Men's Health Your Body is Your Barbell

6

Chapter

BODYWEIGHT 8: PUSHUP

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#2 PUSHUP

When most people think about exercise, the first move that comes to mind is the Pushup, the iconic Rocky Balboa move (he did it on one arm, not two) that continues to inspire generations of people to get off of the couch and get down to fighting weight. It’s a classic calisthenics exercise that has been used for centuries to build strong upper bodies; supple wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints; and primal punching and pushing power. There are probably more ways to do Pushups than just about any other exercise, giving you a lifetime of variety and results.

The Pushup is to the upper body what the Squat is to the lower body. While the Squat teaches you how to create a stable hip position, the Pushup teaches you how to create a stable shoulder position. When done correctly both exercises engage nearly every muscle in your body, giving you a nearly complete fitness program. No two other exercises can combine for such an effective and versatile anytime, anywhere total-body workout.

The Pushup is a superior exercise to the Bench Press (or Chest Press) for several reasons. First of all, it works your chest, front shoulders, and triceps just as hard as a Bench Press will as long as you train the Pushup progressively. Second, the Pushup forces you to support your entire body in a Plank position, working all of the muscles on the front side of your body (plus many on the back side), while the Bench Press has you lying on your back. As a result, every rep of the Pushup works more muscles and burns more calories than every rep of the Bench Press. What’s more, each Pushup progression demands more from your abs to maintain stability. When you reach the Single-Arm Pushup level, you’ll be performing the best abdominal exercise you can do because it requires your core to stabilize your spine in all three planes of motion.

The PUSHUP Progression

Level 1 Ground Zero: PLANK

Level 2 Beginner: PUSHUP

Level 3 Intermediate: SELF-ASSISTED SINGLE-ARM PUSHUP

Level 4 Advanced: SINGLE-ARM PUSHUP

Level 5 Superhero: PLYOMETRIC PUSHUP

Level 1: Ground Zero

PLANK

The foundation of a perfect Pushup is being able to hold a hollow-body position at the top of the movement with your arms fully extended. This is also called planking. Planks will ensure that you build the core and shoulder stability needed to execute full-range-of-motion Pushups. A strong, braced core allows you to properly align your ribs and pelvis so that your hips and shoulders travel together as one unit with no wasted movement or energy leaks in the kinetic chain. In fact, you should be able to plank a level or two higher than your current Pushup level. For example, you should be able to plank on one leg or one arm or with your feet elevated before doing a regular floor Pushup. This will ensure that your core is always up for the task so you can focus on pushing instead of stabilizing.

Keep your feet together as much as possible throughout these progressions. Though it gives you a smaller support base, keeping your feet together makes it much easier for you to engage your hip and core muscles to lock in a neutral spine position with a slight arch in your lower back.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 60-second holds before moving to the next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders with your arms extended.

 Keep your weight over the center of your hands (just in front of your wrists).

 Screw your hands into the floor and grip the ground with your fingertips.

 Spread your fingertips as wide as you can.

 Set your head in a neutral position with your ears aligned with your shoulders, hips, and ankles, and look between your hands.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Squeeze your legs together, tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Squeeze your legs together.

• Clench your glutes.

• Pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Drive your toes into the ground.

• Tense your thighs.

• Brace your abs.

• Push the floor apart with your hands.

Perfect Execution

 Hold this Plank position for time while actively maintaining hollow-body mechanics for the duration of the exercise.

 Focus on deep belly breathing.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Increase your base of support by widening your hands and feet as much as needed.

EVEN EASIER: Break up a longer hold into shorter 5- to 10-second holds with brief 2- to 5-second rest periods. Gradually lengthen each hold and take less rest.

EASIEST: Decrease your body angle by performing a Hands-Elevated Plank. Place your hands (or forearms) on a sturdy box, bench, or chair. This makes it much easier because you’re holding less of your body weight.

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Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Lift one leg off the floor and focus on squeezing the glute of your supporting leg. Or progressively bring your hands together until your thumbs touch.

EVEN HARDER: Lift a hand off the floor and extend that arm in front of you. Widen your feet to help balance.

HARDEST: Raise a leg and the opposing arm off the floor to hold your body weight with only two points of floor contact.

Level 2: Beginner

PUSHUP

You’ve been doing Pushups since elementary school PE, but are you doing them properly? For pecs that pop, you will want to perform a mix of different body angles, hand positions, and dynamic full-range-of-motion repetitions. If you want big arms, you need to pay attention to your triceps-after all, they comprise approximately two-thirds of your upper arms. Work your triceps by bringing your hands closer together until your thumbs are touching. The close grip increases elbow range of motion, which will help prep your triceps and elbows for the demands of the Single-Arm Pushup.

At the top of each Pushup, be sure to push away your shoulder blades while keeping your chest out. Doing so will put extra stress on the muscle positioned just alongside your rib cage, the serratus anterior, also known as the puncher’s muscle because it’s usually well developed in boxers.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps before moving to the next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders with arms fully extended.

 Keep your weight over the center of your hands.

 Screw your hands into the floor and grip the ground with your fingertips.

 Spread your fingertips as wide as you can.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Squeeze your legs together, tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Squeeze your glutes.

• Push your shoulder blades apart.

• Your body should be a straight line from head to heels.

• Push the floor apart with your hands.

Perfect Execution

 Tuck your elbows to your sides and slowly pull yourself into the bottom position until your chest hovers just above the floor.

 Hold this bottom position briefly and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

 Then reverse the movement, being sure to fully extend your arms, and push your shoulder blades away from each other at the top of the movement.

• Tuck your elbows.

• Don’t drop your hips.

• Forearms vertical.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Perform Eccentric Pushups by only doing the lowering portion of the exercise (take at least 3 to 5 seconds to lower). Cheat back up by using your knees.

EVEN EASIER: Perform Isometric Pushups by holding the bottom (or top) position for time.

EASIEST: Place your hands on a sturdy box, bench, or chair. This makes it much easier because you’re pushing less of your body weight. Elevate your hands as much as needed in order to be able to perform full-range-of-motion Pushups. Gradually work your way down to the floor by decreasing the elevation height.

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Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Lift one leg off the floor and focus on squeezing the glute of your supporting leg.

EVEN HARDER: Perform Close-Grip Pushups by progressively narrowing your hand placement until the thumbs of your hands are touching. You could also increase the range of motion by placing your hands on elevated boxes, books, balls, or weight plates of even height. This will allow your chest to sink lower than the floor would allow.

HARDEST: Place your feet on a sturdy box, bench, or chair. This makes it much harder because you’re pushing more of your body weight.

Level 3: Intermediate

SELF-ASSISTED SINGLE-ARM PUSHUP

With these Pushups, one arm at a time does 70 percent or more of the work. The best place to start is with Staggered Pushups. The hand of the working arm should be placed flat on the floor underneath your shoulder.

The only difference is that you place the fingertips of your assisting arm on the floor. This puts the assisting hand in a weaker position, which shifts more of the weight onto your working arm.

Another option is the Uneven Pushup, where you place the hand of your assisting arm on an elevated surface like a low step, phone book, or basketball. The higher the surface, the less help the assisting arm can provide, making the exercise harder.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of reps per side before moving to the next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Place the hand of your working arm flat on the floor underneath your shoulder.

 Place the fingertips of your assisting arm on the floor under your shoulder (a).

 Assume a hollow-body position: Squeeze your legs together, tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

Perfect Execution

 Tuck your elbows to your sides and slowly pull yourself into the bottom position until your chest hovers just above the floor (b).

 Hold this bottom position briefly and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

 Then press through your armpits and reverse the movement, being sure to fully extend your arms, and push your shoulder blades away from each other at the top of the movement.

• Squeeze shoulder blades together at bottom.

• Shift weight to working arm.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Perform Eccentric Self-Assisted Single-Arm Pushups by doing only the lowering portion of the exercise (take at Least 3 to 5 seconds to lower). Cheat into the top position by pushing up equally with both hands.

EVEN EASIER: Perform Isometric Self-Assisted Single-Arm Pushups by holding the bottom (or top) position.

EASIEST: Decrease the body angle by placing your hands on a sturdy box, bench, or chair. This makes it easier because you’re pushing less body weight.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Use less self-assistance by placing fewer fingertips on the floor until only your thumb is touching the ground.

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EVEN HARDER: Use less self-assistance and decrease your Leverage with the Archer Pushup. Fully extend the arm of your assisting hand directly to the side, then perform a Pushup.

• Gradually use fewer fingers.

• Keep your hips and shoulders square to the ground.

• You can also elevate this hand on a box or ball.

HARDEST: Increase the body angle by placing your feet on a sturdy box, bench, or chair, This makes it much harder because you’re pushing more of your weight.

Level 4: Advanced

SINGLE-ARM PUSHUP

Studies show that you’re pressing approximately 70 percent of your body weight during a floor Pushup. This means that a 200-pound man is pushing 140 pounds with every rep. Now if he can build up to doing Single-Arm Pushups for reps, it means he’s pressing 140 pounds on one arm at a time. That’s like repping out on Single-Arm Chest Presses with a 140-pound dumbbell!

When doing a Single-Arm Pushup, it is important to minimize body rotation and try to keep your hips and shoulders square to the floor. It’s okay to rotate your nonworking shoulder and hip up and over toward your working arm as you lower to the bottom position in a diagonal fashion. However, you must do so with your hips and shoulders moving together with no twisting at the lower back. Your feet will also pivot a bit to allow for the hip rotation. This creates a crisscross effect between your opposite shoulder and hip that makes the exercise easier to pull off.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps per side before moving to the next Level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Place the hand of your working arm flat on the floor under your shoulder.

 Spread your fingers wide and grip the ground.

 Place your feet wider than shoulder-width apart for extra stability.

 Press the back of your nonworking hand into your lower back.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Place your nonworking arm behind your back.

• Feet should be wider than shoulder-width apart.

• Grip the ground with your fingertips.

Perfect Execution

 Tuck your elbow to your side and slowly pull yourself down until your chest hovers above the floor.

 Hold this bottom position briefly and squeeze the same-side shoulder blade in as if performing a Single-Arm Row.

 Then press through your armpit, being sure to fully extend your arm, and push your shoulder blade away at the top of the movement as if punching through the floor.

• Don’t twist your lower back.

• Press through your armpit, not your shoulder.

• Pivot your feet slightly.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Perform Eccentric Single-Arm Pushups by doing only the lowering portion of the exercise (take at least 3 to 5 seconds to lower). Cheat back up by pushing up with both hands.

EVEN EASIER: Perform Isometric Single-Arm Pushups by holding the bottom position. If you fatigue before time is up, simply back off to holding the top of the Pushup position.

EASIEST: Place your hands on a sturdy box, bench, or chair. This makes it much easier because you’re pushing less of your body weight. Gradually work your way down to the floor over time by progressively decreasing the elevation height.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Perform Single-Arm, Single-Leg Pushups by raising the same-side leg as your working arm. Having only two points of contact with the ground amps up the abdominal work.

EVEN HARDER: Progressively bring your feet closer together until your feet are touching. This is the hardest version to do on the floor because it requires you to perform a Single-Arm Pushup with minimal to no hip and upper-back rotation.

HARDEST: Increase the body angle by performing Feet-Elevated Single-Arm Pushups. Place your feet on a sturdy box, bench, or chair.

Level 5: Superhero

PLYOMETRIC PUSHUP

Almost anybody can do a Plyo Pushup with his hands elevated on a bed or any other surface higher than waist height. That being said, it’s important to prioritize strength and stability before adding speed and power into the equation. It will both build up the muscle you need to create force and move fast and prepare your joints and connective tissues for the rigors of explosive movement.

Start by holding the bottom Pushup position for 5 seconds before pushing off the ground with your hands. This will eliminate the stretch reflex, making your muscles work harder. You won’t be able to get as much height, but it will groove great technique. And when you eventually perform fast reps with no pause at the bottom, you’ll get some serious height. Also, treat each Plyo Pushup as a separate rep with a full pause between reps. This means that you’ll land softly into the bottom of the Pushup position after going airborne and then push back up to the top of the Pushup position to gather yourself for the next Plyo Pushup. Never land with your arms locked out or you’ll destroy your elbows.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of reps with perfect form d technique.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders with arms fully extended.

 Keep your weight over the center of your hands.

 Spread your fingertips as wide as you can.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Squeeze your legs together, tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and pull your ribs and shoulders down.

• Hold this bottom position for 5 seconds.

Perfect Execution

 Tuck your elbows tight to your sides and slowly pull yourself into the bottom position until your chest hovers just above the floor.

 Hold this position for 5 seconds and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

 Explosively press through your armpits, extend your arms, and push off the ground with your fingertips so your body goes airborne.

 Land softly into the bottom of the Pushup position with your arms bent to absorb the load.

• Explosively straighten your arms and push off with fingertips.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Perform Drop Pushups. Start with your hands close together in the top of a Pushup position. Then jump your hands out to the sides and drop into the bottom position and repeat.

EVEN EASIER: Perform Speed Pushups by doing them as fast as you can while keeping your hands and feet on the floor.

EASIEST: Decrease the body angle by performing Hands-Elevated Plyo Pushups. Place your hands on a sturdy box, bench, or chair and do Explosive Pushups. This makes it much easier because you’re pushing less of your body weight.

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Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Perform Levitating Pushups where both your hands and feet leave the floor. Push off the floor with your toes and fingertips equally.

• Both hands and toes come off the floor.

EVEN HARDER: Add a clap or multiple claps while airborne. You can also touch different parts of your body with your hands like your chest, shoulders, forehead, or even your hips. A favorite option is the Superman Pushup, where you fully extend your arms in front of your body while airborne.

HARDEST: Perform Feet-Elevated Plyo Pushups. Place your feet on a sturdy box or bench. This makes it much harder because you’re pushing more of your body weight.

Variations

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1. Varying Hand Placement

Work your muscles from different angles by placing hands wider than shoulder-width apart, with thumbs touching and hands staggered. Placing your hands higher than shoulder level works your abs and triceps harder; hands lower (not shown) works the shoulders and chest more. Fingertip and Fist Pushups improve grip and wrist strength.

Variations

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2. Rotating-T Pushup

Perform a Pushup and as you push yourself back up, rotate your body into a Side Plank so your right hand comes off the floor. Raise your right hand toward the ceiling so your body forms a T. Reverse the movement, switch sides, and repeat. If you can’t perform the Pushup, simply hold the top of the Pushup position for a count before moving from side to side.

• Set your feet together.

• From here, lower your body to the floor.

• As you rotate your body, pivot on your toes and stack your feet.

• Your arms should form a T with your body.

• Don’t let your hips sag.

Variations

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3. Spider Pushup

Flex your hip and bring one knee to the same-side elbow as you lower to the bottom position. You can make it even harder by fully extending that same Leg to the side in the bottom position. This shifts more weight to the opposite arm for counterbalance. You can either perform all reps on one side before switching or switch sides every rep.

Variations

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4. Side-to-Side Pushup

Begin this exercise like a normal Wide-Hands Pushup, but as you lower your body to the ground, slowly shift your weight as much to one side as you can. Then push back up to the starting position. Switch sides every rep or perform all of your reps on one side before switching.

• The wider your hands, the more body weight your closest arm must push.

Variations

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5. Blast-Off Pushup

From the top of a standard Pushup position, push your butt back as far as you can by bending at the knees, hinging at the hips, and fully extending your arms. This is the loaded position. Now fire out by extending your ankles, knees, and hips into the bottom of a regular Pushup. Progress further by performing the move with your hands and feet closer together. You can also rock this drill with your feet against a wall to allow your legs to have better leverage to load and explode your body forward. This exercise improves ballistic core stability.

• Hinge at the hips to load your legs.

• Bend your knees.

• Your body should form a straight line from butt to hands.

• From here, perform a standard Pushup to get back into starting position.

• Your chest should hover just above the floor.