I love iron. I love to train with it. I love the way it feels when I lift it. Hell, I even love how it feels when I can’t lift it. However, and I am going to be frank here, what difference does it make if you can bench press 600 lbs but you cannot even do 20 pushups? Herschel Walker of NFL fame was reputed to have never touched a weight until college. Doing some research, I found a 1991 interview that more or less alludes to this. Here is a snippet from the article.
Herschel Walker: I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. My high school didn’t have a lot of money to afford a lot of the expensive weights. You know all this stuff. They used that as an excuse. I started doing push-ups and sit-ups during commercials as I was watching TV. And started doing about, sometimes 2,000 push-ups, 3,000 sit-ups, 1500 pull-ups, 1000 dips, or different things like that. I started creating different hand positions for all that, and I learned that could work you out.
This is humbling to say the least. The full interview can be found by clicking the link to it, located above.
However, before you go there let me say a few words about pushups.
Only recently did I start doing pushups. As fate would have it, I injured my right shoulder about 8 months ago and this injury forced me to curtail my strength training substantially. As of this writing I am still rehabing it.
The inability to do traditional strength training for my chest forced me to start doing pushups. Surprisingly, this has helped my shoulder quite a bit. Pushups involve a ton of stabilizer muscles that a standard Bench Press won’t touch. The serratus muscle group, for starters, never seem to get properly trained doing standard bench presses (if you are uncertain which muscles I am referring to, launch
Only military presses with a barbell seem to hit the serratus with any intensity, but then military presses don’t hit the chest, whereas pushups fire up both the chest and serratus. Not only that, but pushups hit the shoulders, the triceps, and….guess what else, the ABS. Pushups are a phenominal abdominal exericise!
As my shoulder improves I intend to do more pushups. At the moment, I am doing a wimpy 100 total pushups. I suppose at some point your body adapts as Walker’s seemed to do, allowing him to do 2000 in a day! What he does not say is how he did that. I would be interested in knowing whether these 2000 reps were done in one workout, or were they done cumulatively, in several sessions throughout the day where he did 500 a session? If anyone knows, please leave a comment. Moving on…
You may have heard it said that Barbell Squats are the king of free weight movements. I tend to agree with that statement. It is one of those rare exercises that can force the entire body to grow. But if what the say about Barbell Squats is true, then the same can be said for Pushups. It has to be the undisputed king of bodyweight movements, hands down. Especially when done correctly.
There are many versions and styles of pushups. The most common, and I believe the most effective, is the Standard Military Pushup. You know the kind I am talking about: Where you 1) Lie chest-down with your hands at shoulder level, palms flat on the floor and slightly more than shoulder-width apart, your feet together and parallel to each other. 2) Keep your legs straight and your toes tucked under your feet. 3) Straighten your arms as you push your body up off the floor. Keep your torso and legs rigid, your palms fixed at the same position and keep your body straight. Try not to bend or arch your upper or lower back as you push up. Etc., etc.
Granted, this seems easy on paper, and truth be told it is, if you do only one! But try doing 30, 40, 50 or more, and watch your chest, triceps, abs, thighs, upper back, forearms scream in agony as you go to failure. Trust me, there is a reason why our Military is so big on pushups. And there is a reason why Walker swore by them.
Of course, by doing things like varying the width of your hand spacing, changing the angle of your palms, adding bands to increase the resistance while preserving the biomechanical advantages of pushups over benchpresses etc., you can increase the overall physical development possible from this one exercise. By using a more narrow hand spacing, for example, you can increase the focus on certain heads of the triceps and reduce chest involvement.
Keeping good form assures that the abs will receive tons of stimulation. You can develop a tremendous set of abs from this one exercise alone, if done properly.
There are many variations of pushups out there, but this variety is tops in my book. So, set the barbells and dumbbells aside for a few weeks or maybe even a few months. Hammer away at your body with pushups and watch your body grow!
If you can’t set the barbells aside, mix the pushups into your program.