To do a perfect pushup:
- Get into plank position and make sure your hands are aligned with your shoulders but just slightly wider than them. Tighten your core so that your back and legs a completely straight and aligned.
- Lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor, tucking your elbows in as you do. When you’re at the bottom, your arms should be at 45-degree angle. Keep your back flat and do not let your back or hips sag. This is where most people go wrong. A sagging back or hip is a sign that you need to improve your core strength.
If you can’t do a push-up on your toes yet, don’t give up! You’re still getting a great workout. Keep at it and it will happen. Start with just one, then slowly progress until you can do more. Then, the sky’s the limit. You will continue to improve as long as you keep trying.
Adding Even More Intensity to Your Pushups
- Slow it down. Do pushups in a 4/4 count (4 counts down, 4 counts up). By taking more time to do each rep, you increase the time that each muscle must stay under load. Time in load is just as important to building mass and strength as the amount of weight you’re lifting.
- Bring your hands and feet closer together to move your center of gravity forward and make your shoulders, pecs, back, and triceps do more work. Tighten your core to protect your lower back. The rule of thumb is that the closer your hands are together, the more your triceps are being activated. The further apart they are, the more you are using your chest muscles.
- Elevate your feet. Place your feet on a stable surface such as a workout bench or chair, and keep your hands on the ground. This puts more of your weight onto your shoulders, thus increasing the amount of weight you’re doing with each pushup.
- Wear a weight vest when you do pushups. I haven’t gotten around to purchasing a weight vest, but I use a loaded backpack instead.
- Move away from a stable surface and do your pushups on a medicine ball or balance ball as demonstrated in P90X2. Check out these pushup moves from P90X2 Chest, Back and Balance. These exercises will not only challenge your arms, chest, and shoulders but will also shred your core. They take doing pushups to the next level.
- Use pushup stands such as the Tony Horton Power Stands. Pushup stands allow you to lower your body about six inches further to maximize the range of motion. They also protect your wrists because they help to distribute the weight of your body. The reason why I recommend the Tony Horton Power Stands is because they have a large circular base and won’t tip over like other lesser stands. Tipping can be a problem if you’re doing wide grip pushups or pike shoulder presses.
- Forget push-ups. Do handstands instead. Handstands are the ultimate shoulder exercise. This is where the big kids play.
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