Remember 8th grade gym class when you were late or the goofball cutting up in the back?
What did “coach” always tell you?
“Drop and give me 20!”
So, you whined, complained, and then got down and did 20 push ups because you didn’t want to be sent to the principal’s office. You grunted out those push ups and stood up huffing and puffing from muscular exhaustion.
Those were the glory days of exercise, just you, the floor and gravity. Nothing is simpler than the standard pushup. Drop down, lower yourself to the ground and PUSH the ground away!
Many an iron chested individuals built the base of the physique around the common push up. Don’t believe me? Watch the ESPN 30 for 30 special on Herschel Walker and see how he built the base of his Heisman winning physique by performing as many as 1,000 push ups a day!
Fast forward to today’s gym scene and look around. What do you notice?
No one’s doing push ups!
Somewhere between the Total Gym and the Shake Weight, this strength building staple had a fall from grace. They were considered old hat, boring or “easy.” Instead people turned to machines and barbells to forge a chest of steel and tossed aside the tried and true standard. Oh how these individuals are mistaken…
The Power of the Push Up
Most people mistakenly think the push up only works the chest, but this is incredibly naive. The push up is a compound exercise that also works the shoulders, triceps, core, glutes and back. It is a total-body builder exercise!
Push ups allow for greater range of motion, particularly with the back. During a bench press, your back is padded by the bench; however, with a push up the muscles of the upper back can go through their natural full range of motion.
The core and glutes are also involved when doing push ups. You have to tighten your stomach and squeeze the glutes together to prevent your lower back from sagging and putting strain on those posterior core muscles.
Perks of the Push Up
Aside from working your chest, the push up:
- Doesn’t require any equipment
- Can be done anywhere
- Works the entire body
- Can modified based on ability level
- FREE! No gym membership needed!
Take it to the next level
Many eschew the pushup for the bench press because the standard pushup has become too “easy” for them. Once you can start banging out sets of 30, 40, or 50 without a break, you aren’t reaping it’s muscle-building benefits anymore. Sure, you are working on muscular endurance, but you won’t be creating any sort of hypertrophic response. What’s a bro to do?
AMP UP THE INTENSITY!
There are dozens and dozens of more intense push ups that you can tackle, all it requires is a bit of imagination and coordination. Give a few of these pumped up variations a try to skyrocket your next push workout:
Medicine Ball Push Up
Grab 2 medicine balls and put one under each hand. Now, start to do a pushup. Careful, don’t smash your face into the ground the first time you attempt these!
Placing a ball under each hand adds an added bit of instability to the movement cranking up the demands from your core stabilizers and making your anterior deltoids work extra hard.
Should you become proficient in these, try adding a 3rd medicine ball into the equation by placing both of your feet on the 3rd ball while your hands are on the others
Triple Stop Push Up
This variation increased the time under tension (TUT) that your chest will experience during the exercise. When we start to become pros at the standard variety, we hurry through the set as fast as we can and can usually knock out 20-30 reps in under a minute. When looking to maximize hypertrophy, we want the muscles to be under tension between 40-60 seconds.
To execute the triple stop, lower yourself halfway to the ground and hold for 5 seconds, then lower completely and hold for 5 seconds, push back up to the halfway point and pause another 5 seconds before completing the push up movement. That’s ONE rep!
Try and knock out 20 of those without your chest muscles quivering!
Here’s a variation to mimic the beloved dumbbell flye or cable crossover. Grab a towel or paper plate and hit the deck. Put one hand on the towel/plate and place the other on on the ground. Execute the move by sliding the hand on the towel out to the side while lowering your body. To reverse the movement, squeeze your pecs and drag your hand back in until you are back in the traditional push up position. Do five on one side, and then switch hands and continue to do five per side until you can’t do anymore.
If that gets too easy, put towels under BOTH hands and slide both out at the same time and then try to bring them in simultaneously. I willing to bet that is going to be slightly more challenging than your typical dumbbell fly.
Plyometric Push Up
Here’s a true test of your push up propelling power! Assume a standard pushup position with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Lower down to the ground under control and at the bottom push AS HARD AS YOU CAN lifting your entire body off the floor. The harder you push the more muscle fibers you activate leading to more metabolic mayhem and muscle building!
This push up variation will jack your heart rate through the roof, incinerate calories, and build your power and muscle! Want to take things to the next level? Try rotating your body 90 degrees in the air when you push off the ground!
If you are training hard in the gym, but no seeing the results you want consider the humble push up for change of pace. There are a ton of different kinds of push ups compared to bench press variations, your imagination is really the only limit. This means work more muscles in a shorter amount of time, maximizing gains while having more time to do the things you enjoy.
The grandaddy of all upper body exercises isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s been around as long as man has walked the earth because it’s simple, effective, and proven to work. For every bench press fiend that can bench 225 for reps, I’ll give just as many that can’t execute even the proper standard push up. Stick to the basics and, when you’re ready, try tackling one of these advanced variations to take your chest workouts to the next level!
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