The 3 Secrets To Performing The Perfect Press-up
People find push-ups difficult because they use many different muscle groups and involve moving your bodyweight in a controlled way. The press-up can often be indicative of an individual’s athletic foundation — if someone can’t hold his or her body tightly in a straight line from ankle to shoulder and perform a push-up with full range of motion, it means there will be many weaknesses that translate into other exercises and sports.
Contrary to what many newbie gym-goers, and in particular women, have been told, you should avoid practicing a press-up on your knees at all costs. This will never translate into doing a full press-up!
The secret to being able to perform a proper press-up is focusing on “negatives,” where you practice a downwards-only motion, often as slowly as possible. Negatives use eccentric contractions, which build strength faster than their concentric, or positive, counterparts. They also teach the nervous system to stimulate muscle fibres more effectively.
If you do your press-ups correctly, you are going to be strengthening your whole core as well as your entire upper body… so it pays to do it right!
Avoid a sagging back
Just like with the plank, Press-ups are another popular exercise I see frequently done wrong by people at the gym. By guys, in particular, I usually see it being done with your back sagged.
This decreases the range of motion, which makes it easier and means there are no core strengthening benefits of the movement.
Three steps to perfection
If you are someone that has always struggled to do a full press-up or have noticed that your technique is not as good as you want it. I have devised a three-step plan to the perfect press-up, which I have called my “Press-up Progression List,” and yes, it does include some negatives. With practice, it will get you performing push-ups that you will be proud of.
1. Incline press-ups
You’ll need something raised for this, like a box, to rest your hands on. This is going to make the exercise slightly easier, but it is really important that you still do full range of motion – and by that, I mean going all the down until your chest is parallel to your hands.
From a strong core position, your aim in this exercise is to get your chest to touch the box, inhaling as you go down and exhaling as you come back up. You want to aim for 3 to 5 sets of 10 reps.
You’re training the nervous system to recruit those muscle fibres in that position. it’s important to fully extend your arms back up on each movement because that way you’re training your elbow socket and joint.
As you get better at this exercise, you can lower the height of the box you use, getting you closer and closer to the floor.
Next up, you will be moving on to “negatives” (or eccentrics), which really is the secret to a true press-up!
It basically involves lowering yourself as slowly as possible and then getting back up any way you can.
In order to do this, you need to get back into your press up position, squeeze your glutes, and engage your core. Then as slowly as possible lower yourself – taking about 10 seconds — to the ground. When you get to the floor, drop your knees, lift yourself up, and repeat. Aim to do this for 5 reps and between 3 to 5 sets – trying to make each negative last for 10 seconds. Above all make sure your chest is going down first – in other words, don’t lead with your pelvis.
3. Hollow plank
So, as well as training that bottom position with the negatives, you also need to train that top position – so you are really strong in with your plank at the top of your press-up
The final step is to practice your hollow plank — which I do in a very particular way — that activates your muscle set better.
Contract your abs as hard as you can. By that, I mean tense as if someone’s going to punch you in the stomach. Then drive your abs down, push your elbows back, tilt your hips, squeeze your glutes, and push yourself away from the ground. Again, you are aiming for 3 to 5 sets of this exercise and trying to hold this hollow plank position for between 30 – 60 seconds, depending on your ability level.
The key to success… consistency!
If you want to perfect your press-up, you are going to want to start incorporating these 3 exercise movements into your strength training programme, 1 during each of your 3 weekly workouts.
As long as you’re consistent, I promise you will end up getting that full press-up and it will look so impressive.
But also remember, performing the occasional press-up here and there in the odd HIIT class isn’t going to cut it. You need to be practicing them (and these 3 exercises) 2 to 3 times per week, gradually increasing intensity – reps, sets, time etc.
Once you have got that perfect press-up, it is going to look so impressive and you will notice just how many other people around you are not doing their press-ups correctly. With the knowledge you can take from my Press-up Progression List, you will be strengthening your entire core and upper body and forming the most solid foundation for your strength programme!
This article was originally written by Rosie Fitzmaurice for Business Insider. The full article can be seen here.