Crushing the Push-Up for Crazy Core Strength and Conditioning
We are being bombarded with so much fitness information. Do this, don’t do this. Eat this, don’t eat that. Perform this lift, don’t ever perform this lift.
It gets exhausting.
My philosophy will always be to find an exercise and nutrition program that works best for you and stay committed to this program.
Sometimes the best place to start, and the best place to figure out what works for you, is to return to the basics. I’m talking ancient, prehistoric basics; the roots of muscle building. Think about the first exercise you ever did in your elementary physical education class.
Push-Ups – The OG: The Original Growth-Inducer
In my opinion the push-up is the atom of all weight lifting life. It’s where it all started; using your strength to push your body up from the ground.
It’s so simple, yet so perfect. So perfect because nobody will ever argue that you should never do a push-up. And if they do, they have no idea what they’re talking about. You need to stop listening to everything they say.
Before people asked, ‘How much you bench?’ or ‘How much you squat?’ the question was ‘How many push-ups can you do?’ It was the earliest barometer of how strong an individual was. Push-ups are still an important exercise to use within your exercise routine.
The push-up is a versatile exercise you can perform anywhere, anytime, and at any fitness level. The push-up variations can be adjusted depending on your goals. So, whether you are just starting your fitness journey, a bodybuilder, a powerlifter, or an athlete looking to boost your on field performance, the push-up can be incorporated into your training routine.
Push-Ups for the Beginner Lifter
If you have recently joined a gym or just started weight training, mastering the push-up is extremely important. If you can’t push yourself up, how do you expect to push up heavy weight?
Before you even think about laying down on that bench to start bench pressing you should be able to complete 10 consecutive push-ups with proper form. If you can’t perform 10 push-ups I’d advise you to build your strength up first before performing any bench press exercises.
Being able to complete 10 push-ups will give you a strong foundation for your upper body and get you ready to start pushing that heavier weight.
That’s not a push-up!
Form is key to all exercises. The same rules apply to the push-up. When performing a standard pushup you want to have your hands just a little wider than shoulder width apart. Keep your neck in line with your spine and your hands parallel in line with your chest.
Keep your feet together and tighten your core and glutes. Inhale as you lower yourself down, with your chest touching the ground, and exhale on the push-up. Perfect this and you’ll never hear anyone say: That’s not a push-up!
Push-Ups: The King of Supersets
In my opinion, the push-up is they king of all superset exercises. Performing a set of 10-15 push-ups immediately after another exercise is simple. It doesn’t require you to use another machine, another bench, or another set of weights. You can simply drop down to the ground immediately after finishing your first exercise and fire off a set of push-ups.
Related: 8 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Mass
And, performing a push-up superset isn’t limited to just chest day. By changing the positioning of your hands and body you can also super set your back day, arm day, or shoulder day with an intense set of push-ups.
Standard Push-Up – Performing a standard push-up places emphasis on your chest. Performing a superset of 10-15 push-ups after your bench press set or dumbbell flies is a great way to intensify your workout and keep your chest under tension.
Pike Push-Up – A pike push-up places emphasis on your shoulders. First, get into a normal push-up position then walk your feet towards your hands while keep your legs straight, until your body resembles an inverted V shape.
Bend your elbows until your head touches the ground then push yourself back-up and that’s one rep. On a shoulder day you can super set 10 repetitions of this exercise with lateral raises or shrugs.
Close Grip Push-Up – Similar to the standard push-up, the close grip push-up will target your triceps. Get into the same position as a standard push-up, but bring your hands inward, closer than shoulder width apart.
Drop down and push yourself back up, feeling the squeeze in your triceps. If a chest/triceps day is part of your split you can perform these as a superset with your chest exercises or you can superset this push-up variation with a biceps exercise on arm day.
Wide Grip Push- Up – Using the standard push-up position, move your hands even further apart for a wide stance. Wide grip push-ups will put the emphasis of tensions on your back. Supersetting these push-ups with lat pull-downs or cable rows will help you build a stronger, thicker back.
HIIT Session and Body Weight Training
The push-up is the godfather of bodyweight exercises and can also play a large role in HIIT training. Whether you are a bodyweight athlete, wanting to ditch the treadmill for an epic HIIT session, or looking for a quick bodyweight circuit to perform on your active rest days, this push-up focused circuit is a great way to work both your upper and lower body.
HIIT Circuit (Approximately 12-15 Minutes)
- Standard Push-Up: 10 reps
- Burpees: 5 reps
- Close Grip Push-Up: 10 reps
- Burpees: 5 reps
- Pike Push-Up: 10 rep
Repeat all 5 exercises back to back, no rest and that’s 1 circuit. Rest 45 Seconds then repeat. Complete 3-4 circuits.
Bodyweight Training Session
If performing a bodyweight exercise day on one of your active rest days you can use the same format as the HIIT Circuit above, but increase the repetitions and rest period. Perform 15-20 repetitions of each push-up exercise, 5-10 burpees, and rest 90-120 seconds between circuits.
Now it’s time to add some weight.
As with any exercise, the key to building muscle is through progressive overload. We are always striving to lift more weight. Placing our muscles under a constant state of tension is how we build muscle.
If you can bench 225 lbs, 10 times would you just continue to lift that weight 10 times every day for the rest of your life? No, you wouldn’t. At some point you would test your limits and throw some more weight on that bar.
The same goes for your push-ups. If you can do 10 or 20 pushups with correct form without blinking an eye then maybe it’s time to add some weight.
Adding some weight to your back, without compromising your push-up form, is a great way to make your push-ups more difficult, put the muscles under a higher degree of tensions, and build some serious muscle throughout your upper body. If it’s a Monday and the benches are full, complete 40-50 reps of weighted push-ups while you’re waiting for a bench to open to get you warmed up and ready for some heavy benching as soon as you hit the bench.
Push-Ups for Core Strength and Development
The push-up is also a great exercise to utilize for core work because the push-up position can be used for exercises that target strengthening your abdominals and obliques. Some simple, yet effective core exercises that incorporate the push-up position include:
Mountain Climbers – Start in a standard push-up position. Bring your right leg forward towards your body, bending it, as if you were trying to touch your chin with your knee, and then move the leg back to the starting position.
Repeat with the left leg and that counts as one rep. Alternate between your left and right leg at a moderate pace, keeping your core tight, and maintaining proper push-up position.
Knee-To-Opposite-Elbow Mountain Climbers – Similar to the standard mountain climber described above, except you will slightly twist your body when bringing your leg up, trying to touch your right knee to your left elbow. This slight twist will target your obliques.
Alternate between your left and right leg at a moderate pace, keeping your core tight, and maintaining proper push-up position.
Push-Up to Plank – Start in a standard push-up position. Bend your right arm down, bringing your elbow to the ground so the lower part of your arm is now touching the ground. Now, repeat with the left arm so your body is now in a plank position.
Hold the plank for two seconds, push yourself back up into the push-up position one arm at a time, and that counts as one rep. Repeat going up and down from push-up to plank position.
Ab Circuit Example:
- Standard Mountain Climbers – 30 Reps
- 10 Second Rest
- Knee-To-Opposite-Elbow Mountain Climbers – 30 Reps
- 10 Second Rest
- Push-Up to Plank – 10 Reps
- 10 Second Rest, then repeat 4 times
This is a quick, 6-7 minute efficient ab circuit that will get your abs burning. It highlights the versatility of the push-up.
Great Upper Body Finisher
Ending your workout on an upper body day with push-ups is a great way to keep the blood flowing and get a high intensity pump before leaving the gym. Once finished with your normal upper body lifts, complete your workout with 100 push-ups.
If you can do 100 straight push-ups then crank them out. You’re a beast. If not, perform 10-20 standard push-ups, rest 20 seconds, and repeat until you’ve completed 100. Depending on your type of split you can hit these 2-3 days a week, incorporating an additional 200-300 pushups into your training routine.
We Do Not Call Them Push-Ups, We Call Them Earth-Downs
There’s something sentimental about the push-up. Whenever I’m doing them I think back to those middle school and high school days when, in my mind, doing 10 pushups was like a world record and I’m able to evaluate how far I have come from those past days.
If you are just starting your lifting journey, perfecting the push-up teaches you how you using the mechanics of your body can help you build muscle. If you are an experienced lifter the push-up helps you reflect on where your own fitness journey started and how the simplest form of exercise can sometimes be the best. Either way, the push-up is not an exercise to overlook and should be a part of everyone’s exercise repertoire.