The ability to move the weight of your body through time and space with complete control is a good way to define “strength.” That being said, a great barometer to measure the strength and control of one’s body would be the push-up; one of the simplest exercises to perform, yet surprisingly hard to master.

There are many ways to perform a push-up, and this article will discuss five of them from the least daunting to the most difficult.

The five types of push-ups that will be discussed in this article

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Modified or regressed push-up

Moving or walking push-ups (commonly referred to as a spider-man push up),

Uneven surface push-up,

Three points of contact push-up (or 1 arm push-up),

…and finally the Power or Plyometeric push-up.

An effective full body exercise that is completely transportable and can be done anywhere

During the exercise, the weight of the body is moved primarily by the glenohumeral, or shoulder joint, through shoulder horizontal flexion and elbow extension in the concentric phase (pressing motion of exercise). Although the exercise is being performed at the shoulders, it is a complete body exercise!

By using core engagement, the person must keep the hips and spine neutral throughout the entire movement which, as a result, allows this exercise to be seen as a moving plank.

The push-up primarily helps to build upper body strength in the pectorals, triceps, deltoids, trapezoids, rhomboids and abdominals.

The 5 types of push-ups explained:

1. The modified or regressed push-up, for the purposes of this article, will be referred to as the incline push-up. This variation enables a person to learn proper mechanics by forcing them to lift only a percentage of their entire bodyweight, allowing them to still complete the push-up movement even if they might not be strong enough to lift their entire bodyweight yet.

In other words, the incline push-up, allows the glenohumeral joint to perform the exercise as if it was performing the exercise naturally on the floor. Additionally, this variation teaches the individual to keep a neutral spine throughout the movement, helping them to not drop the hips, all while allowing the person to become familiar with the actual movement and feel of the exercise.

As the person’s ability to perform the exercise improves over time, they can lower the incline to simulate more natural parallel position until they reach the floor.

2. The moving push-up or spider-man push-up, creates a subtle but effective variation. This type of push-up requires a bit more engagement of core, due to the contralateral movements taking place on each side (opposite knee and elbow), similar to the way a spider moves when crawling across a surface. This push-up also forces the body to suspend itself over a smaller base of support, all while propelling forward on a horizontal plane.

3. The uneven surface push-up, is executed by placing one or more appendages on a single object or even multiple objects. There are several ways to create uneven surfaces. For example, placing one hand on an object, like a medicine ball or yoga block, while the other hand remains* on floor.

The primary objective is to add instability to the exercise, thus increasing the complexity of the exercise, forcing smaller stabilizer muscles of the trunk and shoulder to help control movement. Other ways to increase complexity would be to place both hands on objects like a medicine ball, or your feet on a medicine ball, or changing the points of contact by moving over the top of a medicine ball. Or finally four medicine balls (one under each hand and foot). The creative possibilities are endless with this variation!

Push-up variations_4

4. The 1-arm push-up, or three-point push-up, creates an imbalance that forces the body to learn how to stabilize itself over a decreased base of support (three points of contact verses four). This position also promotes independent strength from either arm.

In the classic movie ROCKY, during the iconic training montage, Sylvester Stallone performs several 1-arm push-ups, even going as far as jumping from right arm to left arm. Ultimately, a three-point push up forces the body to balance itself over an uneven support system and still be able to perform a push-up.

5. The power push-up or plyo push-up, is when the entire weight of the body is lifted off of the floor, or from a lower surface up onto a higher surface (steps, boxes, medicine ball) pushing bodyweight from floor to standing. A good example of this movement would be to explode the entire body up off the floor, leaving all points of contact with the ground, only to catch itself again once returning back to the floor.

If you are strong enough to displace your entire body from the earth, you have created an ability to demonstrate true strength and power.

There are very few exercises that can be labelled as a true measuring stick for strength; I argue that the push-up is one of them. In order to perform a proper push-up, you have to have complete body control. Specifically, you should not only have the strength to move your body weight up and down, but also the ability to move against external forces, like opponents in sports.

This movement is incredibly versatile, it can be performed anywhere, and requires very little extra equipment

Furthermore, it is completely functional because of the need to be able to lift our bodyweight in daily activities as well as in sporting events (pressing up out of bed or off the ground). The push-up can be seen in many different activities, such as surfing, football, the bench press, wrestling, or crawling; it pretty much has endless applications that begin at a very young age!

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