The Ultimate New Year’s Resolution
“Why are push-ups so hard?” a new client to the studio recently asked me, saying it with a sense of genuine curiosity that caught me off guard, and I was embarrassed to say I would have to get back to him.
Unlike pull-ups, in which you are hoisting almost 100% of your bodyweight, the push-up requires you to only push up a portion of your body weight against gravity. It seems like it ought to be easier, but it isn’t. Over the years, I’ve asked myself, how would I measure it, which was the wrong question, because I don’t have a laboratory full of high tech equipment, like force plates that measure ground reaction forces, which is the force exerted by the ground on a body in contact with it.
It turns out right question to ask is “in push-ups, how much weight are you pushing,” and the right resource is The Google, which led me to a research abstract from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and an article from the “House of Hypertrophy” that nicely summarizes the findings.
In a traditional push-up, you press up 64% of your total body weight. For example: On the days when I weigh 180 lbs. (pre-weekend) a full push up has me lifting 115 lbs. from the floor, which is the equivalent to bench pressing two 58 lb. dumbbells. If you weigh 150, you would have to press up two 48 lb. dumbbells. And if you weigh 130, it’s two 41 lb. dumbbells to match the amount of body weight you would be lifting for a push up.
Interestingly, the amount of total body weight decreases to 49% when you put your knees down on the ground, which is why modified push-ups feel so much easier.
If you do a full push-up with your hands on a coffee table that is approximately two feet high, the percentage drops to 41%, which is why our trainers often start new clients by having them try wall push-ups, or push-ups with their hands on the Cadillac bed.
Increasing competency in the push-up is one of the best New Year’s resolutions you can make for yourself. Instead of giving something up, which often fuels a sense of deprivation, it’s a skill you acquire, an achievement that is all yours.
The feeling of achieving a full push-up can be transformative. When I was in my late twenties, living in Boston, I fell into a deep depression and really let my body go. One morning I got down on the floor to see how many push-ups I could still do; the total was 5, and they were really bad. This was one of several wake up calls I had that would convince me to get help and turn my life around. I made a promise to myself to do push ups as soon as I got out of bed every morning. I started knees down to work on my upper body positioning then went to knees off the ground. Over the last twenty seven years, I’ve improved. For an example of what my 5 push-ups look like now, click on the video link below.
Push-ups are something that you can build up gradually, starting with a wall, then a counter, then a coffee-table, then knees on the ground, then the full version. Here are the guidelines for good form:
- The body remains in a straight line from the heels to the head. No dipping forward of the head, sinking of the hips, or collapsing of the shoulder blades on the back.
- As you lower, the elbows continue to bend to your low point, which, at a minimum, is at least a 90 degree angle in the joint, and at a maximum is when your chest or ribs touch the floor, coffee table, or counter.
- As you press up, the legs, hips, ribs, shoulders, and head all rise together as one integrated unit.
Being able to do a push-up is more than exercise. It’s really about having the confidence to pick yourself up off the floor when life knocks you over. Knowing that you have the strength to push up, push back, and push out is empowering on so many levels, and if you are going to pick a goal to pursue in 2022, doesn’t it make sense to choose one that leads you to feel stronger, more capable, and more accomplished?
What’s even better, recent research suggests that there are significant benefits to “exercise snacking,” short bouts of exercises under 1 minute done multiple times a day. Make push-ups your favorite snack this year!
Best wishes to you for an amazing 2022,
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