Pushups are one of calisthenics most basic exercises.
Not only that – they are versatile and offer great benefits for every athlete. Plus, they can be done everywhere at any time – push training can’t get any easier than that!
I always like to say there is a pushup for everyone – some are easy, others creative and a few require half-goddish strength.1
Although it is a widespread exercise and probably as ancient as the Spartans, many do it horribly wrong.
Let’s reset this trend and do them right. It is not about the number – but about the quality.
Alright, that said, let’s talk pushups in detail!
The benefits of pushups
- Pushups are ancient. Gladiators, as well as world war recruits, got tortured with pushups for a reason.
- They are highly versatile. There are literally 1000 different pushup variations.
- Pushups are the go-to exercise to build bent arm pushing power.
- You don’t need anything to perform one – just your own body.
- Pushups prepare yourself for more advanced straight arm exercises like planches.
- Once mastered, pushups make for a great warmup and teach proper shoulder blade control.
Pushups – the basic technique
Hollow Body Hold
The hollow body is one basic position in the world of calisthenics, gymnastics, and tumbling.
In this position, your joints are well stacked on top of each other and your whole body’s musculature is activated.
How this should exactly look like can you see here over at GymnasticBodies.
For more advanced skills like levers, this position will get the prerequisite. Get it done better early than late!
Additionally, if body positioning is an issue and you always feel your midsection falling towards the floor, you can work planks and elbow plank enforcing strictly this body posture.
Besides a stable and active body position, you need to master how to use your shoulder blades properly.
This will be the most important point when it comes to pushups and many other bodyweight skills.
Your scapulae go from a protracted position at the top into a retracted one at the bottom. That’s the whole movement in a nutshell – no chest. The chest will do some work but the primary movers are always your scaps.2
And here is the issue – most people suck at using their shoulder blades properly. But good news, too. Motor control can be addressed quickly if the training is done mindfully!
Keep your Elbows in
Who doesn’t know that guys repping out pushup after pushup, bouncing up ‘n’ down, with his elbows flared out at 90°. I don’t say this movement is entirely bad3, but most people should avoid this variation.
So, don’t be that guy. Keep your arms rotated towards your body and don’t let them flare out. This will save you some pain and lets you progress better towards harder variations.
Later on to strengthen specifically your internal rotation or as a supplementary exercise you can play around with pushups letting your arms going away of your body – but it shouldn’t be the standard!
Use your hands and finger
Spread your fingers and at least grip the floor actively. Find a position that fits your body!4
This will build up strength, control, and is a good habit to practice for later skills like handstands or inverted presses. Resting onto a rather inactive joint just will increase the probability of pain.
If wrist pain is an issue try to do them on Parallettes* or Gymnastic Rings*, and slowly increase your capacities on the floor aside.
Variations of pushups
Build solid pushups
Learning a pushup is quite simple.
Elevate your body, as much as you need to, to perform 8-12 proper reps. If you can do that, lower yourself a bit more towards the floor. Repeat this process until you are flat onto the ground.
The great thing here is that you are able to learn proper mechanics and scapular control while you are on your way to the floor.
As an alternative, building general pushing power using weights will aid this process strongly. Hit the bench press, pushing machines and triceps machine and you will surely get to your goal!
Improve your pushups
The most common problem in terms of pushups is subpar scapular control, as well as lacking body stiffness.
These two points can be easily improved with these exercises:
- Hollow Body Planks
Nothing more than a plank, focussing strongly to stay into a hollow body shape.
It is the top position of a pushup. Make sure to tilt your pelvis backward, protract your shoulder blades and tense your whole body. This can either be done on your hands or your elbows.
- Scapular and Shoulder CARs
CARs have nothing to do with car mechanics. They are slow and controlled joint rotations that teach you how to control every movement it is possibly capable of.
Sounds complicated, but is very simple!
- Scapular exercises using bands
Resistance Bands* are fucking awesome! They help you to strengthen weak or uncontrolled movements by giving a tiny bit of resistance. Hence the name.
If the basic pushup gets too boring
These are my few favorites. Of course, there are a lot of additional ones, ranging from total non-sense, to very useful, and superhumanly difficult:
- Upward Dog to Chaturanga to Cobra Pose
Although one of yoga’s basic exercises, this sequence is awesome to build pushing power in a very dynamic way.
It makes for a great warmup after waking up or before your workout.
- Pike Pushups
Pike pushups are awesome to build up overhead pressing power. The exercise which will carve your way towards the handstand pushup.
- Weighted Pushups
What is better than 10 pushups? 10 pushups with 10 added kilos!*
Above 25 reps the effect of doing more reps will swap more towards the cardiovascular side of training. If strength is your primary goal – add weight!
- Archer Pushups
A great dynamic exercise to build unilateral strength and progress towards the one-arm pushup.
- Plyo Pushups
Plyometric exercises build explosive strength.
Be very strict with your technique here. You never wanna load incorrect technique explosively.5
A well known of plyo exercise are clapping pushups.
- Pseudo Planche Pushups
These are pushups while leaning forwards.
It is a great exercise to build specific bent-arm strength and spend time in that planche position.
- One Arm Pushups
Wanna impress your buddies?
Learn this impressive-looking skill!6‘
- Handstand Pushup
The exercise of choice to build insanely strong pushing power.
If repping out Inverted Presses is something you do asleep, try this one, bell-to-wall first, and later free-standing!
Rep them out on Parallettes* to not wreck your wrists.
- Tuck Planche Pushups
An intermediate variation building up bent-arm strength while staying in that planchy shape. A great exercise towards the straddle planche!
- Looking at you 90 Degree Pushup and Planche Pushup!
- Or let’s say best felt and executed when looking specifically at these two winglike bones. #mindmuscleconnection
- No movement is entirely bad. But most people lack the mobility to train in this strong internal shoulder rotations and with the wrong purpose. Performing high numbers of reps in this generally weak and unstable position can lead quickly to issues down the road.
- Spreading your fingers widely isn’t always the right thing for everybody. I like for example the cambered cupped hands to handbalance and perform every exercise. That’s because my wrists tend to be hypermobile and my body tends to stabilize the joint this way to lessen its ROM at this particular moment.
- Expect you crave the morphine at the ER strongly. Then do 100 max-effort plyos with your arms turned out 90°. I hope you got my sarcasm…
- Although it looks impressive, it is fairly simple to master compared to other skills. Just build up pushing power and don’t get big.