Push ups (a.k.a. press ups) are one of the core bodyweight exercises. They are often overlooked by people looking to improve strength and conditioning, even though they are the staple exercise in the military and martial arts school. Push ups can strengthen the back, shoulders, triceps and forearms. Push ups are common in both traditional Eastern exercises as well as Western fitness routines.
Many yoga asanas (postures) appear in push up variations, such as the plank (the standard starting position with straight arms and back), the cobra and downward dog.
Indian push ups are known as baithaks, and are similar to the Chinese press-ups practised in many traditional Chinese martial arts clubs.
Press ups can be modified to suit people of all strengths, from press ups against a wall (not actually a push up, more a push away), to three-quarter push ups, which are done on the knees rather than the tips of the toes; push ups on stability balls, either with hands or feet on the ball; to the most extreme, handstand push ups. These are usually done with the feet against a supporting wall. Some martial artists have demonstrated one handed handstand push ups.
In addition to performing push ups on the palms, people also push up from a closed fist or even finger tips, to help strengthen and condition the hands for combat.
A while ago we looked at the resurgence of popularity of old school fitness training. Old school training is the style of training that was once common in school physical training classes, and often practised by the military. Today martial artists and dancers alike go “old school”. Really old school is just bodyweight circuit training and core strengthening using compound weight training.
Is there a “best exercise”? If there was one all round exercise that everybody should perform on a regular basis, what would it be? Well, the answer seems to be the mighty, noble, and often neglected, push up (or press up, if you prefer).
Considered the ultimate measure of fitness by many experts, and an exercise that the American College of Sports Medicine suggests should replace softer exercises, such as gentle Pilates and yoga postures, that are often adopted into fitness routines nowadays. It may be Old School, but it is still extremely effective.
There are many variations of the push up, ranging from the standard military style push up, to the one-handed push-up for the supremely athletic (as demonstrated by Sly Stallone in the Rocky films), but the basic principle remains the same:
How to Do A Proper Old School Press Up:
- Balance on your toes and hands, pressing your palms into the floor and keeping your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Straighten back and legs so that your body remains in a “plank” position.
- Breathe in and lower your torso to the floor by bending your elbows to 90 degrees.
- Engage (tense) your abdominal muscles to help to keep legs straight.
- Breathe out and push back up to the starting position.
The reason that push ups are still so popular, even in this age of techno fads and gadgets, is that the push up engages so many of the body’s core muscle. The muscle in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs are all engaged with each repetition.
Researchers in one US study showed that on average, 66.4 per cent of total bodyweight is lifted with each push-up. So if you weigh 70kg you are heaving a mighty 43kg — far more than you would on a bench-press machine. And if you weigh in as a heavy weight boxer, at over 15 stone (or 95kg) the each press up is like benching 63kg.
For those who cannot manage a single press-up, they key is to start gently. Bridgitte Swales, lecturer in sport and exercise sciences at Roehampton University, gives some advice on building up strength with press ups. Firstly you do not even have to lie down. Doing a push-up against a wall reduces pressure on the arms and upper back. The closer to the wall you stand, the easier it is. Also, beginners can perform the quarter-push ups, which are simply performing a normal push up, but with the knees on the floor, rather than the toes. This reduces the percentage of bodyweight that you are lifting, while still engaging the same muscles.
After you can do 25-30 push-ups without stopping, or if you can do three sets of 15 with short rests between sets, it is time to make the exercise more challenging. Do this by placing your feet on top of a step or a couple of heavy books. Raising the surface your feet are on will force you to work harder against gravity. Eventually, put your feet on an even higher platform like a chair or bed.
The press up is really the king of the old school bodyweight exercises. Often prescribed to help with back problems, as it helps build core strength to support the spine, it is really one of the best exercises to perform to build up all round strength and fitness.
Personal training: Push ups
Demonstration of how to properly do push-ups, with examples of poor form.
Hindu Push-ups / Chinese Push Ups
Demonstration of hindu push ups, or Chinese push ups, which are relaly good for combat sports. They help strengthen forearms, shouldersn and work the ribs a little too. In this demonstration the elbows stay high off the ground. With Chinese / kung-fu press ups, the elbows should almost touch the floor as you lower down and forward. This provides excellent training for creating a more explosive punch.
Chris Comfort’s Push Up Workouts
This is a great introduction to push ups. Several variations are demonstrated. Push up bars are used in a lot of the exercises to help with wrist positioning and stability training. Push ups should be done slowly to allow maximum muscular gain. Push ups should be performed with a 2-3 second lower, then a brief pause, and a 1 second raise. This leads to increased micro-traumas in the muscles which promotes muscle growth.
To develop explosive power “one and a half push up” with a “plyometric pop” are recommended, as this promotes muscular growth as well as honing the nervous system. This is ideal for football players.
Also demonstrated is the triceps close grip press up. This is very intensive and done on the knees (three quarter press ups). It exercises the upper chest and shoulders as well as the triceps. Also, as the hands are held close together as fists, it improves stability too.
Finally the dive over push up is shown. These are done on tip toe, and when lowering you push with your feet so that your shoulders “diver over” your hands.
The most important recommendation here is that you perform five perfect full push ups rather than many rapid push ups with poor form.
Here various different tools are used to allow different press ups, such as the Swiss ball, Push Up plates, Medicine Ball push ups, and weighted push ups. There is also an alternative exercise which adds a one arm row after each push up.
We hope to display more video tutorials soon, as we source the best press up training videos online. If you have made a push up video tutorial and would like it shown here, just contact us!