In the land of dreaded exercises, only the pull-up garners more eye rolls and mumbled curse words than the push-up. They are dang hard.
Rocky Balboa could crank them out one-handed, but the rest of us fall on our face, then lie there squealing as we beg our noncompliant muscles to get us back up. Embarrassing flashbacks to 7th grade P.E. flood our minds, and we want to flee.
Trainers, drill sergeants and coaches love the push-up, and for good reason. Add them to pull-ups, and you have an upper body workout. Plus, push-ups provide isometric core and lower body work, can be done anywhere, require no special equipment and can be modified to make them more difficult. (Exciting, huh?) No wonder they’ve been around since forever and don’t look to be going away.
If you’re gonna get fit, you’ll sooner, rather than later, face the almighty push-up. So how do you go from flopping around on the floor to whipping out 15 Marine-worthy push-ups?
Believe it or not, it’s no big deal, but you’ve gotta give it time, remain dedicated and, most of all, be patient.
Step one: Imagine your body as a board, everything in a line. To help you visualize this, stand with your back to a wall, and push your head, shoulders, rear and feet against the wall. That’s good posture; your body is nice and straight.
Step two: While you’re standing there, note the angle between you and the floor is 90 degrees. This position is the easiest starting point for a push-up. As that angle decreases (you get closer to the floor), the push-ups get harder. You’ll want to use different angles to progress from easy to hard, going from doing push-ups against a wall to the edge of the kitchen counter. Next, try a coffee table, the hearth and eventually the floor. Just make sure whatever surface you choose to push against is stable.
Step three: Get into position. Start “down” (against the wall or on the floor). Position your hands so they are even with your chest on the surface you’re pushing against. Make sure your hands are not even with your neck or your head. Push up until your arms are straight.
Stop, and check your body. Remember that good posture we practiced, body like a board? You might feel your trunk muscles working to hold your body straight; that’s one of those push-up bonuses we mentioned.
Also check that your hands line up under your shoulders. You might feel a little shaky, but we don’t want you unstable. If you feel like you can’t safely support your body weight, then increase the angle between you and the floor. And don’t worry, it gets easier.
Step four: Try to execute 10-15 really good push-ups. Take a 1-minute break, then go another round (a set). Two sets for beginners are plenty, but work your way up to three. Do push-ups two to three times per week, on non-consecutive days.
When you can do 20, find a lower surface (decrease the angle), and start all over. Try not to make too big of a leap; don’t go from the wall to a step, but maybe to the kitchen counter instead. Keep increasing the difficulty a little at a time.
Push-ups are a great upper body exercise for all ages, men and women alike. And they don’t cost a dime. Give them a try. Before you know it, you’ll be hearing the theme to “Rocky” in your head.
• Shannon Sorrels is an NSCA-certified personal trainer and owner of Physix LLC in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach her at (480) 428-5660 or azphysix.com