As a skinny man with less fat to burn than some of my beefy friends, I have taken to completing regular push ups. This exercise regimen is not new for me. I have used push ups as a method of fitness-building for over a decade, and most of the time I haven’t had too much trouble with weight ratio exercises. With all of this in mind, I decided to take up the ‘one hundred push ups’ six week training challenge.
Despite the fact I’ve been doing it for a little over eight weeks, I have not yet completed the challenge. The truth is, my strength has been yo-yoing. There have been some positive results in the core body strength department, but generally I have not started to look like Dolph Lundgren. Maybe I should be tipping banana flavoured muscle dust – otherwise known as whey protein powder – into a plastic container full of water and downing it like magic beans? I accept I’ll never bench press an oak tree, carry an elk on my shoulder or reinvent the very nature of masculinity, but damn it all, I’m going to get to 100 good form push ups; eventually.
Now what exactly is a ‘good form’ push up? It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, but for the purposes of this blog I’m going to stick with focusing on the chest muscles. As you may already be aware, push ups are a good way to improve overall strength, with particular benefits for your shoulders, triceps and to a certain extent your abdominal muscles (or ‘abs’ in text message speak). There are certain rules of thumb when it comes to getting maximum results from a push up. They are:
1. Keep your back as straight as an ironing board. In fact your body should be straight from your shoulders to your heels. If you need to further guarantee the correct position here, clench your ass cheeks and tense your abdominal muscles. These measures will go some way to preserving your form.
2. Make your arms do the work. I remember Physical Education at school. I’ll never forget having to exercise at the behest of some overweight, underpaid beef head thrice my age. PE was the first time I saw a push up demonstration, but there was one quite serious problem. I now realise that most of my PE teachers were doing it wrong. In fact, it often looked like the demonstrators’ in question were deliberately attempting to inseminate the floor by thrusting their groins downwards. My old science teacher – who deserves the credit for coining the term – called it ‘The Saturday Night Move’. It’s not necessary, plus it looks foolish. Any movement that happens should come from the arms.
3. Pick a spot and look at it while keeping your head raised. This will help you to preserve your form, and will look less like floor sniffing.
4. Try to get your chest to reach the ground. If you find it painful or uncomfortable to go low, don’t do it. You’ll discover your threshold as you progress with your workout. Bare in mind, there is nothing to stop you testing the pain barrier as you improve, so there’s no harm in challenging yourself along the way.
5. Don’t flare your elbows. This won’t improve your chest, but is more likely to increase shoulder strength. You can see a flared-elbow push up below being carried out by a person who is not me. It also appears that the guy has his fingers pointing in, thus piling more wrongness on an already curious technique.
6. You can keep your hands shoulder width apart. I have seen people bring them in closer to the chest, which through repetition I have found also works.
7. Breathe in when you go down and back out as you push up. Try and time your breathing with the push up motion.
8. The world as we know it will not be a permanent fixture, but for the sake of the workout imagine it is. In short, don’t panic when doing push ups. There should be no racing involved. Keep a steady pace as you lower, then either spring up, or go slowly depending on preference. Going slower is also more challenging than pounding out push ups.
9. Try to keep a cool head. One thing I’ve discovered about the ‘100 push ups challenge’ is to start small. For example, at the start of the challenge I had to do a progress test to see which table column I should start with. I fitted comfortably in column two (6-10) push ups. The third column is 11-20, and I caved at 11, so I decided to play it sensible. I found that just because I started in column two, I didn’t manage to keep the numbers going through weeks two and three. This is because the push up count increases a lot in a short space of time, so suddenly I was daunted. I had to repeat week two. Then I had to shift back to column one when I got to week three. Then I discovered my form was only so slightly off. Not as off as the above picture, but incorrect nonetheless. Now I’m currently at week two column one, keeping the good form.
If you do decide to take up the challenge, make sure you check out the correct form first. Give it some practise, then when you feel you’ve nailed it, try the challenge. If you’ve not had much experience doing push ups, start small on the table. Otherwise the whole thing is going to seem like a core body strength avalanche. One more thing, don’t use the images in the 100 push up challenge guide as a reference. In terms of good technique they’re incorrect, as the skinny guy in the orange shorts is promoting the flared elbow approach.
Here is a link to the challenge – happy exercising: http://hundredpushups.com