Push-ups are an amazing exercise! They can improve so many different areas throughout the body such as.
Some of the positive effects from push-ups mentioned above may seem obvious. But for the ones such as the neck, core, hips, and body tension, let's discuss.
For the neck, when performing a push-up, the neck should remain in a neutral packed position throughout the movement as seen below. By focusing on maintaining this position, it helps to improve the stability of the neck, especially the deep neck flexors, which are major players in the health and function of the cervical spine.
Whether it be throughout daily life or various aspects of exercise, the deep neck flexors have a tendency to not function at a high level.
For the core, when performing a push-up, gravity is attempting to make your lumbar spine extend/hips drop down towards the ground. By bracing your core and maintaining a neutral spine, you are basically performing a moving plank when performing a push-up.
Push-ups can improve hip stability. Now, you may be wondering how an upper body dominant exercise can affect the hips. When you are bracing your core and using rectus abdominis/obliques to maintain a neutral spine, the gluteus maximus should also be contracting to help to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and in turn maintain a neutral spine.
Rectus abdominis, obliques, and gluteus maximus all act to posteriorly tilt the pelvis. By doing a push-up, this will help to maximize the muscle groups that work to improve the ability to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and in turn maintain a neutral spine for other weight training endeavors.
Lastly, by incorporating all of these areas together, push-ups can help someone improve total body tension. Total body tension is imperative to be able to attain during big lifts such as the bench press, deadlift, and squat, to name a few. By attaining total body tension, this allows movement to occur in certain areas during certain movements while keeping movement in other areas to at least, very minimal.
So, now that we have listed the multiple benefits of of the push-ups, many people mention that push-ups are not difficult for them. They can do push-up after push-up after push-up for days and not feel a "pump" or feel fatigued. You want to make sure that you can maintain proper form with a body-weight push-up before trying a more difficult version.
3 Ways to Make Push-Ups Harder.
1. Add some form of External Load.
Doing body weight push-ups can become obsolete for some people if they get to a point where they do not find the exercise difficult. Besides increasing someone's body weight to make the exercise more difficult, finding ways to progressively overload the exercise can become more challenging.
Instead of continuing to do body-weight push-ups, add some form of external load.
Whether it be using a weight vest, weight plates, chains, or resistance bands, these are great ways of adding external load to the push-up.
Out of all 4 ways of adding an external load, the chains and resistance bands are a nice tool because they use accommodating resistance. What this means is that as you lower yourself to the floor, the resistance will be the easiest at the most difficult point in the movement. The bands will have the least amount of resistance/the chains will be partly on the ground when you have to change from the eccentric to concentric phase of the movement and press back up to the starting position. The movement will then become harder as you continue to press because the bands will increase in tension or more of the chains will be adding weight to the movement.
With the weight vest or weight plate option, the load remains constant throughout the movement and in turn will be more challenging than chains or bands because the resistance doesn't accommodate throughout the movement. If performing with a vest or plate on your back is too challenging due to the constant tension, start with chains or bands first.
photo credit: exrx.net
photo credit: http://www.criticalbench.com/exercises/pics/band-pushups2.jpg
2. Elevate your feet.
Another way to make a push-up more challenging is to elevate your feet. Place your feet on a step, bench, or box. While maintaining good form, slowly lower yourself to the ground.
One mistake that people will make when the elevate their feet is that they try to touch their chest to the ground. The problem that arises is hyper-extentension through the thoraco-lumbar (TL) junction and lumbar spine in order to get the chest to touch the ground. Instead, slowly lower yourself until your face comes within an inch or two of the ground.
To make that version harder and you want to be able to go lower than stopping when your face reaches the ground, elevate your hands slightly on two Reebok steps, dumbbells, or the "push-up handles" that can be seen at various gyms.
photo credit: tonebodyfitness.com
photo credit: dickssportinggoods.com
Just make sure not to go too deep where the shoulders are hyper-extending and causing pain and irritation to the anterior structures of your shoulders. Stop when the elbows and shoulders are in line and the shoulder blades cannot retract any further.
3. Adjust the Tempo
The third way to make push-ups more difficult besides combining ways 1 and 2 are by adjusting your tempo/speed when performing push-ups.
You can incorporate Pauses a.k.a. Iso Holds in the bottom position for a certain period of time, ie. 2-4 seconds.
You can also add in Slow Eccentrics during the eccentric component of approx 5+ seconds.
Last, you can incorporate both Iso-Holds and Slow-Eccentrics into the movement.
Push-ups aren't sexy and they aren't usually thought of as an addition to most strength training programs, but they can bring up sticking points in certain bench or dumbbell pressing movements and can also help keep your shoulders from feeling cranky.
Give these a try and let me know what you think!
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