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How to Do Push Ups More Effectively

Push ups are one of my favourite exercise techniques. You can do push ups anywhere and at any time without needing to go to the gym; they effectively exercise a large portion of your upper body; they are able to provide a good balance between strength, stamina and fitness training, and you can customize the exercise to focus more on any of these particular goals. This article features on the various different ways that you can perform push ups to make them more effective and/or to fit better with a specific training goal.

How to Do A Basic Push Up

To perform a basic push up your hands should be placed on the ground, roughly shoulder width apart, with your fingers facing forward. Your toes should be on the ground with the bulk of your weight on the balls of your feet. Your body should be flat and should remain straight as a board as you push yourself upwards until your arms are almost completely straight. You don't need to 'lock out' your arms by making them straight, as this takes the weight off your muscles and actually makes the exercise easier.

Muscles Worked When You Do Push Ups

Here is a list of the main muscles worked by standard push ups:

  • The torso, including the abdominals and obliques on the front and also the muscles of the lower back.
  • The chest (pectoral muscles).
  • The shoulder muscles, especially the anterior and lateral deltoids.
  • The Triceps (your upper arm, on the opposite side to the biceps).

Five Ways to Make Push Ups More Effective

  • Vary the distance between your hands: The basic method described above provides a balance between working the chest and tricep muscles. If you put your hands closer together you will probably find the exercise much harder - this is because it focusses the work on the tricep muscles of your arms, which arms smaller and therefore weaker than your chest muscles. Conversely if you place your hands further apart then it allows you to focus on training your chest muscles.
  • Put your feet on a raised platform: This will make the exercise harder as your centre of gravity is moved closer to your hands; it also works slightly different areas of the chest and shoulders, so its nice to throw a few of these in for balance. Making the exercise harder also has the side-effect of emphasising strength training rather than stamina and fitness, as you will not be able to perform as many repetitions.
  • Combine push ups with squat thrusts for an excellent all-round fitness exercise. A squat thrust is when you squat down and put your hands on the floor, push our your feet so you are in a push up position, bring your feet back, then stand up and jump off the ground. Adding in a push up with each repetition makes for a pretty tough aerobic exercise.
  • Use push up bars: Although using push up bars will make the exercise a little bit less portable, it does have a significant impact on the effectiveness and difficulty level. This is especially useful if you want to focus more on the chest area without making it too easy, as bars allow you to lower your chest past the level of your hands. Swivel bars which turn as you push upwards will add a little bit of extra difficulty for the shoulder muscles, and will allow you to work the forearms and various smaller muscles which you will use for balance.
  • To work the forearms as well as the other muscle groups listed above you can perform fingertip push ups. Many people do this wrong, however; you should put your fingertips on the ground and keep your fingers bent in their usually direction, and try to keep your palm off the ground as you push up (you'll almost certainly fail to do this at first, but just trying is good exercise). Most people do this exercise with the fingers straight, and find that the fingers bend back a little as they push up - this is great for strengthening the tendons, which has its uses, but is not so great for working the muscles.

Categories: Health | Fitness


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