the simple pushup

The pushup is primarily an upper-body pushing movement. It involves you being in a pushup position plank and then getting your chest close to the floor (moving the body as one unit) by bending at the elbows and then straightening them out again. Crude but that's about it.

Photo by Jonathan Borba / Unsplash

It is a great strength movement because it is an expression of our body being well-knit and our core function being solid. A simple way to test it out is to lie down, face down. Keep your hands about shoulder-width apart and inline with your shoulders (or thereabouts). Plank! And push yourself up. If you came up in one piece, you are good!

but if you are wobbly

But if you come up all wobbly, or are not able to. Or if you don't have a 2-minute plank, then the pushup is not the best place to start things off.

The traditional approach to building a pushup is to make the angle easier. The floor pushup has your body at an angle of about 70-80 degrees to the floor. If you stand up and lean against the wall and make the angle 20-30 degrees, it becomes so much easier. The mechanics of the movement remain the same but it suddenly becomes extremely accessible.

Mark Sisson does a neat job of walking you through this approach.

But I am not going to go down that route, obviously. Instead, I am going to give you 3 alternatives to the pushup.

but why?

Our hunched posture is because of sitting at our desks, being a bit slouched and rounded our shoulders and upper back.

If we are doing pushups in our training, the simple advice Coach Dan John gives us is to do twice the amount of rows. But from what I've seen, people treat the row as punishment and not as the better movement to be doing.

A lot of you have also been off from strength training for a while and while you might still be strong enough to do pushups, your core and posture need work. The last thing you need is more pushing.

And for those of you who haven't done strength training in a while, the pushup might be a long way away. You should start off with the fundamentals, like the elbow plank and all that.

Instead, here is what you should do

While some of you will focus on the fundamentals and chip your way slowly and steadily (high-five!), most of you will just jump in and do pushups with poor mechanics and injure your elbow or something sooner rather than later.

Instead, I am going to give you 3 alternatives. The reasons being

  1. get out of your comfort zone.
  2. have fun.
  3. work on our hunched posture and improve it.
  4. improve our joint mobility.
  5. and improve our core as well, while we are at it. By working on it reflexively!
  6. improved diaphragmatic breathing, rather than the much harder skill of bracing and breathing behind a shield.

#1: The Hindu Pushup

The Hindu pushup is an amazing variation that has been traditionally in our country for a while. And is still practiced today by the millions of folks doing yoga.

It is phenomenal for joint mobility - the downward dog position where we start off will help you, amongst other things

  • work your ankle mobility and stretch your calves out.
  • improve your mid-back aka thoracic spine mobility. Most of us have poor t-spine mobility which causes us neck and lower back issues.

And from there, it takes us into extension i.e. the upward dog position which continues to reinforce joint mobility in the other end range, as well as stretch out things like our hip flexors which get too tight from all the sitting we do.

It is also guided by our eyes and head, which improves our vestibular system i.e. the system that provides us with our sense of balance and spatial orientation.

While we will squeeze our glutes as we transition into the upward dog position, we don't really need to brace our abs and stay tight and as one unit. This is a fundamental requisite to resistance training - the ability to tie our body together as one unit and create the tension that's required. In my experience, that's something beginners struggle with quite a bit. And by going this route and working on moves that challenge you reflexively and not "are you skilled enough to brace your abs and squeeze your glutes and breathe behind a shield", we work slowly at getting better.

#2: The Rocking Pushup

Another version designed to help you fix your posture. From start to finish, the posture is the opposite of our hunched posture. You start off in a rocking stance, initiate the push from your toes and try to get your chest as far in front as possible.

Since there's no tight glutes and abs, the core starts to fire brilliantly! It might take time but it will.

This can be easily regressed as well - you limit the depth to whatever is comfortable.

I've also found that this teaches proper pushup mechanics. You learn to keep your elbows in the right place and your shoulder blade movement is perfect. As long as you keep gripping the floor with your palms and work on the chest being forward.

For those of you with a lot of pushups, this will be rather restorative. And if you want a bit of a challenge, just get your knees off and do them.

#3: Crawl

My favourite move. I've found that this fixes a lot of things and highlights issues that we don't know you have. But without whacking you in the head but by gently coaxing you out of a poor pattern and into a good pattern.

Our posture is relaxed and yet in extension. The opposite of our hunched position that we find ourselves in almost all day. Our breathing is nice and relaxed.

We learn to initiate the movement from the foot and the force transfers through our lower body to our upper body, via the transmission.

Slow it down and find the various bits of wobbliness. Allow your stabilisers to kick in and do their job.

You can go forward and backward as well. Even laterally.

These 3 alternatives to the pushup will

  • make you stronger
  • improve your posture
  • improve your core
  • improve your breathing
  • improve your balance and vestibular system
  • and get you closer to a pushup as well!

If that's not enough, it will also spice up your training and add a lot of sensible variety to it.

Try it out and let me know how it goes.