The pushup. Everybody knows what it is and every athlete has at least one vivid memory attached to it. I personally have the memories of hundreds of pushups in a dim, sweaty hallway in College Station, Texas. To me, the pushup is a perfect exercise. It is one of the most modifiable exercises, rivaled only by the squat.
Pushups are a great tool for strength, endurance, mobility, explosiveness, and even core training. To highlight that and to kick off things at Stronger Faster You, my first series will delve into the pushup. The first article in the series will focus on the basics of the pushup: the muscles used and common applications.
The Basics of the Pushup: Part 1 of 6
The pushup is an exercise that uses the individual’s own bodyweight for resistance. The main muscles used are the pectoralis major and minor (chest), the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder), the triceps brachii (back of the arm), and the serratus anterior (upper back). It emphasizes shoulder flexion, elbow extension, and shoulder adduction. In that regard, it’s very similar to the bench press. But there are two major differences.
1 – The pushup allows full scapular (shoulder blade) mobility. This is important. During the bench press, the shoulder blades are pushed into the bench. That much is obvious. What isn’t is the effect that this has on shoulder mobility and the muscles of the upper back. During a pushup, the scapulae move though a full range of motion. They can be seen rising at the end of each repetition. During a bench press, this can’t happen and a lack of scapular stability may result. The lack of movement leads to weaknesses in the muscles of the upper back, which can lead to shoulder pain and money spent on physical therapy.
2 – The pushup can act as a supplement to core training. Think about it. In a perfect pushup, the body is held rigidly and moves as a single unit. If the hips sag or pike in the air, form is compromised. The muscles of the core must isometrically stabilize the body throughout the exercise to maintain proper posture. This is the same involvement that makes pull ups such a fantastic component of core training.
If you don’t believe me, go to a yoga class and watch a beginner struggle in Plank pose. (For the uninitiated, Plank in yoga is the beginning position of a pushup). Or, do some pushups and pull ups the day after starting a new abs routine when you’re incredibly sore. Not so easy, is it? Later on, I’ll delve into ways to make pushups harder on the core.
The pushup is also a major test of relative strength, as it uses your own bodyweight for resistance. If you have high relative strength you can easily knockout 40, 50, 60 or more (100) pushups. If you’re lacking in relative strength, pushups are a great way to find out fast.
So basically, the pushup is a bench press that can be done any where that also trains the core and promotes shoulder health. Not bad.