Why You Should Do Push Ups?

Push ups are in virtually every fitness program. Why? Because they work.

By Adrien Cotton

“they are so hard”, “I’ve never been able to do one”,  “why not give me an alternative?”

Photo courtesy of Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta/Shutterstock.com.


How many times have your read in a magazine or had a friend or athletic instructor tell you “push ups are next”? If you are like most of us, you cringe and say, “I’ve never been able to do a full push up on my toes.”

Push ups are in virtually every fitness program. Why? BECAUSE THEY WORK!

Notwithstanding shoulder injury, push ups are almost as efficient and effective as the squat like we have discussed in the past(1). Like the squat, the push up is a total body exercise. There are so many muscles working to elevate and descend from during the movement, almost every muscle in your body is working.

Why do I want to work every muscle during movements in my exercise program? There are several reasons. First, we all have limited time and need to make the most of every minute we can dedicate to our exercise. It is efficient to use all or most rather than a few muscles. The more muscles fibers we work, the more they will grow and the more fat we will burn. More results in less the time. After all, performing 3-5 exercises correctly instead of 8-15 incorrectly will show more rewarding results.

Second, most of us are interested in the aesthetic results of our exercise. But at some point, we also agree, it is nice to know exercise is good for our health: brain, heart, lungs, joints, skin, and creating better chances at longevity. The more you use what muscles we have, the happier your body is as it is being used for the purpose we are made: to move. Last, your body releases more hormones when you use more rather than less muscles. The more difficult the exercise, the more hormone that are released.

Northern Virginia Magazine fitness, Push-up
Photo courtesy of divio/Shutterstock.com

OK, now that we understand the push up is a whole body movement and that it is absolutely one of the best exercise to include in your program. Let’s now go through the mechanics and the progressions. First, you will do a “hand plank”. So first set yourself up in a hand plank. You should be able to place a wooden dowel on your back where it touches your head, the area between your shoulder blades and the top of your gluteus. If any area is not touched, you do not have your body in proper alignment. Just think of the push up as a plank on steroids. Hold that plank for 10 to 15 seconds.

Once you have planked, then we want to move into the next phase of the push up progression, where you will start with that hand plank position. Set yourself up so you are as tight as can be. If someone were to push you, you would not move. Your hands are placed under your shoulders (this may seems strange but it is the best placement of your hands to make sure your shoulders are “packed” down and back). As you “draw” yourself (not drop) down toward the floor, think of “externally rotating” or twisting your hands and fingers outward so the elbow is pointing back, not out. Think of pulling your shoulders as hard into their sockets, down and back, so that your shoulders don’t have any “slack”. And remember you want to lead with your chest, not your nose, as we all often tend to do.

All this time you should be squeezing your bottom and your quads hard. Your toes are curled under and your heels are pushing back forcefully. Breath in hard with your nose. And use your whole body to press UP while forcefully exhaling out with your mouth.

Remember to always check in and make sure your back forms as straight of a line as possible. Ideally you have a friend or family member hold a broom or other straight object to see if you can hold it on your back while performing the push up. If you cannot achieve the full push up, use a couch, a chair, a step then progress to the floor when you are ready. Or, yes, go to your knees but do not lose all of the tightness you just created with the beginning of the work above. If you put your kness on the floor, do this only after you have hand planked on your toes first. And be sure to place your hands under your shoulders for those variations as well.

For a “fun” workout try this out:

Push up x 1

Plank on your elbows 20 seconds

Squat x 10

Push up x 2

Plank on your elbows 20 seconds

Squat x 10

Push up x 3

Plank on your elbows 20 seconds

Squat x 10

Push up x 4

Plank on your elbows 20 seconds

Squat x 10

Push up x 5

Plank on your elbows 20 seconds


To take charge of your health and get stronger, contact Adrien at Adrien@fitnessontherun.net or www.fitnessontherun.net to schedule a consultation with Adrien or one of our nine highly skilled instructors.


Adrien Cotton started Fitness on the Run in 2004 to help people achieve a healthy lifestyle, fitness and total wellness. She pushes her clients as hard as they are able and works to set an example for them with her own training and lifestyle. She is a mom of two elementary school age children, is married and doesn’t let a lot of grass grown under her feet. She is certified in personal training and nutrition through the International Association of Sports Sciences and is trained in Crossfit Level 1, Adrien holds her Strongfirst Level I and Level II certification for Kettlebells. She is studying for her certification in the Aromatherapy Certification Program (ACP). She is most passionate about helping people grabbing their health “by the horns” and achieving great and lasting change.