The push-up is without a doubt the first muscle-building activity most people try out but somewhere along the line they discover weight training and the age-old technique is discarded. This is very sad considering it is one of the most complete bodyweight exercises that target your chest, abs, arms and shoulder – pretty much every upper body muscle.
Specifically, the muscles the exercise targets are the abdominal muscles, the pectorals, the deltoids and the triceps. How exclusively each muscle is targeted will depend on the variation of the push-up you’re going to do. For example, the further apart your hands are the more you’ll work the chest and the closer you bring your arms the more you’ll work the triceps.
How to do a standard push-up
- Get down on all fours and place your hands a little wider than your shoulders.
- Keep your feet together and strengthen your arms and legs. Make sure that your entire body is in one straight line, from head to toe.
- Keeping your elbows close, lower your chest till it’s just one inch above the floor
- Hold this position for a second and bring your body up.
The entire set of motions mentioned above is just one rep. Do this at least 15 times to complete a set and try and do at least three sets. If you’ve trouble doing proper push-ups you can start off with knee push-ups or incline push-ups (where your hands are on a higher plane so you’re not flat on the ground) and slowly strengthen your upper body so you can become strong enough to do standard ones.
If you find the standard push-up too easy, you can try these more advanced variations.
The one-arm push-up decreases the point of contact from three to two making it much harder and therefore a greater workout for the chest. If you remember any of your primary school physics you’ll remember that equals force by area, so as you decrease the area (one arm) the harder it gets.
This is popular among martial artists who look to strengthen their knuckles and wrists. It also reduces the strain on the wrists than the standard push-up and is a good option for those who’ve wrist injuries.
In this variation, you keep your arms close enough so that your thumbs and forefingers are touching. This exercise targets the triceps more than the chest.
Hindu or Hanuman push-up
Used for centuries by pehlwans the Hindu push-up involves lifting your butt until you form a V-like shape and then bending your elbows, as you lower your head towards the ground keeping your hips a couple of feet in the air. Then you raise your head so that you’re almost staring up akin to a surya namaskar. The basic difference is while all other push-ups need you to follow an up and down movement, the Hindu push-up requires you to follow a circular motion which gives you a complete body workout.
The fingertip push-up also decreases the area of contact and is much harder than regular ones. Martial arts legend Bruce Lee was well-known for being able to do fingertip push-ups using only one hand’s thumb and index finger!
Much harder than regular push-us, the technique requires the user to hold their position in mid-air and clap before bringing their torso down. An even harder version is the behind-the-back clapping push-up which requires the person to clap behind their back before coming down!
All in all the push-up is a good old fashioned exercise that deserves to be part of every fitness regime.