Here at Schaefer’s Blog it is always my goal to share with you lessons I’ve learned in living life well. Staying physically fit is a key part of living your best life, something most people know, but not everyone lives out. In my own life, the days I skip out on the gym or running are the times I feel the worst, both physically and mentally.
Going to a military academy made it so that physical fitness was not just a nice idea, but a survival skill. Much of my freshman year was spent with my face on the ground in the push-up position, or “front-leaning rest” as we liked to call it. The quality of my day was directly proportional to how many times I found myself in this position. As much as I hated it, the push-up helped mold me and keep me in incredible shape. In the process, it also found its way into my heart as an exercise that while not flashy, gets results.
You can imagine my surprise then, when I recently saw a New York Times article entitled, “An Enduring Measure of Fitness: The Simple Push-Up,” describing the classic exercise and it’s relationship with complete fitness (Thanks Ben). In an age of 5-minute abs, high-tech gadgets and best-selling fitness books, it’s nice to see such a simple exercise taking back the spotlight. From the article:
The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness. It tests the whole body, engaging muscle groups in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. It requires the body to be taut like a plank with toes and palms on the floor. The act of lifting and lowering one’s entire weight is taxing even for the very fit.
“You are just using your own body and your body’s weight,” said Steven G. Estes, a physical education professor and dean of the college of professional studies at Missouri Western State University. “If you’re going to demonstrate any kind of physical strength and power, that’s the easiest, simplest, fastest way to do it.”
In celebration of the reemergence of the push-up I present quickly the why and how of this classic body sculptor.
Why You Should Be Doing Push-Ups
1) Strength and Endurance – Push-ups build strength not just in your chest and arms, but in your back, abs and legs as well. For anyone trying to improve their bench press, push-ups are a sure way to help get more plates on the bar. Aside from strength, by increasing the number of push-ups you do each few weeks you increase your endurance as well, both muscular and cardiovascular.
2) Age Fighter – Parker-Pope in the NY Times article explains, “Natural aging causes nerves to die off and muscles to weaken. People lose as much as 30 percent of their strength between 20 and 70.” I once had a middle school teacher that did 100 push-ups a day and had for the past 40 years. Age-wise he was over the hill, but his body made all of us macho-teenage guys hang our heads in shame. Push-ups had acted as an age fighter in his life.
3) Durability – If you do any physical activity at all the chances of you falling or running into something is quite high. Push-ups build up the strength of your arms and wrists making it less likely you’ll break something if that moment comes. More from the article, “’What so many people really need to do is develop enough strength so they can break a fall safely without hitting their head on the ground,’” Dr. Ashton-Miller said. “’If you can’t do a single push-up, it’s going to be difficult to resist that kind of loading on your wrists in a fall.’”
4) Do It Anywhere – Push-ups are awesome because they can be done anywhere and require no equipment or gym. For people who travel a lot and find themselves in airports and hotels frequently, push-ups can be the exercise that help them stay fit despite their circumstances.
How-to Do a Push-Up (Properly)
1) Lie Face down on the floor with your legs together. Put your palms on the ground just more than shoulder width apart.
2) Look out ahead of you, not down. Keeping your head up and looking ahead is harder, but a better body position.
3) While pushing yourself up keep your back as straight as possible. Imagine a board running down your back from your head to your toes. Don’t stick your butt in the air and don’t go the opposite direction looking like a seal with your back arched. Keeping your back straight is key in working out your whole body.
4) As you reach the top, take a breath and then start down. Lower yourself until your arms are bent at a 90 degree angle, but don’t let yourself rest on the floor. Lots of people let their chest touch the floor, but this is a weak way of doing push-ups and your cheating yourself if you do this.
5) Repeat until you can no longer push yourself up. Going to failure is extremely uncomfortable, but nothing else will give you a more accurate indication of where you are physically.
For pictures on these positions look here.
**Bonus Tip for those who made it this far: If you ever find yourself in a push-up contest the secret to outlasting the opponent is constantly switching the width of your hand placement. Start out normal, then try moving your hands out wider, away from your body, then back close when you get tired. By doing this you are using different muscle groups, the wider you go the more you use your back, the narrower you go, the more chest and triceps. Your opponent will most likely keep his hands in the same place, using the exact some muscles and will burn out much faster.
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