Strength Benefits of Push Ups for Young and Old
Start using push ups in your workouts again! Push ups are one of the best exercises for developing size in the chest and upper body strength while providing different variations to target even more adaptations.
You probably didn’t think about push ups as a speed exercise or maybe a balance exercise did you? There are a lot of factors that go into why you should be doing a specific type of push up and we will get into that in the next section.
Many people will rag on push ups or not include them into programming because they are hard to load or they think there are more benefits from other movements. This is true, but only for certain adaptations. In terms of absolute strength and power development, you might find that building your bench press will help you achieve your goals better than push ups will. So in this article, we will take a look at who should perform push ups and what kind of push ups you want to do to get certain adaptations.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Factors That Affect Push Ups
One of the biggest factors that affects how you will adapt to push ups is going to be your overall training level. Training level just means how you are using push ups in your workout routine and when. It could mean that you are doing push ups as a final accessory just by themselves or maybe you are using them as a super set to another movement. How you incorporate push ups into your workouts will play a role in what they do for you.
Your training age is how long you have been consistently doing resistance based training. Training age is not your actual age, it is the number of years that you have been training. So funny enough, a 30 year old male that has only been lifting for 5 years has a lower training age than a 25 year old female that has been training for 10 years.
Training age will be a factor for push ups because push ups may be beneficial earlier on in the training lifecycle and start to taper off as you might need more intense movements. Training age will also determine how many push ups you can do and which variation you should be doing based on your specific goals and target adaptations. You may need a different type of push up to gain more muscle mass or speed, which we will get into for the last section.
Maximal Upper Body Strength
With push ups, they might not work to help increase a 500 lbs bench press that much. Although if someone that is weaker in their chest and arms needs something to help break a plateau, then push ups will provide solid benefits. Especially in young athletes (less than 12) where they might not have been exposed as much to weight training and they are not at the point to start using a barbell or very heavy dumbbells. Understanding the maximal load that someone can handle will determine whether push ups are a good fit for their programming.
Weaknesses and Imbalances
Since push ups are mainly a body weight exercise and can be modified further, we can take a look at whether push ups would be beneficial for someone that has weaknesses or imbalances. Even coming back from injuries, push ups can be used as a rehabilitation exercise that reinforces proper pushing technique.
Even if an athlete doesn’t have an upper body injury, they just might have a general weakness. This could be in the shoulder, chest, or triceps. If you are chasing after a certain adaptation, you should check out the last section of this article where we cover different types of push ups for different goals.
Benefits of the Push Up
If we were to take a female athlete that can bench press over 200 lbs or a male athlete that can bench press over 500 lbs, these would be elite levels of strength speed. Although, they might not be efficient in speed strength - as in moving quickly and efficiently to produce force.
With push ups, we can target adaptations to increase the speed of our upper body with something like a clap push up or a gorilla push up. By increasing our speed strength with accessory variations, we can in turn increase our strength speed which leads to greater overall power output.
When training as an athlete, you need to understand that the rate of force development is going to win in almost every sport you play. So if you are faster, twitchier, and more explosive, you are most likely going to perform at a higher level. That is where the factor of neural drive comes in. By using explosive push up variations, you are engaging that neural drive to recruit more high threshold motor units and become more athletic as a whole.
Stability and Balance
Believe it or not, push ups are great for improving and stimulating the core muscles. Since you are starting in a plank position, it only makes sense that push ups would improve your stability. But stability in the core is not the main type of stability you are looking to target with push ups.
Shoulder stability is going to be the main benefit that you get from doing something like a slow eccentric push up or maybe a push up on some hanging rings. If you are struggling with a movement like incline bench press, dumbbell press, or a jerk, push ups will help you build stability in the upper body and make you less shaky.
Just how we talked about weaknesses or injuries in the last section, we bring that into this topic of push ups aiding in rehabilitation. Your own body weight is enough load and stress to put on the arms when it is weak and unstable. With this being the case, push ups are a great tool for people that are coming from shoulder, chest, or tricep injuries to take safe steps back to where they were.
Even in weight loss rehabilitation, push ups can be a great introduction to a healthier lifestyle. Push ups are a great way for people that want to lose weight, but have not trained much before and are intimidated by gyms, to work on improving different parts of their body. By starting with a traditional push up and proper form, those that are trying to lose weight and enter the culture of fitness can reduce the barriers of entry.
Best Types of Push Ups
Gorilla Push Ups
Gorilla push ups are going to be one of those variations that hones in on speed strength but still make you swole af. This push up variation takes a bit of technical coordination, so make sure to master the traditional push up first. To do gorilla push ups, you’ll need a thick bumper place or a 4-6 inch box to push off from.
The starting position of this variation is not the standard plank position for a regular push up. You will start down at the floor with one hand on the plate and the other hand off the plate beside it. You will then push up and then move the grounded hand onto the plate, while simultaneously moving the elevated hand off of the plate to the ground. Then keep switching back and forth in a lateral movement. You can do 3-4 sets of 10 to 12 reps for a start to target some pre-fatigue before a big chest day.
Diamond Push Ups
Another great push up we love to use that focuses on a specific adaptation is the diamond push up. You might have already heard of this one before. This push up is meant to specifically isolate the triceps and less on the chest.
Instead of a shoulder width arm placement, you will keep your hands together to create a diamond shape, hence the name. Then you will complete the push ups as you normally would, making sure your elbows stay neutral. If you have a hard time balancing or doing diamond push ups, close grip push ups are a great alternative to focus on the triceps. This is a regular push up except you will keep the elbows squeezed to your side so that the angle of your arms puts more stress on the triceps rather than evenly distributing your weight with the chest.
Ring Push Up
Another advanced push up will be the ring push up. Doing push ups on rings is really going to test your balance and shoulder stability. If you have very weak and unstable shoulders, I would not recommend jumping straight into this exercise. Start with just doing plank hold for 30-45 seconds on the rings to help you learn how to engage your core muscles and focus on proper form. Once you feel stable enough and have established solid shoulder stability, you can experiment with controlling yourself down and pushing back up. Start small, but then try to work up to 4 sets of 8-10 reps.
HandStand Push Ups
The last of our favorite push up variations is the handstand push up. Yes, I said it…handstand pushups. These are going to attack your entire shoulder and help build those massive capped delts. Again, this variation is not for beginners since it’s not a very basic push up. Handstand pushups are last on the list because you should be able to master all the previous variations and proper push up form before attempting these.
Handstand push ups require a high level of core strength and shoulder strength. But once you’re ready to attempt these, start in a handstand position up against a wall or use something like push up bars so you can maintain a neutral hand stance. Like any push up, lower yourself down with control and push back up once your elbows are at 90 degrees or slightly passed. Do not bang your head on the ground to help push yourself back up like a crossfitter unless you want to risk a spinal lol.
Push ups should not be ignored! Regardless of your age, training level, or goals, there is a push up variation that can benefit you. Just make sure you understand what you are training for and the level of training you need. If you are an elite athlete, challenge yourself to new types of push ups that will target specific areas you want to improve. If you are just starting out or rehabbing an injury, start with the basics and continue to test your limits as your body adapts.
If you want to see more types of push ups and see which ones are right for you, sign up for the Peak Strength app. We created the Peak strength app to provide the same training that our world level athletes use directly in your pocket no matter what resources you have access to. Become a champion anytime, anywhere and I look forward to hearing about your progress. Peace out freaks!
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Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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