I work with athletes and every day people each day, to the tune of roughly 50 people a day on average.
There are a few things that tend to be commonalities amongst all of them:
- They think I love causing people pain (false…ish)
- After spending time with me they LOVE to deadlift
- No one can do a push-up correctly when they start
I am not being dramatic.
Most people suck at push-ups.
Whether it is a weak core, poor shoulder mobility or simply a lack of strength – most people just plain suck at doing push-ups.
Then I will have people asking me:
“When can we start benching?”
“But I want to build a big chest, why are we doing push-ups and not flys?”
“If push-ups are so good for me, how come trainer X says benching is king?”
I have one simple answer for all of these questions: If you can’t move yourself, you can’t progress. If you can’t do a push-up, you haven’t earned the right to do anything else.
Harsh? Possibly. My goal and my motivation for my clients and athletes is that they are able to enjoy their lives and get the fastest results possible.
“Push-ups are like walking before you run: if you can’t walk you can’t run, if you can’t push-up, you can’t bench”
It doesn’t have to be this way though; you can get better if you are willing to put in the time. Push-ups can look smooth in a matter of a couple weeks, and your shoulders, core, arms and chest will thank you; not to mention, you know, not having to be embarrassed that you can’t lift yourself off the ground…….
Here is my go to progression for teaching athletes and the like how to effectively do a push-up:
Learn to do a true plank: This is probably rule number one for about a dozen other exercises (maybe all of them?). If you cannot hold yourself in a plank while the rest of your body is tight and rigid, how are you going to do an effective push-up when your belly button starts sagging to the floor like a Salvador Dali painting? Here is what we do: start off every workout with a plank for the time it would take to do the number of push-ups you want to do. Wanna do 10 push-ups? Well that is going to take about 25-30 seconds. So if you can’t hold a plank tightly and un-moving for 25-30 seconds, spend more time here first.
Drop it like its…… an old man tying his shoes: So you have either graduated from plank school, or you are getting closer. The next step is to begin challenging your upper body strength slowly and in its strongest element: the lowering phase. Instead of worrying about doing a full push-up, we will instead focus on lowering ourselves slowly (3-5 seconds) to the floor from the top of a push-up. **Warning** if you have never done push-ups, these are going to kill your muscles, THEY ARE HARD!
Start off with small rounds, 4 sets of 4 or use another favorite of mine: do 1 lowering push-up, rest 5-10 seconds and do another. Do this for 1 longer set. This will start to challenge your stamina and your strength at the same time, slowly building our push-ups. If you choose the second method, start off with only 1 set a workout, these will beat you up.
Full form push-ups, only different: What defines a push-up? The ability to use your chest and arms to lower yourself to an end point whereby you then extend your arms back to the start position while maintaining a rigid body. Sounds close enough? Cool I think so too! So next question: What is this?
To me this is a push-up, but like anything else we can always take weight off. Elevated push-ups allow us to slowly load the body with what it can handle. Whoever says this isn’t a push-up also can’t say that pull-downs work their lats, anything less than a body weight squat is a squat, and that light beer isn’t actually alcohol (I actually may agree with this one. Fuck light beer. Except Corona Lights, they don’t count). A push-up is a push-up, we just all load them differently.
From here, you can add weight to your lowering push-ups, increase the level of plank you do, lower your elevated push-ups closer and closer to the ground, and then start banging out traditional push-ups on the regular.
One thing I hope you have learned from this is that you don’t need to do hard core, big exercises all the time. We have methods, alternatives, and solutions to getting a training effect and making you more bad-ass.
Also, instead of going to planet fatness, and just hiding away from good training, find a coach, find a friend, and get to work on learning how to actually move and change your life.
I don’t judge my people when they can’t get a push-up or a chin-up. I find ways in which to make them better at what they CAN do. This is what good training REALLY is. Find the low hanging fruit and harvest that shit till you are strong enough to climb higher. That’s the secret to better.