I love pushups. I love to do them in my own workouts, and I love making my clients do them. Here’s why:
1. Mobility . Pushing your body up from the floor is an important move to able to do, for obvious reasons – especially as you get older. If you want to keep maximum mobility, you need to be able to move your body weight.
2. Upper body . While they are primarily considered a chest exercise, they recruit other upper body muscles , including triceps. Triceps are an underused muscle group in most daily movements, which is why most people have trouble isolating them when they first start working out. Any move that includes them is a good one, IMHO.
3. CORE . Along with upper body, your stabilizing core muscles jump into action during a pushup. If you’ve done basic , you know that they’ll get your abs burning (when done correctly). Now, think of that burn, and then imagine maintaining perfect plank form while moving up and down.
4. Form and kinetic chain coordination . My clients do a lot of pushups, regardless of fitness level. We’ll regress or progress them as much as necessary, but unless there’s a specific reason they shouldn’t do any, the pushup is a regular exercise for almost everyone who works with me. Aside from the combination of upper body and core work, the correct form of a pushup is one of the best actions you can perform for your body. Proper engagement of your kinetic chain during a pushup will train your core stabilizers to support you through daily repetitive movements along with tougher exercises. Learning proper core engagement can greatly reduce lower back pain.
And the final reason I love pushups? Plenty of room for creativity! There’s no need to stop at doing a regular, non-kneeling one. Each progression you do amplifies of all the qualities outlined above. Keep pushing yourself!
My favorite is on medicine balls. When I first started working out, I could crank out a few sets of regular pushups… but nothing like this. I saw an experienced trainer doing it and for a little while, the almighty Medicine Ball Pushup looked like the pinnacle of fitness. If only I could do that … I would officially be a badass.
I was psyched the first time I pulled one off. The best part was that it didn’t take too long – probably about 8 weeks. It could be more or less, depending on where you start. But no matter where you are now, there are stepping stones to get you there. Please give it a try – you’ll be glad you did! It’s a great motivational challenge and you’ll get plenty of impressed looks at the gym.
How to do Medicine Ball Pushups
1. If you can’t yet do a regular pushup…
No worries! We can get you there. Remember, proper form is what we’re after. If you can only come a few inches down to the ground, regress until you can go all the way.
A. Against the wall . This is the most basic pushup and requires little upper body strength, but it will get your body used to the basic motion. If you can do 15-20 with no problem, move one.
B. On a raised surface (Incline pushups). There will be several progressions here. If you’ve just mastered the wall, start with a higher surface like a dining room table. Again, make sure you are coming as far down as possible. Once you get to 15-20, lower the surface. You can use whatever you like – tables, stairs, chairs – as long as you progress the pushups by going to lower surfaces.
C. Kneeling . This is exactly like a regular pushup, but – wait for it! – kneeling. Self explanatory; however, it is often done incorrectly. The most common mistake is bending at the hips/butt in the air, which takes all the tension off your upper body and renders the pushup useless. Make sure your abs are tight and your back is straight. 15-20? Move along.
D. Basic pushup . Not much explanation needed, but again, watch your form ! If your back starts dipping, go back to kneeling. Build your way up to doing a full set of standard pushups. When you can do 15-20, move on to the balancing – this is where it starts getting good.
2. If you can do 15-20 regular pushups…
A. Bosu pushups . There are two ways you can do this. I’d suggest starting with the blue side up, because that gets your wrists used to the instability. Start with both hands on the Bosu and feet on the floor.
B. Double Bosu pushups . Keep the one Bosu under your hands, and add another under your feet. You can use a different unstable surface (even a couch pillow) if you don’t have access to two Bosu balls. This will be significantly harder than a single-Bosu pushup. Take your time getting to this point and getting the form right.
C. Black-side Bosu pushups . These are more unstable because the wobbly side is facing down. Start with just one under your hands, but if you have been successful in finishing as set of double Bosu pushups, you might not have too much of a problem going to the double-black-side pushups right away.
3. If you can do 15-20 double-black-side Bosu pushups…
A. .* Now, there are a few choices here. You can go back to having hands and feet on the ground and add in one medicine ball at a time, or you can keep the Bosu balls and build off of that. I would suggest keeping your feet on the Bosu and putting one hand on the ground and one on the medicine ball. Work your way up to a full set of these, but switch off the hand that is on the medicine ball.
B. Two medicine balls .* Have one medicine ball under each hand. Feet can be on the ground, but on top of a Bosu is better.
C-1. Three medicine balls .* If you haven’t already, ditch the Bosu. Put one ball under each hand. When you feel stable here, slowly put one foot on top of another ball. If you have been doing double-medicine-ball-Bosu pushups, the balancing shouldn’t feel that different. Switch off feet to get comfortable on both sides.
*You can start with the medicine balls under your feet if it feels more comfortable. I think hands are easier, but it’s up to you.
C-2. Three medicine balls and playing with weight distribution . This is where you can practice getting up onto four of the balls. When you feel comfortable with three, slowly pull some weight off of your grounded foot. Practice staying stable with only three limbs. Play around with this until it feels easier.
D. Four medicine balls!!! Here we are. Take your fourth limb and put a ball under it. If you’ve taken your time building up through these progressions, it shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re having trouble, go back to an earlier step and make sure your form is solid. Congrats on making it to this point!
I can’t tell you exactly how long it will take to get here, since everyone is starting from a different point. If you think it’s taking longer than it should, do some more resistance training for your chest and triceps and try holding long planks. I could do around 20 regular pushups when I started working towards this, and it took less than two months. Wherever you are right now, you can get here. Get ready to be known as “the badass” at your gym.