Pushing up the pump

Running out of time and space? Push-ups are the perfect workout, suggests Krishnaraj Iyengar

Homebound during a downpour or bottlenecks choking the streets? A business trip abroad with little time to groove up those muscles and no gym in sight? Sounds like the worst fitness freak frustration

But here’s good news. The most basic exercise anyone would have practised can pump you up to gym standards. The good old push-up with its myriad avatars can work the entire upper body within just 10 to 20 minutes, beginning with a warm-up and concluding with a cool down.

Binny Sreedharan of Binny’s Fitness Lab Mumbai believes that the push-up is the most convenient upper body workout as it does not require too much equipment and can be performed in a short time frame just anywhere.

He explains, “This is the only ‘close-kinetic chain exercise’ for the upper body hence it can often be difficult. However, it engages all the muscles of the upper body and just about anyone can perform push-ups within a few minutes and a few feet of available space, without a single machine.”

According to Sreedharan, push-ups are fantastic confidence-builders as they develop the muscles that stand out at first instance — the chest, arms and shoulders. He demonstrates a few highly effective and innovative push-up varieties for the entire upper body.

For each push-up type, the number of repetitions depends on the individual’s capacity and amount of practice. A gap of 25 seconds to 1 minute can be maintained between sets. 

Push-ups are also a great way to warm up before any vigorous muscle or cardiovascular exercise.

Normal or flat push-ups

The most basic form of the exercise, it is done with both palms flat on the ground a little more than shoulder-width apart, parallel to the body and in line with the chest, elbows positioned diagonally at 45 degrees. According to EMG (Electromyography) Studies, more motor units are recruited by maintaining this position.

The head, back, glutes and legs must be in one straight line. Lower yourself down without touching the chest or face to the ground, then push yourself up with both hands. Normal push-ups target the chest, shoulders and triceps.

Variations include incline push-ups with both hands on a bench or elevated flat surface, and decline push-ups with the legs placed on an elevated surface like a bench and both palms on the ground. Clap push-ups (doing a ‘clap’ after pushing yourself up) is an explosive variation focusing on ‘plyometrics’ (stretching the muscle and contracting it explosively).

Knee push-ups

Excellent for beginners, the form is almost similar to the normal push-ups except for the shoulders being in line with the elbow at 90 degrees, hips at 45 degrees with the knees touching the ground.

Wide hand push-ups

A flat push-up performed with hands more than shoulder width apart, both palms perpendicular to the body (facing outwards) and legs on the ground. These reduce the involvement of the triceps and target biceps, chest and deltoids (shoulders).

Typewriter push-ups

Maintaining the same hand positioning as wide hand push-ups, move your body to the left horizontally, lower yourself down and push yourself up, then move to the right and do the same (or converse). Here, both sides of the chest are worked individually.

Pike push-ups

Having gained wide popularity in the West, pike push-ups target the shoulders, namely the anterior deltoids. With palms flat on the ground parallel to the body and legs on the ground, raise your glutes so your body acquires a kind of a triangular position and then lower yourself in a ‘diving’ motion (the forehead appearing to touch the ground) without lowering the glutes and push yourself up.

Superman push-ups

While one can raise each hand parallel to the ground alternately after every repetition of a normal/ flat push-up, one can even raise the alternate leg after a bit of practise (raising the right hand and left leg at the same time, and vice versa). This targets the core muscles.

Hindu push-ups

The legendary yogic Surya Namaskar incorporates this style of push-ups. Also called ‘namaskar dips’ the Hindu push-up works on the whole upper body — the chest, shoulders, triceps and even the lats muscles (latissimus dorsi) which, when well-toned, offers a ‘V’ shape to the physique.

Raise your glutes in a triangular position, then dive down without the body touching the ground, do a hyper-extension by raising the upper half of the body up, and finally do exactly the reverse.


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