Is there anyone out there who doesn't want big pecs and even bigger arms? With so many push up variations to choose from, sometimes it's hard to tell which muscles are worked with push ups. We are here to help the lift the cloud of confusion.
One of the most basic – yet most effective – calisthenics exercise is push up. Much like the bench press, everyone thinks they can do it well but in reality, not many people perform them correctly, therefore people see results much later than they should.
Read on to find out how to perform push ups with the correct form and see which version is actually the hardest to perform.
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Warm up and useful accessories
You'd think you don't need to warm up for bodyweight exercises but this mentality couldn't be further from the truth. Bodyweight exercises provide ample amount of resistance; just think about the amount of people you know who can do even just one set of eight reps of pull ups. There aren't many, are there?
The main reason to warm up is to bring your heart rate up a bit. This will A) make you less likely to experience fatigue early on the workout and B) will help you burn fat more efficiently. Keeping your heart rate in the right zone and paying attention to its movement can help you survive workouts much easier.
Probably the best way to keep track of your heart rate is to wear a running watch (or exercise watch or multi-sport watch – same difference). These wearable devices can track a variety of exercises (the Polar Ignite can tracks salsa dancing and the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is particularly good for golfing) and by paying attention to your HR during exercising, you can avoid the common pitfall of getting tired two minutes in the workout.
Since we all get bored during exercising, it's also a good idea to get a pair of decent headphones for running (or workout – same difference). Listening to music can further motivate you during workouts and help you push through tough periods which will inevitably come at some point.
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How to do a push up
Starting position is arms extended and shoulder-width apart whilst you are facing the floor. Make sure your palms are directly under your shoulders on the floor. Core and glutes engaged, back straight. It is very important to keep the core engaged all the way through the full motion. Don't let your hip drop and 'sag in the middle' or push your bum out as you bend your elbows.
Another very important aspect is the position of the elbows as you bend them. Don't let them stick out, keep them tucked in close to your body. That will work your triceps more and give you big pecs as well as big arms.
At the lowest position, your nose should almost touch the floor and again, your body should be straight. In this position, if someone would place a bowl of water on your back and the liquid in it should be level. That is unless you are aren't doing decline push ups because then you'd get your head wet. Why would anyone want to do that?
Concentrate on the correct form all the way through and the slower you perform the press up, the more efficiently you work your muscles. Within reason, of course, there is no need to play statues here.
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Push up variations and alternatives
We'll get around analysing these, too.
- Incline push up: this variety works the back and lower chest muscles more. With incline push ups, your upper body is elevated compared to your legs. You can use anything to elevate your body, like a chair, a box or a bar.
- Decline push up: in this variation, your legs are elevated, putting more pressure on the shoulders. the higher the elevation, the more it works your shoulders (and less the pecs).
- Pike push up: do this version if you would like to work out your shoulders. The starting pose is a downward-facing dog yoga position, when you stick your bum up in the air. This is a great exercise if you want to work on your shoulders but haven't got a dumbbell or barbell.
- Diamond push up: a real triceps killer, this variation is considered one of the hardest to perform correctly. Your hands are kept close to each other, in fact, your index fingers and thumbs touch, forming a diamond shape. Keep your elbows tucked and really concentrate on your triceps muscles as your perform push ups.
- Stability ball incline/decline push up: this version will engage your core more since you have to keep yourself steady on a huge ball. Your legs are rested on a stability ball, and although there are different sizes, your feet will most likely be in a higher position compared to your shoulders. If you find it difficult, you can rest your knees on the balls as opposed to your feet.
- Medicine ball incline push up: diamond push up has nothing on this version. You not only have to work your triceps more to push yourself up (hands being closer together), you also have to balance on a medicine ball while you do so.
- Clapping push up: an explosive variation, great for HIIT workouts. As you push yourself up, you do it with such force that your hands leave the ground so you can clap in the air before placing your hands back on the floor. Easier said than done.
- Single arm push up: the ultimate swagger! Place the weight-bearing hand on the floor so it's under the mid-line of your chest. Place your legs further apart to give yourself some extra room to stabilise your body.