Push-ups became the workout they are today thanks to wrestler Jerick Revilla, who reportedly performed 4,000 reps of the move every single day. That was back in 1905, but more than 100 years later (when COVID-19 has prompted us all to rekindle our love with bodyweight workouts that can be done in the living room), Google searches for “how to do a push-up” are on the rise.
Maybe we’re not all emulating Revilla and repping in the quadruple digits, but with the “see 10, do 10” challenge spreading across the internet like a wildfire, and the folks of TikTok inventing creative new twists on the staple exercise, there’s no question that the push-up is having a capital-M “Moment.” And New York City-based trainer Tatiana Lampa, NASM, says that many folks are probably falling back on push-ups right now because the mechanics of the move are deeply embedded in our memories. “I think because we’re taught push-ups as early as kindergarten, everyone is familiar with them,” says Lampa. It’s true: The Society of Health and Physical Educators considers push-ups an essential resistance training “benchmark” for kids in the third through fifth grade and “right angle” push-ups are one of the key parts of the Presidential Fitness Test.
What earns push-ups their clout and wide-spread recognition? Lampa says it’s hard to say exactly. They can’t fall into the category of full-body moves since they only work your triceps, chest, and core, but they can be done anywhere with absolutely no equipment. (I once sat next to a guy on a plane who did push-ups in the aisle every 20 minutes.) Studies have also suggested that push-ups offer more cardiovascular benefits than cardio. Which, in a time when we’re all staying inside a lot more, is a serious asset in a workout.
Trainer Charlee Atkins, CSCS, adds that push-ups’ current virality might just be the result of people having no idea how to work their upper body without gym equipment like the lateral pull-down machine, the rower, or the chest press. Quite simply: “People are most likely selecting a push-up as their upper body exercise because that may be all the know how to do,” she says.
How to do a push-up the right way:
While any type of movement is better than none at all, there’s a definite danger in leaning on one move—particularly something like the push-up where form can quickly become compromised. “Push-ups are only a great workout if you are doing them correctly,” says Atkins. “If done incorrectly, they are a great way to potentially injure the shoulder and the lower back. They are an upper body workout, but they moreso require total body strength and synchronization.”
Lampa, who’s also a corrective exercise specialist, echoes Atkins: push-ups are a great addition to a holistic workout, but they aren’t the be-all, end-all. “I think over time too many push-ups can lead to overtraining the chest,” says Lampa. “I would love to see more of a posterior chain challenge like pull ups, deadlifts, or hip thrusters.” As the name suggests, push-ups are a movement that involves only pushing, and the most effective and safe training plans contain equal parts push and pull.
With all those caveats in place, both trainers add that they’re excited that bodyweight moves are making a comeback in such a big way right now. “When I train my clients, we have to first master the bodyweight exercises before we can progress to adding weights. Now that everybody is working out at home and being pushed into getting creative with bodyweight, I think it reinforces doing exercises properly, which should be the number one goal for everybody: proper form and execution,” says Atkins.
You can have your push-up challenges—just make sure they’re not the only COVID-19 workout you’re doing.
Master the tricep piush-up:
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