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Pushups: Getting Started by Taking a Step Back

Most people avoid exercises because they can not do them or they can’t do them properly.

Recently I have made a rather significant change in how I exercise.  I have shifted from the machine weights, dumbbells and barbells to kettlebells, body weight exercises and using the TRX suspension trainer.  The main reason is because I don’t have the time, what with family obligations,  to go to the gym or even the finances to pay for a gym membership. In addition, I have sustained my fair share of injuries over my lifetime.  This might explain why I became an Athletic Therapist and a Chiropractor. The likely reason for many of these injuries is due to muscle imbalances.

I have found the trouble with free weights and machine weights is that you are limited in the direction of movement that you can move through.  The body strengthens in the movements it is trained in and there is little cross over to other movements. To be strong in a different movement you need to train it that way. This is where body weight exercise, cables, or TRX suspension trainers are far more versatile.  More angles can be trained and thus more weak links can be strengthened.

US Marine recruits performing push-ups: in pro...Image via Wikipedia

One of the universally known body weight exercises is the full push up.  In case you didn’t know, this is how you should perform a full pushup.


Starting position: Start laying on your stomach, legs straight, and up on your toes.
Elbows should be bent with  palms just outside shoulder width.  The elbows should be point out to the side or slightly below shoulder level.  There are other hand/elbow positions that can be used to focus on different muscles: hands close together/elbows out, hands at stomach level/elbows in, and hands shoulder width/elbows 45 degrees out from side.

Finish position:  Keeping your legs straight and in line with your torso straight your elbows to help lift your body up off the floor until your arms are straight. Once you reach the top of the pushup lower yourself back down to the start position but do not let your chest or legs touch the ground. Repeat for as many times as you can with good technique.

If you can’t perform a quality full pushup then what you have to do is take a few steps back.

In reverse direction (from hardest to easiest) try the following:

1. Half pushup – Place your knees on the ground and pivot at the knees rather than the toes. 
2. Chair pushups – Keep with the same technique as the full pushup but instead of performing it on the floor place your hands on a sturdy chair.
3. Counter-top pushups – Keep with the same body positioning as the full pushup but place your hands on the counter-top. Keep the body straight and in-line. No sagging the hips.
4. Wall pushups –  Keep the body straight and in line. Stand, facing the wall, a place the feet a desired distance away from the wall and perform the pushup. How far away from the wall depends on how strong you are. The closer to the wall the easier it becomes.

Try this out. Chose one of the above regressions of the full pushup.  If you can perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions it is time to make it harder.  If you can not perform 5 repetitions then take a step back. If you can perform 6 to 9 repetitions per set keep training here until you can perform 3 sets of 10.

Be sure to check out the video which will be posted next week.

Dr Notley

Originally posted 2010-10-14 16:28:00.