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Push-ups

Intro

The ability to do push-ups, along with sit-ups and pull-ups, is considered an important measure of general fitness. Push-ups are a great indicator of upper body strength, especially the chest, shoulder, and triceps muscles, and of general core strength and stability.

Ability to perform push-ups may indicate a longer life 

Researchers at Harvard's School of Public Health studied 1104 middle-aged male firefighters (average age of 39, average BMI 28) over a 10-year period. At the start of the study, each took a physical, a treadmill stress test, and a push-up test to determine how many pushups they could do without stopping.

During the 10-year study period, 37 cardiovascular-related outcomes were reported. All but one occurred in men who completed 40 or fewer pushups during the baseline exam. The researchers calculated that men able to do more than 40 push-ups had a 96% reduced risk of CVD events compared with those who were able to do less than 10 push-ups. Push-up capacity was more strongly associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease events than was aerobic capacity.

To test yourself, just warm-up and then do as many pushups as you can. If you stop and rest or put a knee down, you're done. Just crank out as many solid pushups as you can.

Then evaluate the results:
  • If you can do 40 or more, you are in great shape. 
  • If you can do only 15 or 20, not so great. But then, researchers found that every pushup you can do over the baseline of 10 decreases the risk of heart disease.
  • If you can only do 10 or fewer, your risk of heart disease is well over 30 times greater than it is for people who can do 40 or more. 
This is just a simple screening tool that yields indications, not certainties. If you're a runner or cyclist, you might bomb the pushup test but by all other criteria be exceptionally fit.  If you're overweight, lack flexibility, or are in poor overall physical condition, the test is harder; and all of these factors indicate a higher risk of mortality.

Basic pushup

The basic push-up is a seemly simple exercise. The following is the way to perform a basic push-up according to The American Council on Exercise (ACE):
  • Place your hands on the mat, under the tips of the shoulders. The fingers face forward and are slightly turned inward.
  • Brace your torso and fully extend your body so that you're in a plank position. Make sure your head and spine are aligned. Keep the arms straight with the legs, back, and head in a straight line. Your feet are up on the toes and together.
  • While maintaining this body position (no sagging in the midsection), slowly lower your body toward the ground while allowing your elbows to shift outward. A 2014 study by the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that the standard push-up increases activation of the pectorals and the deltoids, the muscles attached to the front, side, and rear of the shoulder. Another study, published in 2016 by the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, found that when the hands are situated halfway inward from their standard position, there's greater activity in the chest and triceps.
  • Once your chest or chin touches the ground, straighten the arms, and raise the body back to the starting position. press the arms upward through the arms until they're fully extended. Always move the body up and down as a single unit with no sagging in the middle section.

Military pushups

There is not much difference between standard push-ups and military push-ups other than in the military you are tested on your ability to do them, the only ones that count must have near-perfect form, and with you are required to do a specific number of them to remain in the military.
  • They all use push-ups. All the military services use the pushup to test upper body strength in their physical fitness testing. The Marine Corps allows either pull-ups or push-ups to be used but the max score of 100 can only be attained by those who select pull-ups. Those who choose push-ups only receive a max of 70 points. This is because pull-ups require you to lift your entire body weight, while push-ups only require you to lift approximately 70 percent of your body weight.
  • Glasses. The Army says glasses should not be worn, but the other services do not mention them.
  • Mats. The Army says that, if a mat is used, the entire body must be on the mat.

Position of the body

  • Initial position. All services begin the push-up from the up position except for the Marine Corps, which begins from the down position.
  • Down Position. The Army says that in the down position, the arms must be at least parallel.
  • Chest touching the ground. The Marine Corps says the chest must briefly touch the ground on each downstroke. In the Navy, if the chest touches the deck, the test is over. The Army and Air Force say the chest can touch, but never to rest or bounce to build momentum. In the down position, the arms must be at least parallel to the ground.
  • Rest position. The ONLY allowed rest position is an altered, front-leaning position where you can sag in the middle, flex your back, lit a hand or foot, or bend the knees, but no body part can touch the ground other than the hands and feet.

Position of the feet

  • The Army and Air Force say feet can be up to 12 inches apart. The Navy and Marine Corps say they must be kept together.
  • The Army says shoes must be worn while the Navy says they may be removed.
  • Feet cannot be braced during the push-up.
  • Feet cannot be crossed during the push-up.

Position of the hands

  • The Army says the hands may be placed where they are comfortable.
  • The Marine Corps says the hands must be directly under the shoulders.
  • The Air Force says the hands must be slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • The Navy says the hands may be anywhere between these two extremes
  • The Army says push-ups may be done on the fists, but the other services do not allow it.

Repetitions

  • The Marine Corps uses a four-count pushup: up, down, up, down. Each four-count pushup counts as one rep. Since they do double dips, they are doing two push-ups for each rep counted.
  • The other services count each properly performed push-up as one rep.
  • The Army and Air Force say that if the back bows or the waist sags, that rep is not counted; the back may bow only while resting in the up position.

Testing length

  • The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps count the number of proper pushups that are competed in two-minutes.
  • The Air Force counts the number of proper pushups that are competed in one-minute.
  • The test ends when any body part other than the hands or feet touches the ground.

Training for push-ups

Most people believe that the way to get stronger using push-ups is to keep increasing the number of reps. While this is one way to get stronger, if it is used exclusively it can cause injury and stagnation. Other methods to build strength include:
  • Decrease rest intervals. Cutting breaks between sets increases endurance faster than trying to complete the same volume in one set.
  • Rest-pause. Powerlifters break through plateaus by inserting five- to 15-second pauses between reps. You can do the same thing with push-ups.
  • Interval sets. Time the sets instead of counting reps so you can focus on form rather than numbers. The payoff is usually more reps.
  • Overhead lifting. It may seem odd that performing another lift would help your push-up training, but overhead lifting helps the range of motion of the shoulder joints and strengthens the trunk and hips.
The ideal way to perform a push-up is to retard, not advance, the body as it lowers; the nose, chest, belly, thighs, and pelvis are each in sort of a race to see which can reach bottom last, not first. A drop of the middle (belly sagging), lifting of the butt in the air, or stopping and resting at any point terminates the set. Speed is not a major concern. The standard for perfection is slow and deep, with a body perfectly straight and taut.

Key points in performing push-ups

  • Contract the thigh, gluteal, and stomach muscles.
  • Inhale on your way down, with your body moving as a single unit, maintaining a straight line from your ankles, through your waist, to your head.
  • Form at least a 90-degree angle at the elbows.
  • Exhale as you push up through your underarms, keeping even pressure on both hands as you return.
  • When training, the movement should be slow. Count “one-two” up and “one-two” down.
  • Only two things should be moving: Your arms, and the rest of your body
  • As soon as the body sags, the exercise is over.

Visualization

Andre Turan, who earned a world record for the most push-ups on the back of his hands while carrying a 40-pound pack (he did 40), says that:
“The body has a much greater wisdom and capacity than our thoughts limit us to. So, by going outside of the box in picturing difficult movements or feats of endurance, we can picture ideals that the body can slowly accept as a new normal. It’s not complex. You just take time to sit and feel the movement in your mind’s eye in between sets of training, sharpening the kinesthetic experience with each trial. Even when you’re exhausted, doing this for five minutes can make a tangible difference. You have to make the achievement a must — as if your life depended on it.”

Common mistakes

Some of the most common mistakes, according to experts:
  • Going too fast.
  • Dropping down too low.
  • Not raising high enough.
  • Leading with the head.
  • Misplaced hands.
  • Flaring the elbows too far out from the body.
  • Dropping the hips.
  • Piking, or lifting the rear up.
  • Relaxing core muscles.
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