Pump It Up: Rethinking Pushups

Traditional pushups remain one of the best anytime, anywhere, total-conditioning exercises. They’re great for developing your chest, shoulders, and triceps, and can even strengthen your back and core when performed with strict form. And while they don’t tend to build muscle size and super strength in the same way certain free weight movements will, they can be an excellent addition to your training regimen.

Consider pushups for any of the following circumstances:

1. You are looking for a convenient way to integrate some resistance exercise into your workout routine, but you’re not into weight training or joining a gym.
2. Your normal facilities aren’t available, but you still need to grab a workout, and push-ups can be done anywhere ... even in jail!
3. You find yourself training in a facility that only has lighter weights (like those wussy hotel fitness rooms). Do a set of pushups right before each set with the lighter weights and, presto, the lighter weights suddenly don’t feel so light!
4. You are looking for more intensity out of your current routine, so you add a few sets of pushups at the end of your usual work-out for even greater levels of deep muscle burn and conditioning.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

The Form

1. Get down on your knees, place both hands a little wider than shoulder width apart on the floor, then raise yourself up so that you’re balancing on your palms and toes. This is your starting position. (fig. 1)
2. With your back and legs in a straight line like a board, lower yourself face down to within a few inches of the floor, then push yourself back up to the starting position. This is one rep. (fig. 2)

Option A: If this classic form is especially difficult for you, try balancing on your knees, instead of your toes.
Option B: When available, use dumbbells as hand rests which are easier on the wrists. (fig. 3)

More Tips

- A set of pushups is basically however many reps you can do while maintaining proper form (anywhere from 10 to 35 on average). But don’t get hung up on the numbers at the expense of your form.
- You can perform pushups daily, or even throughout a given day, if you like. Just be careful not to overtrain if you’re feeling sore from them.
- You can adjust which muscles are emphasized in a pushup by varying your hand placement. Go wider for more chest, and narrower for more triceps.

Be sure to check with your physician before beginning a new exercise routine.