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The Classic Pushup
Part 1 of 1
By: Jackie Wright

One of the most effective upper-body exercises that one can perform is the pushup. This exercise requires engagement of multiple muscle groups and uses your own body weight as resistance. All healthy adults should include pushups in their exercise regimens. As always, a proper warm-up should be executed prior to performing any exercise or exercise program.

Pushups, when correctly performed, work the pectoralis muscles as primary movers, the triceps and the deltoids, as secondary movers and the upper back muscles, including the rotator cuff, and the inner core unit muscles, as stabilizers.

The stabilizers are critical when performing pushups as these muscles prevent the lumbar spine from hyperextending. And, the stabilizers keep the shoulder girdle depressed which enables the pectoralis muscles to engage effectively.

The Classic Pushup:

  • Begin with the hands and knees on the floor, the hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart, the fingers facing forward, the arms straight but not hyperextended at the elbow joint, the eyes focused upon the floor and the head and neck in neutral (i.e. a natural extension of the spine).
  • Engage your inner core unit muscles by pulling your navel toward your spine, drive your shoulders away from your ears engaging your pectoralis muscles and tuck your toes under as you lift the knees off of the floor. Do not independently lift the buttocks. The body is one straight line from the top of the head to the heels.
  • Lower the body toward the floor flexing your arms at the elbow joint, without permitting the mid-section of the body to "sag". Once your entire body has lowered to the point where a baseball could fit between your chest and the floor, push your entire body back up to the beginning position focusing upon your pectoralis muscles not your arms.
  • Exhale as you pushup two slow counts and inhale as you lower the body down two slow counts.
  • Once you can perform one pushup perfectly, not permitting any break in your form; then, add another repetition until you work up to eight repetitions. When you can perform eight repetitions perfectly, then try performing 2/3 sets of 8/12 repetitions, 3 to 4 times per week permitting 30-60 seconds between sets.

Common Errors when performing the Classic Pushup

  • Rapid repetitions - Slow, controlled repetitions will build strength and endurance.
  • Dropping the head toward the floor - Keep the head and neck in neutral throughout.
  • Releasing engagement of your inner core unit muscles - The inner core unit muscles must remain engaged throughout to ensure stability of the spine.
  • Releasing engagement of the shoulder girdle muscles- To ensure safe and effective engagement of the pectoralis muscles, your shoulder girdle must be depressed (i.e. shoulders away from the ears).

Modifications to the Classic Pushup - If you are not quite ready for the classic, due to lower back injuries or weakness, shoulder girdle instabilities, including rotator cuff injuries, next week's column will feature wall pushups, elevated pushups and knees-down pushups.

Variations of the Classic Pushup - If the classic pushup is a cinch for you, next week's column will also feature challenging variations on the classic pushup.

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