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by Casey McIlvaine

The average person gives the push-up very little love in the world of exercises. While it may seem passé and not quite as chic as other exercises that are decidedly less “old school,’ push-ups are truly body altering, core strengthening exercises that can help anyone reach their fitness goals faster. Let’s look at the details of why push-ups are such a great exercise, and why any personal trainer should incorporate them into their client’s routine (as well as their own).

It’s clear that push-ups are the best for positioning our upper body muscles for strengthening the forearms, shoulders, and chest. Doing push-ups regularly will build significant upper body strength with a minimal investment of time. What is less well known is that these are a fantastic exercise for strengthening our core by stabilizing the abdominals and back with a not insignificant benefit to your quadriceps and hamstrings.


When done properly, push-ups are a great metabolism booster because of the inherent physical exertion needed to perform them properly. As your muscles call for more oxygen, your heart responds by pumping blood around the body faster to deliver the goods. The increased metabolic rate helps you burn more calories and you’ve started a cycle of the gift that keeps on giving. For a personal trainer, push-ups can ensure that all of a client’s goals are being targeted.

One of the best things about push-ups is that you can do them anywhere and no special equipment, clothing or even any particular skill or rhythm is necessary. Of course, form is everything with the push-up, so let’s look at the proper way to perform them.

  • Start on your hands and toes, in full plank position, with your hands slightly to the sides of your shoulders.
  • Engage your core muscles by trying to bring your belly button toward your spine, and then slowly lower your body toward the ground while keeping your neck and spine aligned without any drooping.
  • When your chest is about a tennis ball’s distance from the ground, slowly press back up to full plank position.
  • Repeat!

While reaching the goal of 100 push-ups per day for 30 days is a worthy one that many people can achieve, it’s best to get the advice of a personal trainer and/or your physician before beginning any exercise regimen so that it fits your particular circumstances. Almost anyone that is in reasonable health can start from nothing and slowly build up to a decent amount of push-ups that will provide them with great health benefits. It takes time and building up to it with considerations for factors such as your weight, age and overall health.


Although it’s best to start out with just a few (say, no more than ten) if your just beginning to work with your upper body, the safest way to start if you’re just beginning an exercise regimen is to start with counter pushups, then move to some modified pushups and gradually work your way up to full push-ups as explained above.

Counter pushups are where you stand (in non-slip sneakers) facing something like a kitchen counter (something that is stable and will not move with your body weight with your arms extended and hands gripping the edge of the counter). With your hands about shoulder-width apart slowly lower your body towards the counter with your body remaining straight.


Bring your chest within a tennis ball’s distance of the counter and utilize your arms, biceps and core muscles to push away from the counter to the starting position and repeat. Do as many as you can and rest for two minutes, then repeat until you’ve done about four or five reps. Do this three times a week until you reach 20 push-ups in each of the five sets. Then, you can move to the modified pushup or knee pushups.


Rather than provide a written explanation of the modified push-up form, check out this great video from the Mayo Clinic which shows the proper form. Once again, do as many knee pushups as you can, then rest two minutes and do another set. Use the same formula as before until you reach 20 pushups in each of the 5 sets. Then you can move to regular pushups.

In both a modified or full pushup, the wider you place your hands, the more you work your chest. All push-ups have varying degrees of difficulty, but they all require great form to be effective. Doing ten modified push-ups is better than five full push-ups done poorly where your shoulders are hunched while your hips and neck droop. Always remember that proper form brings the most benefit and also ensures safety. Once you’ve mastered the pushup, you can experiment with a whole bunch of variations to not only mix it up but also to work different muscles in different ways.


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