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Push Ups, Why and How

Over the weekend I was over in the lovely town of Westport in the West of Ireland teaching the Upper Body Mobility & Strength workshop in the shadow of the famous Croagh Patrick

croagh patrick

The workshop was organised by a lady who trains Kyokushin Karate. I’ve a great relationship with the Kyokushin federation here in Ireland as several of their top instructors and dan grades from the Dublin area train with me regularly. It’s nice that groups from outside of Dublin are now getting in touch.


But as they’re Karate, and all karate guys do push ups, we had a lot of chat about the humble Push Up exercise.

How to do it

Why we do it

How simply doing more push ups isn’t always the answer

A big part of the issue is that push ups are taken for granted. They are treated as something that is so simple, you can just drop down and crack on with them. That doing more of them is better.

Yet, that’s not the truth.

I see more crap push ups than I do good ones.

Sure, in my own past I’ve probably done more crap ones than I have good ones!

So lets look at what a proper push up is:

There’s a bit more to it than you first thought eh?

To reiterate the main points:

  1. Fingers point straight ahead

  2. Hands directly under the shoulders to create a vertical arm

  3. Posterior pelvic tilt (tight abs & glutes)

  4. Legs together

  5. Chin tucked and neck long

  6. Hands come into the armpit

Yes, you can start on your knees. Yes you can start with your hands up on an elevation, gradually lowering that elevation towards the floor (the Smith Machine is a great tool for this)

Once you can get to around 25 solid reps of this in a single set with no degradation on form, then you can start messing with other variations.

So thats HOW we do it.

Now WHY do we do it?

Push ups, because they’re so simple, require no equipment, little space and (as many thought) very little instruction. Thye’ve become a “thing”

A goal

An ends all to themselves whereby getting x number of reps is more important than how you get them or what you get out of those reps.

But, we don’t train to be good at push ups.

We use push ups to train our body to be stronger and more enduring for other endeavours.

So we want the biggest bang for the buck on every rep.

Hence the importance of good set up and good form.

Done in the manner described above you’ll work on core strength, you’ll hit the serratus anterior, feel the lats, get into the rotator cuffs, and of course hit the triceps, chest and anterior delts.

High reps done quickly (assuming form can be held) will bring power endurance. Slow reps will stimulate muscle growth, intra-muscle coordination and local muscle endurance (an important consideration when developing your cardio)

Low reps done explosively will build, well, explosiveness.

And so on and so forth.

So before just doing some push ups, take a moment to consider why we’re doing these push ups, what are we looking to get out of the push ups and what the big picture really is.

And never forget exercises, all exercises, are supplemental to performance. They are not the performance. Unless you’re doing a strength sport (Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Crossfit Games, Girevoy Sport and the like).

And then once you’ve got the basics dialled in fully, then you can have a bit of fun with them.

This is the second set of these (he didn’t have his caera ready for the first set!!) showing how we can play with varying the style on each rep:

But get the basics first.

And if you want more variations, you could take a look at my very first eBook (from 2009!! really must do an update) which has a host of bodyweight only, equipment free training ideas, you can get that here: 


Dave Hedges

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