Table of Contents
What are Push Ups?
Push-ups have got to be one of the most fundamental calisthenics exercises out there. The movement is simple and very effective as many muscles are being worked simultaneously. This exercise is for those who are at the beginner’s level as it is easy to perform and can be done anytime, without the need for any equipment.
This exercise can be used for strength development, muscle growth, or even an effective warm-up exercise. However, many people focus on quantity instead of quality in push-ups. So, this article will walk you through the best tips to make your push-ups perfect, as well as covering seven different variations ranging from beginner to intermediate, and to advanced level athletes.
What muscles do Push Ups work?
The push up is a compound exercise which involves many muscle groups being worked. The primary muscles worked are: pectoralis major, triceps and anterior deltoids. The secondary muscle groups worked are: abdominals, obliques, serratus anterior, glutes and quadriceps.
How to do Push Ups?
1. Get On All Fours
Get on the floor on all fours, placing your hands in a slightly wider than shoulders width grip, with your elbows pointed towards your toes. Fingers pointing forward and shoulders stacked directly above your wrists.
2. Extend Your Legs Into Plank Position
Extend your legs back to form a plank position. Make sure your body is in a straight line from head to toe by contracting your core and glutes to stop your back from arching and hips from sagging. This position is called the “plank” which is the starting position of the push up.
3. Gradually Lower Down
Before you begin any movement, engage your core by drawing your belly button towards your spine. Keep the core engaged throughout the push up. Inhale, and slowly lower your chest towards the floor by bending the elbows and tucking them towards your body rather than flaring out. The optimal shoulder angle in relation to your torso is a 45 degrees angle. Keep lowering until your elbows and triceps are parallel to the floor.
4. Gradually Push Back Up
Exhale as you raise yourself by pushing the body away from the ground. You will feel a contraction in chest, shoulders and tricep muscles, pushing back up through your hands to the starting position. Ensure full range of motion by going all the way up locking your arms out before repeating this movement. Always focus on quality rather than quantity. This will reward you with more progress and a stronger body.
What are the common mistakes in Push Ups?
1. Flaring Elbows Out Too Wide
Avoid flaring out of elbows as this puts a lot of stress on your shoulders which can lead to injuries. Studies have found that flared elbows will give not only you less chest and tricep activation, but also less strength and power improvements due to the reduced range of motion. To prevent this, use a grip that is slightly wider than narrow grip and tuck your elbows in towards your body at a 45 degrees angle, rather than flaring them out.
2. Lack Of Body Tension
Often people form an arched back and have a lack of body tension. This causes their hips to sag and back to arch which creates bad form. It occurs when the core and glutes are not fully engaged. To fix this you should Focus on engaging both your core and glutes during this movement to keep your lower back flat, this will give you core strengthening benefits, and also a perfect form. When performing this exercise, you can assess your form by recording yourself or looking at the mirror.
What is my recommended rep range?
The ideal number you need to build muscle mass is between 12-15 reps, for 4 sets, and do this for a minimum of 3 days a week. There’s no limit to how many push ups you can do in one day, doing it every day can be powerful if you’re looking for a disciplined exercise to follow. You can start with this rep range and gradually increase 1-2 reps every two weeks for progressive overload.
What are the benefits of Push Ups?
1. Upper Body Hypertrophy
There is a high engagement in your upper body muscles from the pectoralis major, anterior deltoids and triceps. With consistent training, your body will produce more muscle fibres, resulting in increased muscle mass, strength and endurance. You will need to push yourself to be near muscle failures after completing your sets. This will make you feel tired, if you’re only starting out, but over time as you get stronger you can increase intensity by moving to harder variations.
2. Enhances Balance And Stability
The Push Up trains your proprioceptive muscle fibers, which in turn, these microscopic nerves keep your body in balance. When performing a push up, these nerves are working constantly with the purpose of preventing your body from tipping over. This disciplines them to have a quicker response to stimulation which enhances their balance and speed.
3. No Equipment Needed
You can take this awesome exercise and workout anywhere and anytime for free, at your convenience. This exercise gives you complete control, no need to rely on the use of gym equipment.
4. Many Variations
Whatever level you are at in your fitness journey, whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced level, there is always a variation that will help you to achieve your fitness goals. You can use regression variations such as the negative push up to help increase your strength towards a full push up. Or, if you’re looking for a challenge, you can use progression variations such as the diamond push up, or defefic push up to spice up your workout!
What are the Different Variations of Push Ups?
Knee Push Up
The knee push up is a regression exercise because you will be pushing less of your body weight, therefore decreasing the load on your upper body. This is great for building up your pushing strength as you are still working against gravity, which means that your chest, shoulders and tricep muscles will be targeted without the stress of a full push up.
Negative Push Up
A negative push-up is where you start at the top in a plank position, and slowly lower yourself down and count three seconds as you do so. But, instead of then pushing yourself up from the bottom, you can do sets of negatives with good form. This is effective in increasing muscle size and strength which in turn will help make your regular push ups easier.
Military Push Up
A military push up is performed similarly to that of a traditional push up. The main difference is that you have to keep your arms close to your body throughout the range of motion. This puts more of an emphasis on your triceps, and even your lats if you’re maintaining correct form.
You will feel a good burn on your triceps as your grip will be much narrower, and the elbows will be tightly close to your torso. Also, you will lower down until your triceps are parallel to the ground. This creates a full range of movement. Keep in mind that the body moves as an entire unit, so your body from head to toe should be in a straight line.
Deficits Push Up
To perform this, you will need two platforms that are equally in height under both of your palms, such as yoga blocks, plyometric blocks or weight plates. In the eccentric phase, lower your body down a few inches further than you would in a normal push up. This is an advanced variation exercise. The deficit push up is an effective muscle mass building variation as it requires a greater degree of muscle coordination and pushing strength.
Diamond Push Up
Diamond push ups are a more advanced variation of the traditional push up. It is an intermediate-level exercise.
Practice diamond push ups by bringing your hands close together (index finger touches each other and the thumb touches each other) to form a diamond or triangle shape below your chest. This puts more emphasis and is better for building the triceps than traditional push ups. The unique hand position and elbow angle rely more on the triceps and limit the involvement of shoulders and chest muscles.
Incline Push Up
Incline push ups are easier than traditional push ups. There is a slope with your body as you will need to use an elevated platform. The steeper the slope, the more weight will be distributed to your legs, which in turn reduces the load on your upper body. This is a great way to build up strength to a full push up to the floor. It also works on the same muscle groups as the traditional push ups such as the chest, shoulders and triceps muscles.
Decline Push Up
Decline push up is an intermediate level push up variation. This means that if traditional push ups are easy for you, moving your feet off the ground will provide greater challenge. In this variation, you will place your feet above the body, and onto an elevated surface such as a plyometric box or a chair, meaning that more weight will now be distributed onto the upper body. Muscles that are worked during this movement are shoulders, upper back and triceps.
All Push Exercises
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.