Human movement can be reduced to three basic categories: pushing, pulling, and hip extension (squatting, jumping, running, and even riding a bike). Functional fitness begins with learning good form for this essential repertoire and then gradually adding weight and difficulty to build stability and strength. Doing these exercises correctly with five pounds, in other words, is better than doing them poorly with 100. In the words of Gray Cook, one of the founding fathers of functional training, “Don’t add strength to dysfunction.”
Push-ups activate a chain of muscles – particularly in your arms, shoulders, chest, and back – that are key for everything from getting up off the ground to shoving something heavy into the back of an SUV. The humble push-up beats the bench press for developing this functional push strength because the push-up doesn’t take your back and legs out of the movement.
Start in a plank position, holding the spine neutral, no sagging. Stabilize the shoulder joints by pulling shoulder blades down toward your heels (this is fundamental to all push-and-pull exercises). Place hands so that when you drop, your nipples line up with the base of your palms. Lower until your chest touches the ground.
Bosu Push-Ups: To engage your core even more, add an unstable surface to your push-up with a Bosu ball. With the round side down, grab the handles at the edge of the flat disk and do push-ups as described.
We rarely press overhead while sitting down in real life. Shooting a basketball, putting something up onto a high shelf – it all happens while we’re standing up, so standing presses are the way to go, creating a linked muscular chain from your hands down through your body core into your feet. Use kettlebells or dumbbells instead of barbells because they let the shoulder joint find its own way through a safe range of motion.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, spine held neutral (no arching the back), shoulders stabilized as described before. Raise one weight at a time, allowing the hand and wrist to rotate as you push upward.
Push press: Simply add a slight squat and then a leg thrust as you push up, since we typically also use our legs when pressing overhead. This makes it a total-body movement and permits higher loads.