By Dr. Mercola
A push-up not only helps you to get a stronger upper body, but also a stronger midsection. It incorporates the stabilization muscles of your core, combining an upper-body pushing movement with a plank. It is, in fact, one of the best and most basic exercises for your midsection.
According to The Post Game:
"Push-ups are a higher value plank. You're not only strengthening your abdominals by holding them still while gravity's trying to push your hips towards the ground, but you're also strengthening your upper-body pushing muscles: your chest, shoulders and triceps."
Take a look at the video above to learn how to do the perfect push-up.
Indeed, push-ups don't just give you a stronger upper body, they also train your abs—as long as you're doing them correctly. Normally the accompanying videos to the article are useful to view but this video is imperative as Darin actually demonstrates the techniques described below and, as has been said for nearly a hundred years now:
"One picture is worth a thousand words"
Here, Darin Steen demonstrates the perfect push-up, and goes through the three key strategies for building great abs:
- Proper form
- Alternating your technique to target different muscle groups
- The progression of exercises so that you can get stronger and gain muscle
Proper Form is Crucial to Avoid Injury and Get the Benefits
Common mistakes most people make when performing a push-ups include:
- Going too fast
- Using only partial range of motion
First, slow it down and use a three-second contraction. Try to really feel the muscle groups you're targeting, and do a full range of motion; starting all the way down at the floor and pushing all the way up.
Pay particular attention to the alignment of your elbows. The ideal angle from your sides is about 45 degrees. This allows you to effectively work your chest muscles.
I recommend watching Darin's demonstration of the proper form, but here's a summary of key points to remember:
- Keep your body stiff and straight as a plank
- Elbows at a 45 degree angle from your sides
- Breathe in on the way down
- Lower your body all the way down, allowing your sternum to gently touch the floor
- Breathe out on the way up
Techniques for Targeting Different Muscle Groups
Push-ups are traditionally used to work your chest muscles, but by altering your technique slightly, you can work different muscle groups, including your abs.
But first, you need to understand the structure of the abdominal wall.
Your transverse abdominis (TVA) is like an inner sheath that holds your gut in place. On top of that are your internal and external obliques, and on top of that, beneath your skin, is your six-pack rectus abdominis. You also have lower pelvic muscles that are responsible for sexual function and elimination of urine at the bottom of the abdominal wall. On top, you have the diaphragm.
The technique Darin demonstrates allows you to focus on and really feel those abdominal muscles at work while you're doing the push-up.
Here are two key points:
- While in plank position, pull in your bellybutton. Your bellybutton is attached to your transverse abdominis, that inner sheath that holds your gut inside and gives your spine and vertebrae a nice, weight belt-tightening type of support. So by pulling it in, you begin to contract that deep inner transverse abdominis muscle.
- Next, do a Kegel squeeze. More women than men might be familiar with this term. A Kegel squeeze is performed by drawing your lower pelvic muscles up and holding them up high and tight. For men who aren't familiar with that term, it's similar to trying to stop urinating in the middle of the flow. This squeeze will allow you to feel and focus on your abdominal muscles.
If you want to work your six-pack rectus abdominis muscle, drive your chin down toward your toes while you're focused on squeezing your bellybutton in.
These techniques are very effective, and will build the deep inner core muscles that lay the groundwork for that six-pack look. Keep in mind however, that in order to really get "six-pack" abs, you have to shed fat. Men need to get their body fat down to about six percent, and women around nine percent in order to achieve that classic six-pack.
How to Progressively Get Stronger and Build Muscle
Using a progression of exercises can help you focus on the abdominal techniques described above while stimulating the muscles in different ways.
You're probably familiar with the advice to avoid doing the same exercises all the time. You need to "confuse" the muscle to keep building it. Darin demonstrates several unique techniques to accomplish this, no matter what level you're starting out at.
How do you know when it's time to progress to the next level?
Once you can do 12, 15, or 18 repetitions for two or three sets, move on to the next level or technique.
First, if you're just starting out doing push-ups, you may want to begin by keeping your knees on the floor. Bring your heels up toward your buttocks, and keep your body straight. In this position you can still pull your bellybutton in and perform a Kegel squeeze to work those deeper ab muscles. Remember to go slow and use full range of motion, allowing your chest to gently touch the floor. By pulling your elbows closer to your sides, you can place more focus on your chest muscles.
Once you can comfortably perform about a dozen push-ups this way, advance to the regular push-up technique, keeping your legs straight and balancing on your toes.
A more advanced technique that will improve the strength and grip of your hands is to do push-ups off your fingertips.
Another advanced technique is to do push-ups off an unstable surface. Two medicine balls will work well for this. Place the palms of your hands on top of the balls and perform the push-up from there.
The next progression could be to put your feet higher than your hands. This will put additional weight on your chest and ab muscles. Find a bench, stool or other level surface that is about 12-16 inches high, and with your feet on this surface, perform your push-up.
If at any point you find the push-up causing pain in your wrists, simply use a couple of light dumbbells. By gripping the dumbbell instead of having your palm flat on the floor, your wrist will stay nice and straight, preventing painful strain.
Lastly, here's a very advanced technique called a push-up dumbbell row. This will give you great ab development!
In his demonstration, Darin uses 20-lb dumbbells, but you can start at a weight suitable to your current level of strength and fitness and progress into higher weights as you go along. Place the dumbbell's at a 45-degree angle; pull in your bellybutton; draw up your lower pelvic muscles (Kegel squeeze), and breathe in as you lower your upper body to the floor. Breathe out on the way up, and once your arms are in the fully extended position, perform a row—pulling the right dumbbell up toward your chest.
On the next push-up, pull up with your left.
This technique will work your abs from side to side, and target those deep core muscles as well.
Push-Up Plyometrics—A Mini Sprint 8 Exercise
To further stimulate the muscles of your core, try push-up plyometrics. Plyometrics are quick, explosive types of movement. To do a plyometric push-up, once your sternum touches the floor, hold your position and breathe for about three seconds, then perform an explosive push upward.
Another technique called the three-minute push-up challenge is extremely challenging, but delivers fantastic results.
It's quite simply, how many push-ups can you do in three minutes?
You need to have good technique, good form, and a strategy. If you go all out you'll lose your energy and likely won't last for three minutes. So go at a pace of about 80 percent of your total ability, and when you can't go any further, rest for 20-30 seconds; stretch, and then resume.
The last technique is super-advanced and works your shoulders, triceps and core—the handstand push-up.
Facing a wall, place your hands at a 45 degree angle about one-to two hand-lengths from the wall. Kick your legs up. You can use the wall to stabilize you as you perform the push-up. Breathe in as you lower yourself to the floor, and breathe out as you push yourself up.
Again, I recommend you watch the video to really get the proper forms and techniques before you try these on your own. It'll definitely keep you from wasting time and effort on ineffective technique.