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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Atlas Pushup Revisited

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

It's been nearly a month since I first wrote about Atlas pushups, but now seems like a good time to take a second look at them. Yesterday I showed you how changing the relative height of your feet and hands could change the difficulty of a bodyweight exercise. I found a couple of videos that show this principle at work with Atlas pushups (all pushups, actually).

Here's the Atlas pushup as I described it in the earlier post.

You can do this with two chairs at home, but you can see how it lets your chest go below the level of your hands, which you can't do when your hands are on the floor.

Now look at this version.

Her feet are actually higher than her hands in this one, and the pushup is now much harder to do.

The easiest pushups are done by standing upright, with your feet maybe 18 inches from the wall, and your hands against the wall at shoulder level. The hardest pushups would be the exact opposite - your hands on the floor and your feet against the wall near eye level. This is called a handstand pushup.

I'm showing you a video of a woman doing these for two reasons:
  • I want you to realize that, although this takes a lot of strength, it is not beyond a woman's ability; and
  • I want you women to see that you can build up some incredible strength without turning into the Incredible Hulk.
I actually got to where I could do 35 of these when I was 48 (although I can't right now - gotta get back in shape!), and I didn't look like the Hulk either. But believe me, you don't have to get huge to develop a shape people notice.

There are other ways to adjust the difficulty of your pushups, but this should get you started.


  1. That does it - I'm not coming back here anymore !!! Geez - chicks doing stuff like that...ok...ANYbody doing stuff like that is pretty cool - especially the inverted pushups.

    My right elbow has been turned into spaghetti so many times that I can barely do pushups at the 45* angle anymore. Oh well.

  2. Hang in there, Court. I'm only going to cover resistance training until Sunday. Next week we move on to aerobics, diet, and golf-specific training... and none of that will strain your elbow.

    And remember: The key here is to improve your current strength level, not compete with anybody else. You can do "push outs" -- stand about arms' length from a wall and do pushups against it -- or you can do other exercises that work your chest, back, and triceps using self or imagined resistance. Go gently; it may take a bit longer, but who cares?

    And here's one other tip that may help you do pushups: Keep your elbows close to your body. (That's hard to do with handstand pushups, but they're a different animal anyway.) When you let your elbows "fly" during a pushup, it puts more strain on the joints. Keep them close to your side and you probably won't be able to do as many, but you're much less likely to hurt them either.

    Remember: The goal is to get stronger, not get hurt. Doing easier exercises may mean you take a little longer to get stronger, but it will get you there with less chance of hurting yourself.

  3. One other thing, Court... I have some recurring problems with injuries too. I've had my left shoulder messed up at least twice (I've been working my way through a minor case again over the last few weeks), sore knees a couple of times (injured by some over-enthusiastic cycling back in the late 80s), and some occasional soreness in my right hip (the result of over-stretching during Tae Kwon Do). However, they really only bother me when I let myself get out of shape. And here's what I've learned:

    When life throws me a curve where I can't work out the way I want, those injuries come back. But once I get myself back into a regular exercise routine -- not something difficult, just well-thought-out and regular -- the pains gradually go away and I get where I can do what I want.

    You have to remember that you don't get out of shape overnight, so it's going to take more than a couple of weeks to get back in shape. The reason most of us fail at shaping up is impatience; we work out too hard for a few weeks, injure ourselves, then sit down and do nothing. As a result, we get new injuries and never do anything to heal them.

    Don't let people like "gymgirl" in the videos intimidate or discourage you. Like Tiger, people like her show us what is possible -- sportswise, that is. ;-D

  4. I had a goal to do 20 men's push-ups and was well on my way until I was told to stop. The damaged discs in my neck caused my physician to ask me to stop. I have been seeing another physician (one that doesn't tell me to stop golfing and surfing!) and he knows I would like to get back to my push-ups goal. Wish me luck!

  5. By all means, good luck! And if I may make a suggestion... ask your doctor about maybe doing the Hindu pushups instead. They put less pressure on any one part of your shoulders and neck because of the constantly-changing movement, unlike regular pushups which focus the pressure in one direction. They may strengthen your upper body enough that regular pushups won't hurt anymore.