Why Push-Ups Should Be a Mainstay in Your Workout Routine
It seems like everywhere you look these days, there’s a new fitness trend or piece of exercise equipment. And perhaps you think of the classic push-up as an archaic exercise. Because let’s face it, it’s not one of those cool exercises that catch your eye when you’re scrolling TikTok or Instagram. But there’s still plenty of reasons to drop and do a set of basic push-ups.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of doing that basic push-up and making sure it’s a mainstay in your workout routines.
Why Push-Ups are Misunderstood
A lot of people tend to think that bodyweight exercises like push-ups or pull-ups are merely inmate exercises that should be left to those on the yard. After all, most of us have access to fancy equipment and can easily grab a barbell or a smith machine and do a bench press exercise. And a weighted exercise like the bench press must be better than a bodyweight exercise like the push-up, right?
Certainly, there is a benefit to lifting more weight. It stimulates the chest, triceps and shoulders more than a push-up will. But that doesn’t take away from the merit of the push-up. Rather, these two exercises complement each other very well.
It’s important to remember that there is more to weight training than the amount of weight lifted. In the case of push-ups, they provide the added benefit of increasing the level of exertion that your muscles experience. Because, at the end of the day, building muscle is largely dependent on creating muscle fatigue and exhaustion.
And another reason the bench-press and push-up complement each other so well is the amount of mobility involved. Consider this, when bench pressing from any position (flat, incline or machine), the shoulder blades are in touch with the bench which prevents the range of motion through the movement. And, while this does make it safer to perform a bench press, it doesn’t promote the development of the shoulders as well as the push-up.
Push-ups allow for completely free mobility. The shoulder blades will separate and protract and ultimately create activation of the serratus anterior muscles.
What If I Can’t Do A Push-Up?
If you can’t do a push-up with good form, rest easy knowing that you’re not alone! There are a lot of people who begin their fitness journey without being able to do a single clean push-up. We all start somewhere, right?
So, where should you start? The answer to that question is exactly where you are and practice the art of the push-up.
If you’re unable to perform a clean push-up from the standard position – with your toes on the ground and your hands about shoulder width apart – adapt exercise and form to make push-ups possible. There are two easy modifications you can make that will allow you to grow into full-range, standard push-ups.
The most common alternate push-up option: Start with modified push-ups, with your knees on the floor and your arms roughly shoulder length apart. While this is generally regarded as the standard modification to the standard push-up, it also has a downside. It can be very easy to cheat from this modified position, which will delay your ability to grow into doing full push-ups.
My favorite alternative push-up method: Start with your toes on the ground, but use an item to reduce the amount of space between your hands and the floor. Placing your hands on a barbell, dumbbells, or a bench will work great to make the exercise easier. And while the exercise is easier than the standard push-up, it is more difficult to cheat and you’ll become more used to the standard push-up, expediting the process of evolving into full-range push-ups.
What’s the Ideal Depth of a Push-Up?
The standard answer to this question is that you should be able to generate a full range of motion. Meaning, you should be able to push all the way to the top as far as your arms will extend, all the way down to about three inches off the ground. My general rules of thumb is to use a person’s fist or sponge and lower until you reach that point, then raise. This is a deep push-up, which will put a full load on body. Now, this is the standard answer… but it isn’t for everyone.
Everyone has a different body. If you have a history of shoulder injuries or experience pain while doing push-ups then you should not extend beyond the pain. If this is the case for you, be sure to consult with a physician on the proper amount strain to put the shoulder under.
How Many Push-Ups Should I Do?
Again, this is a question in which the answer is going to vary from person to person. But I believe most fitness experts would agree that the push-up is an exercise that revolves around volume. It’s not an ideal exercise to perform 6-8 reps of. So, if that’s where you’re at – continue to progress! It’s also not an exercise that you need to crush 100 push-ups at a time to receive value. The key is to find the rep and set ranges which push your body to fatigue.
A good target rep and set range would be 15-20 reps in at least three sets. Once you’re consistently knocking out multiple sets of 20 push-up reps, aim to increase the rep count or reduce the amount of time between sets. Each of these options will expose the muscles to reps and create more fatigue.
The Best Programs to Add Push-Ups To
Push-ups, like all other exercise, will give you the greatest benefits when you add them to your exercise routine intelligently. Push-ups, while they may seem basic, are still a pushing exercise that uses a pressing movement. These movements put stress on the shoulder joints. So, the first key is to ensure that the shoulder is ready to take on the load of the exercise. You can accomplish this through a proper warm-up, if you intend to perform push-ups at the beginning of your exercise routine. And/or you can warm the shoulders up by performing pulling exercises before performing push-ups. Lat pull-downs or rows are two great options of pulling exercises to perform before push-ups.
Keep in mind, if you do perform push-ups early in your workout, they can create fatigue before you reach other exercises, which may utilize more weight. While this can be a good idea for some goals, it can also be detrimental for others.
That’s why I recommend using push-ups as a finishing exercise – especially on chest day or upper body day. Finishing your workout with as many push-ups as you can will give you a nice pump, release hormones and give your body a metabolic kick.