Here's Why Pushups Should Be Part of Your Strength Training Routine
Learn how to start doing pushups and how to slowly and safely add variety to your pushup game.
As I sat lazily watching television earlier this week, my son came in the room and randomly started doing pushups, using the couch and the ottoman as his platform. He’s been doing them for a few years as part of his elementary school gym class, and his form has gotten better and better. I was blown away by the depth he was getting on his pushups compared to years past.
“Dad, I’m masters level now,” he told me. As a lover of bodyweight fitness, it was a proud moment. He was so excited about his progress, he wanted to do a pushup workout with me.
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My son’s enthusiasm about doing pushups inspired me to write about them this week. Pushups are one of the best starter exercises for people at any fitness level, whether you’re five years old or 50. But just why are they so great? And how can you get started with them?
Four Reasons Why You Should Do Pushups
Pushups Work Your Upper Body and Core
Compound exercises are ones that work multiple muscle groups. Pushups fall into this category. The primary muscle targeted by pushups are your chest muscles, but they also work your shoulders, triceps, abs and lower back. You might even feel them in your legs, as they help stabilize you during the movement.
Pushups Can Be Done Anywhere
Just like bodyweight squats, pushups require no equipment. This gives them an advantage over my favorite bodyweight exercise, the pullup. Whether you’re away from home on business or pleasure, in the park or out at a fancy restaurant, pushups are always an option. Well, OK, maybe not out at a fancy restaurant. But I have done pushups at work before, and people thought I was only marginally crazy.
Pushups Can Be Done Every Day
Yes, I’m saying you can do them every day, if you so choose. While I’m a big fan of resting your body in between strength workouts, some people do prefer to do some for of strength work every day. Pushups are great for that, as long as you don’t overdo it. You can spread out the volume, as seen in this explainer from Athlean-X.
Side note: I don’t recommend doing pullups everyday. I tried this for a while, and I ended up with golfer’s elbow!
You Can Win a Pushup Contest
OK, so this one’s a little silly, but you never know when a pushup contest will break out, right? And based on Ashton Kutcher’s experience, you definitely want to be ready.
How To Get Started With Pushups
I would start by simply trying to do a basic pushup. Warning: prepare for the potential of falling flat on your face.
If you’ve established a base of strength previously using weights, you may be able to do this. For many people, however, a full pushup won’t be possible. That means you need to start with a progression. Most bodyweight fitness experts suggest a progression along these lines:
This video from Hybrid Calesthenics does a great job explaining the standard progression.
Even if you feel like you’re already strong from using free weights, I suggest incorporating pushups into your routine, as it’s good to challenge your muscles in different ways and it’s an exercise that is available to you anywhere.
Whatever the case, start slow and focus on maintaining the proper form. One of the joys of bodyweight fitness is the sense of accomplishment you get from going through progressions. There’s no reason to rush. Build up the number of reps on each progression until you’re able to move to the next one.
Pushups are like any classic bodyweight movements—there’s a number of variations and progressions you can’t achieve. Here are a few of my favorites to try after you’ve mastered the basic pushup (videos linked for each):
Decline Pushups: These target your upper chest a bit more than the basic pushup. They’ll require something like a box, chair or bench to put your feet up on.
Diamond/Close Grip Pushups: These give your triceps more emphasis than the normal pushup.
Wide Grip Pushups: These target your chest more than doing a normal pushup. I like to think them as the pushup version of doing dumbbell flyes.
Spiderman Pushups: These further engage your core, and get your hips and legs a more involved. They’re great for hip mobility.
Single-Leg Pushups: Want to bring your glutes and hamstrings to your pushup party? Try these.
Deep Pushups: These can be done with parallettes, blast straps, boxes or chairs, and allow you to get deeper in the pushup motion, further working your chest, shoulders and biceps.
When I’m doing a workout involving pushups, I like to mix and match these different variations across my sets, as they give your muscles some variety and challenge you in different ways. Feel free to experiment!