Paleo Fitness: The Benefits of Primal Pushes

By Kellyann Petrucci, Melissa Joulwan, Patrick Flynn, Adriana Harlan

In the domain of pushes, there are two Paleo fitness categories. The first is a horizontal push, such as the push-up. It’s horizontal not because the push-up has you in a horizontal position but because if performed standing, the movement would be horizontal to the floor. The second is a vertical push, such as an overhead military press. Naturally, countless angles and variations exist between these two exercises.

Paleo fitness doesn’t focus on “isolation” (or bodybuilding) training because everything in the body is connected, and everything is meant to work together. Paleo fitness focuses on the big, compound movements that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. It’s better that way.

Reaping the benefits of the big pushes

Upper body strength is just one of the benefits of pushes. And with that upper body strength, you achieve robust, durable shoulders. And how about a torso that’s the envy of the neighborhood? Yes, you can most assuredly expect all of this and more from pushes.

But there’s more: When you make your way into the more advanced pushing variations, such as the infamous one-arm one-leg push-up, you quickly discover that these pushes develop much more than upper body strength. Perhaps it’d be more appropriate to say that just about all these exercises are really full-body movements with an upper body emphasis. You see what that means when you feel how the push-ups and overhead presses sneakily attack core and lower extremities as well.

And don’t let the “advanced” stuff intimidate you. Paleo fitness is about progressing at your own pace.

Practicing strength

People often think that strength is the result of bigger muscles. This idea is true in part — a relatively small part, that is. Strength is more neurological than anything else, meaning it stems first from the central nervous system. A useful and common analogy is to think of your muscles as the factory, your central nervous system as the manager, and strength as the output.

To increase the output, you can do one of three things: Increase the size of the factory (build bigger muscles); increase the efficiency of the manager (train the nervous system); or do a combination of both.

In other words, you don’t have to be “big” to be strong. Many athletes, like gymnasts for example, display an almost superhuman level of strength, yet they don’t sport the bulky frame of a bodybuilder. That’s because these athletes have a very finely tuned nervous system. They’re highly efficient machines and have become so by training their nervous system first, not by bulking their muscles.

Pushes — such as the one-arm push-up — will, at first, feel very difficult. Rest assured that with much practice, they’ll feel less and less difficult over time. Efficiency comes with practice.

If you want to get better at a particular movement, practice it as often as you can throughout the day. Try setting yourself a daily, or even an hourly, quota of reps. Keep the reps low, though, to avoid too much fatigue (when practicing an exercise, you want to feel as fresh as possible). For example, do you want to get better at pull-ups? Start by doing just one pull-up every hour you’re awake. You’ll be amazed how much stronger you feel at pull-ups even after one week!