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Saturday, October 22, 2016

How to Adjust Push-ups for Your Strength Level (Video)

I'm a big fan of bodyweight exercises -- that is, exercises that use your bodyweight rather than individual weights or machines to provide resistance. They generally don't require any equipment (there are a few exceptions, like pull-ups) and they usually work a lot of muscles at once, so it's easier to work your muscles evenly in less time.

Ron Kaspriske at Golf Digest did this little video on how to make push-ups harder. I know that most of you need to make them easier! Don't worry, I'll tell you how that's done after the video. But the versions he does in this video -- which, yes, require equipment -- are pretty cool.

Alright, for the rest of you who have trouble doing push-ups, here is a quick course on how to adjust the effort level. Are you ready?
  • If you want to make push-ups HARDER, move your HEAD farther from the ground.
  • If you want to make push-ups EASIER, move your FEET farther from the ground.
Now let me explain that. It's much simpler than it may sound.

The basic push-up is done with your feet and hands on the ground. This is a medium level push-up. Let's say you want to make your push-ups easier. The easiest way is to stand up next to a wall and face it, take one small step backward so your toes are maybe 12-18 inches from the wall, and then put your hands on the wall and lean toward it.

Your head is now as high above the ground as you can get it, and this is a very easy-to-do push-up. (Perhaps it's more of a push-out. But it takes more strength than you might expect.) To increase the difficulty from there, you increase your forward lean so your head gets nearer the ground. At first you just move your feet away from the wall a little, but eventually you're going to need something flat to put your hands on to support your weight. So you can use the edge of the kitchen sink or a table, then move down to a chair seat, then use stairs or a footstool, and finally back down to the ground.

Some of you may remember the old Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. (Remember the ads in comic books with the bully kicking sand in the guy's face?) The cornerstone of the Atlas program was a push-up that used two chairs. You put one hand on each chair, which made the exercise easier than the "flat on the floor" version, but you lowered your body between the chairs so your chest could go lower. That increased the range of the motion so you got more good from the exercise. It's still a very good exercise to use as a basic piece of a workout program.

To make the push-ups harder, go in reverse but with your feet. Keep your hands on the floor but put your feet on the stool or some stairs, then on a chair seat, and so on until you're putting your feet high against the wall. These are almost the hardest you can do, and they're called handstand push-ups. (And yes, there's one version that's harder. It's called a freestanding handstand push-up, and obviously your feet don't touch the wall at all. Those are hard!)

Now, there's one other way to make push-ups easier or harder, and we used to mix these two techniques in Tae Kwon Do to build strength in different sorts of ways. You can do the push-ups on your knees instead of your feet, and then you can put your hands in awkward positions to stress different muscles. You'd be surprised how much strength you can build doing those... and yet even the students who hadn't done many push-ups before were able to do them.

BTW, that medicine ball push-up that Kaspriske does in the video? We got the same effect by doing knee push-ups while putting one hand close to our side and stretching the other hand much farther away. You can isolate individual muscles that way.

So that's your primer on push-ups. They're a convenient exercise that you can do almost anywhere... and now you know how to adjust the difficulty to fit your current strength level.

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