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Beginner Push for Paleo Fitness: The Push-Up

Is the push-up the perfect primal exercise? In many ways, yes, it is. It hits hard not only the primary pushing muscle group — chest, triceps, and shoulders — but also many unsuspecting parts of the body, such as the abs. It can be easily scaled to accommodate all strength levels, and it’s perhaps the most shoulder-friendly pushing exercise.

Unfortunately, many people discount the push-up because they feel it’s too easy; they think there isn’t as much to be gained with the push compared to lifting weights. They’re wrong. You gain strength from working against resistance. Whether that resistance is your own body weight or external weight is irrelevant. Your muscles don’t know the difference. Neither does your brain.

Yes, the push-up by itself can take you only so far, and if you can rep out 15 or so push-ups with faultless form, then it’s likely time for you to move on to a more difficult variation, such as the one-arm push-up or the one-arm one-leg push-up.

On the other hand, if you’ve had a difficult time achieving even just one push-up, don’t worry: you learn how to get there in the following steps. And it won’t take you long, either.

1

Set up in the top of a push-up position so your hands are directly under your shoulders and your feet are together.

The top of the push-up is identical to the top of a plank. Follow the “rule of thumb” — your thumb should be inside your shoulders when setting up for a push-up.

2

Brace your abs and squeeze your butt.

This step often helps fix alignment issues. You should have a straight line from the back of your head all the way down through your tailbone.

3

As you descend into the push-up, keep your elbows pointed back and tucked in to your sides.

A vertical forearm is a marker of a proper push-up form.

4

When you hit rock bottom (elbows bent to at least 90 degrees), push hard into the ground and drive back up into a full lockout position (elbows fully extended).

If you have trouble performing a strict push-up, continue to work the push-up from your feet but do so on a slight incline. (Push-ups from the knees encourage poor mechanics and rarely help build the strength required for a full push-up.) The easiest variation is to perform push-ups on a set of stairs so your hands are elevated.

As you get stronger, lessen the incline, and continue to work your way down to the floor.

Strength comes from practice. If you want to get good at push-ups, then you have to practice push-ups! The best way to practice is to perform a few push-ups intermittently throughout the day. You can even try setting yourself a daily, or hourly, push-up quota.

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