Beginner Pushups

Rather than create a strict, step-by-step pathway for going from zero to hero, (this has already been done by Paul Wade) I tend to divide pushups into four categories. The basic pushup, done on the horizontal plane, is the standard. Anything easier than that is a beginner pushup.

It is important to note that “beginner” is not a slur. It is a description. Beginner pushups are not just a scaffold to get you to the “real” pushups as quickly as possible. They are a tool for building a foundation of strength and resilience. It is easy to build greater muscular strength by working out, especially if you are young. However, muscles are only one part of the equation. The muscles are attached to the bone by tendons, and the bones move against other bones at joints that are held together by ligaments and cushioned by cartilage. All of these connective tissues must be strong and healthy to sustain the higher tension movements at more advanced levels. However, connective tissue adapts much more slowly to stress than muscle tissue does. This necessitates a slow, gradual buildup to higher tension movements, to give the connective tissues time to catch up to the muscle growth. This is where the beginner level exercises really come into their own. I recommend people who have not been working out regularly for the last year to take it easy and spend 6 – 10 weeks on the beginner movements to give your connective tissue time to build up.

What do the beginner pushups look like?

There are two general ways to make a pushup easier. The first is to reduce the length of the lever by doing “cobra” pushups or knee pushups.

I am not a fan of these methods, mostly because the point of the beginner movements is to train the same body mechanics used on the standard and advanced pushups. In my mind, changing the body’s internal position negates that purpose, so I don’t use that method.

Instead, I use the incline method. This is as simple as doing a real pushup with your hands elevated on a wall, box or piece of furniture. The higher the elevation, the lower the resistance. This provides a very easy way to increase the resistance gradually over time, by periodically lowering the elevation of the hands until they are on the floor.

Easy Pushups1
At this degree of elevation I am probably only pushing about 30% of a regular pushup.
Easy Pushups6
Closer to 60% of a standard pushup.
  1. Begin by assuming the front-lean-and-rest position. Your feet are on the floor, up to shoulder width apart. Hands are placed on the object, shoulder width or greater apart.
  2. Go over your Total Body Tension checklist:
    1. Legs straight and locked
    2. Glutes tensed
    3. Hips tucked forward
    4. Core tight but abs not sucked in.
    5. Chest, lats and shoulder engaged
    6. Shoulders sucked into sockets
    7. Grip the box as if you were going to tear a chunk out of it.
  3. Bend the arms and lower your chest until it touches the platform.
  4. Pause with chest just barely touching box and redo the TBT checklist:
    1. Legs straight and locked
    2. Glutes tensed
    3. Hips tucked forward
    4. Core tight but abs not sucked in.
    5. Chest, lats and shoulder engaged
    6. Shoulders sucked into sockets
    7. Grip the box as if you were going to tear a chunk out of it.
  5. Breathe out under tension and grip the box as hard as you can, raising your body under tension until your arms are straight.

 

Three ways of placing the hands:

Easy Pushups7

Hands are placed forward, with arms at 45 degrees from the body. The edge of the box contacts around the nipple line, or lower third of the sternum. This is the standard position, and generally distributes the force well between pectorals, deltoids and triceps. You must consciously engage your shoulders to keep them protected.Easy Pushups8Hands are further back and arms are slightly closer to the body. The edge of the box makes contact below the sternum. This puts more strain on the triceps, but the shoulder position is much stronger. This is an excellent arm position for training for the one-armed pushup.

Easy Pushups9

Hands are placed far back and the arms are tucked right up against the ribs. The edge of the box makes contact around the navel. This is a very difficult position, as it reduces the effectiveness of the pectoral muscles and increases the strain on the smaller triceps. This position and variations of it are important for training to achieve advanced movements like the planche and front lever.