Jay Hiller, July 27, 2022
When I was growing up, I believed that there were exercises for men and exercises for women. Men did push ups. Women did girls’ push ups. In my case, for a long time, I didn’t do either. Even after I became more physically active with running, swimming and eventually yoga, push ups seemed like an exercise that was not meant for me. I had built an imaginary wall between an exercise I thought of as a guys’ exercise and myself. In my early forties, I changed my ideas about push ups, thank goodness. You’re probably too smart to limit yourself the way I did. And if you’re interested in adding them to your routine, I have some suggestions for getting there.
What makes pushups so awesome?
Push ups strengthen the chest, shoulders, arms, back and core. You can make them harder as you get stronger and you can make them easier when you need to back off because there are roughly a gazillion push up variations. You don’t need special equipment and you can do them anywhere. One of the best things about push ups is that there is an on-ramp to start doing them for just about anyone.
Some ideas for getting started
I see limited value to push ups that are modified by resting your lower body weight on your knees, girls’ push ups. I had more success keeping my body in a straight line from shoulders to feet and moving through a continuum of difficulty where things get harder the lower your hands are placed. The basic steps moving from easiest to hardest are:
A wall push up: Standing upright do push ups against the wall. You can get a decent workout here. When you’re ready to make them harder you can pause at the bottom for 1, 2 or 3 seconds. You can change things by taking your hands closer together or wider apart.
Push ups against something a little lower, such as your kitchen counter. Your body is moving closer to horizontal and you’re working against gravity just a little bit more. You can do the same variations as for wall push ups above.
Push ups from a plank position with hands elevated. If you do this on a chair, make sure that the chair is against a wall or heavy enough not to move. I’ve also done these with my hands on the 2nd or 3rd step of a flight of stairs with my feet on the floor below. The same variations work as described above.
The traditional push up, which is basically a moving plank. You can progress these as above. Other progressions I like is doing them with hands staggered or with one hand on a medicine ball. You can elevate your feet and hands on big weight plates and do a deficit push up. As I said, there are a million variations.
If you’re not already doing push ups, I hope you’ll give them a try.
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