Strength Building for Push-Ups
There is a reason why push-ups are on a short list of physical requirements that must be accomplished in order to graduate from all branches of the military, as well as be accepted into the police department and other sectors of law enforcement. Push-ups are a standard indicator of basic strength and endurance, showing that you have the ability to stabilize and move your own body weight.
Being unable to perform a push-up can be frustrating, and it might even cause you to put yourself in an unstable or incorrect position just so you can do something that resembles a push-up but is actually probably making the situation worse by not actually addressing the muscle weaknesses that are holding you back from your push-up.
Read on and watch the videos to see how you can progress yourself from where you are now to a full body weight push-up. A push-up is a very synergistic move, meaning it requires several different muscle groups working together in order to perform. Arms, chest, shoulders, core, and back are all on deck for your push-up. For this reason I have never been a big fan of performing push-ups from your knees since it almost entirely eliminates one of the most important stabilizing muscle groups; your core. It’s better to train your body to achieve the full push-up position, even if that means creating an easier position by doing it on a higher incline.
If you have access to a squat rack or smith machine this means setting the bar in the rack higher up so you can put yourself in a push-up position but push off the bar instead of the floor. You might have to play around with the height you set the bar until you find the right setting for your strength level. If you don’t have this equipment you can start by using a counter top, table, chair, sofa, anything with a high enough incline so you can perform about 10 to 20 reps.
If you’re struggling with how to set up your position try this hack: the bumper plates in a gym by the lifting platforms are all designed to be the same size in diameter so when people are using them the bar is always the same height off the floor no matter what the weight of the plate is being used. Grab one of these lighter plates, 10 or 15 pounds, and lay down on your back on a flat bench, holding each side of the plate at its widest point. Imagine that the hole in the center of the plate has a pole running through it that’s coming out of your sternum, the center of your chest, and as you push the plate off your chest it has to slide straight up and down this invisible pole. This will help you maintain a good position for your elbows as you press and lower it down as well as remind you to tuck your shoulder blades down and together rather than have your shoulders shrug up to your ears. Just remember that in a regular push-up your hand position will be different, with fingers pointing forward, not in toward each other.
Practicing this plate press will not only help you understand your push-up position but it will also help you build up basic strength toward your push-up. Once you feel comfortable with your position try switching out the plate for dumbbells in order to continue getting stronger with your push but now building up more shoulder stability with unstable dumbbells. Combine this with your incline push-up which you should be slowly making a lower and lower incline as you feel stronger.
One last tip is working on up-downs. This will help with your push strength but also on core strength and stability. Start in a forearm plank and then press yourself up into a straight arm plank, alternating back and forth between which hand starts the push from forearm plank to straight arm. As with all exercises it takes time, practice, and a willingness to challenge yourself and push yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to progress and see changes. Set realistic goals and work on this at least one to two times a week.