Pushing through the Push Up
& Other Goals Along the Way.
The power of a push up should not be underestimated! Not only is the push up convenient and equipment-free, it’s one of the best ways to shape your arms, shoulders, and back, and sculpt your entire core. OK, maybe you have bad memories of a gym teacher punishing you, shouting, “Drop and give me 20!” Or maybe, like me, you’ve just never been that good at them. Don’t let that stop you! I encourage you to challenge yourself with a few push ups each day. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll feel, and eventually how strong you’ll become, both in body AND in mind.
The Age Factor
Both men and women lose muscle mass as we get older, at a rate of about 5% each decade after age 35 (just ask the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research). There’s even a name for it: Sarcopenia. And guess what happens when we lose muscle? We gain weight! If we do nothing to increase our muscle mass as we age, we’ll start gradually picking up a few pounds every year, not to mention we become weaker and lose bone density, which can lead to injury and a host of other problems.
The good news is, that while we can’t stop the aging clock completely, there is plenty we can do to slow it down, at least where our muscle strength is concerned. The push up is a great place to start, from beginners to elite athletes, and for everyone in between. So let’s not make excuses that we are getting older. Let’s get up and do something to get stronger!
Push Up Variations
There are many ways to modify a standard push up, so you’ll be the best judge of where you should start. Begin where you can at least do a few good repetitions to the point where you feel fatigued – then progress as time goes by to challenge yourself a little more as you go along. Here are a few suggested push up variations for you to try (from easiest to hardest):
Counter Push Ups: On a kitchen counter or somewhere similar, place your hands shoulder width apart, focus on squeezing your back muscles together as you bend your elbows, like you’re holding an invisible tennis ball. Push up off the counter slowly, and then lower your body back down for 10-12 reps. Repeat 3-5 times (sets). If this offers you no challenge whatsoever, it’s too easy. Move to the floor.
Knee Push Ups: Like the counter push up, you’ll do the same movement, just using the floor (some call these “girl push ups”). Knees touching the floor, place your hands shoulder width apart, raise and lower your body for 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps. Again, you’ll get good at these eventually, so challenge yourself and move on.
Standard Push Ups: In plank position place hands on the floor, aligned with your shoulders and just slightly wider. Bend your elbows 45 degrees to lower your body until your chest is almost touching the floor, tucking your elbows in as you do. While you lower and raise your body, focus on keeping your core engaged, your back flat, and don’t let your hips sag. If you can do a few with proper form, work up to about 10-12 reps, repeating for 3-5 sets with a slight pause between each set.
Need more of a challenge? Tony Horton’s programs are full of push up/core strength variations you can do at home
PUSH Yourself Forward
If you’ve conquered the standard push up, there are countless ways to modify, and challenge you further. You can slow it down, change your hand placement, or alter the angles by using things like stability balls or a weight bench. The possibilities are endless – there’s the chair dip, stacked feet, wide grip, military, front clap, one arm, moving push ups, staggered arm, plyo push ups, and on and on. Of course, if all of that is too easy for you still – you can always do some handstands instead!
“There are no shortcuts for any place worth going.” ~ Beverly Sills
I’m not here to tell you that my push up form is a model of perfection (just ask my kids!). But I do acknowledge the need to keep active and to take care of the body that God has given me. At almost 50 years old, I can still push through and meet most of my goals for my health. By challenging myself to increase my strength and endurance through a simple old school exercise like the push up, I not only stay on track with my physical goals, but also with my mental self-talk (that I sometimes very loudly argue with).
No one is perfect, but we can set goals and get as close as possible, improving each and every day. I have apps on my phone for tracking my fitness, I purposely schedule time for my workouts, I check in with my accountability partner, and I continuously strive to reach beyond what I think I can do. I intend to keep going until I can go no longer.
If you’ve been shying away from push ups because you thought they were too hard, now you know how to modify them, and more importantly, why you should. Now there’s only one thing left to do: Drop and give me 20!
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~ Phillipians 4:13
Do you love (or love to hate) push ups? Share a comment below!