Just saying the word, I look around and see the disdain on women’s faces: “push-up.” In the fitness world, so many experience the dreaded push-up because it has been the test of upper body strength since the days in elementary school when we all were forced to take the President’s Physical Fitness Test. And many of us failed. New clients and athletes often come to a training session and say, “I just can’t do push-ups.” To which the trainer responds by prescribing what? Push-ups. The fact is, upper body “pushing” movements allow you to gain strength, develop muscle tone for shape, and, when applied to total body movements, take your training to a whole new level of fitness. That’s why professional trainers—whose job it is to get you the results you want—won’t let you off the hook and demand this long-standing, body-weight callisthenic. But there are more ways to train and put power into this movement than just doing push-ups. So let’s look at some great solutions.
To start, I suggest using the traditional push-up as a true benchmark of where you are with your “pushing” upper body strength: see how many you can do in one minute without stopping. Whether zero or 12, this number will be used to simply measure your personal progress over time. Then, use the following exercises to engage upper body strength, core strength, and shoulder joint stability. You will build strength in the pushing movement while adding the benefit of injury prevention through the variety of movements.
Upper Body Step-Ups
This movement uses an elevated step (just 4-6 inches off the ground) and hand-to-hand weight transfers to increase shoulder stability as well as mobility for those battling forward-rounded shoulders.
a. Start in a plank position with hips and core engaged, hands straddling just outside the step.
b. Step up, leading with the right hand, and then follow with the left to complete the level change. Then, step down with right hand and then the left.
c. Complete 50% of the intended repetitions and then switch the lead hand, emphasizing the left side.
One of the best ways to build strength is “time under tension” as well as the eccentric or lengthening of muscle during contraction. This is excellent for those who cannot complete a push-up yet.
a. Start in a plank position, the top of the push-up position. Make sure that the core is engaged, nice and stiff, making a straight line through the shoulder, hip, and to the ankle.
b. Slowly lower your body to the floor, keeping a straight line by engaging your core in the downward motion of the push-up. There should be a four-second count at least to reach the floor.
c. Once you reach the floor and are at rest, bend the knees to shorten your body length, which assists in returning to the “up” position. Repeat the exercise.
Just like our hips and lower body, the shoulder joint responds positively to ground contact and ground reaction forces to enhance important stability strength.
a. Start in a plank position with the hands underneath the chest in a narrow or close stance. Then stack one foot on top of the other to create a great pivot point in order to move in a circle.
b. Start the movement by stepping wide, just outside the shoulder, with the right hand. Maintain a level hip and shoulder position to avoid tipping or rotating the trunk.
c. Then follow with the left hand to complete the step sequence. Repeat this pattern; you will make several steps, completing the circle as if you are the big hand of a clock. Then repeat, leading with the left hand and going counter-clock wise.
These exercises will power up your push, and the progress will surprise you. The added variety will also help you bypass the dread of doing upper body pushing exercises to build strength. Remember—not only will you reach your strength goals, but the stronger you are with your upper body, the more total body metabolic workouts you will be able to accomplish. And you’re yet another step closer to your 2012 goals!