If I could only do one exercise for the rest of my life, it would be the pushup.
Maybe you hate them or you think you can't complete a single rep or you think being a runner (or a cyclist or a walker) means you only need to focus on your lower body. But it's time to stop considering the pushup an arm workout and start accepting it for the body-altering, core-strengthening move it truly is. You don't have to drop and give me 50; simply incorporating more pushups into your regular routine can help you reach all sorts of fitness goals, by helping you improve everything from your posture on your bike to your balance to your arm swing.
- Start on your hands and toes, in full plank position, with your hands slightly to the sides of your shoulders.
- Engage your core muscles by trying to bring your belly button toward your spine, then slowly lower your body toward the ground while keeping your neck and spine aligned -- no drooping allowed.
- When your chest is about the size of a fist away from the ground, slowly press back up to full plank position.
- Repeat! Try for 10 if you're just starting out -- or challenge yourself and see how many you can do before your form starts to falter.
If you're not quite ready for a pushup, there's no shame in taking a step back. In fact, I wish more people would give the modified pushup the attention it deserves.
Pushups are hard. That's why they're so awesome. But, like any challenging exercise, that means form is paramount. You're better off doing 10 modified pushups with perfect form than five full pushups with hunched shoulders or a drooping neck or hips. You'll work the same core, chest and arm muscles while relieving a bit of the pressure, allowing you to train safely. The same rules apply as above; instead, start on hands and knees (and don't cross the ankles).
In both a modified or full pushup, the wider you place your hands, the more you work your chest.
The closer to your body you place your hands, the more you work your triceps.
Once you've mastered the pushup, you can experiment with a whole bunch of variations to not only mix up a tired routine but also to work different muscles in different ways. Here are three of my favorites:
Pushup Variation #1: BOSU Ball Pushups
- Start by gripping the sides of the ball's platform, with the round side down.
- Perform your pushups as usual, trying to wobble as little as possible.
Pushup Variation #2: Renegade Row Pushup
- Hold the handles of two dumbbells.
- Complete one pushup, and when you get back to starting position, lift your right arm until the upper arm is about level with your back.
- Pause, then lower the weight back down and repeat with your left arm before completing your next pushup.
- Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together with each row, with as little sideways movement as possible.
Pushup Variation #3: T Pushups
- Complete a pushup as usual, and when you get back to starting position, rotate your body to one side into a side plank position with your arm extended (your body will form a T).
- Pause, then return to pushup position.
- Complete another pushup, then rotate to the other side.
What's your favorite pushup variation? Tell us in the comments below!
All photos by Damon Dahlen for The Huffington Post.