Greetings from Heaven!
As it turns out, Heaven is actually located off the coast of New Zealand. Who knew? The island of Waiheke, my home for the past few days, is definitely one of the most beautiful places on Earth; I was initially scheduled to just spend an afternoon here, but that has quickly turned into three days because I can’t get enough of this place. Now, this article would have been up yesterday, but I ran into some technical difficulties with internet connections (which can happen when you’re on an island paradise), so you’re getting it today instead.
Fortunately, today’s post has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day; hopefully you can forgive me for not talking about how St. Valentine drove the snakes out of Ireland because he saw his shadow after finding a tooth under his pillow. We’ll save that for next year.
Instead, let’s talk about push ups!
Push ups are one of the best exercises ever invented (thanks random caveman, whoever you were) – they require zero equipment, build strength in all of the right places, have hundreds of variations to keep things fresh, and are easily quantifiable so keeping track of progression is a breeze. Push ups and their variations are a huge part of the Rebel Fitness Guide, and they’ll be a huge part of the body weight training section of the upcoming Rebel Strength Guide as well.
If you couldn’t already tell…push ups are kind of a big deal.
I realized that I had never done a proper post on proper push ups (say that three times fast…or don’t – your call), so today is the day you’re going to make sure you’re doing things right. All pictures in today’s post were taken on the island of Waiheke.
Ever since I’ve started traveling and haven’t had regular access to a gym, push ups have become my go-to exercise.
Today, they’re going to become yours too.
When it comes to push ups, your form is crucial. Each push up needs to be done perfectly so that your total reps measured from workout to workout are on equal footing. If you did thirty perfect push ups two days ago, and then today you did sixty push ups by only going down halfway, sticking your ass up in the air, etc., it’s absolutely impossible to tell if you got any stronger.
Here’s how to get set up to do a push up:
Alright, now that you’re actually all set up and eager to begin, let’s get you through one repetition. Remember that good form is crucial, so keep your focus through each movement and start to set good habits.
Here’s how to complete one repetition of a push up:
That’s okay, here’s a plan that will help you get there. You need to start with an easier push movement, and work up to progressively more difficult types of moves that will eventually result in you doing true push ups.
Start with Wall Push Ups:
Just like with a regular push up, clench your butt, brace your abs, and set your hands on a wall at a width that’s wider than shoulder-width apart. Walk backwards with your feet until your arms are fully extended and supporting your weight (generally one decent sized step back with both feet will suffice). Keeping the rest of your body in a straight line, steadily lower yourself towards the wall until your nose almost touches the wall, and then explode back up to the starting position.
Do 4 sets of wall push ups with a 2-minute rest between sets, every other day. Keep track of how many repetitions you can do WITH PROPER FORM for each set in a notebook for easy comparison to previous workouts. Once you can do 4 sets of 20 repetitions of wall push ups, you can progress to elevated (or incline) push ups.
Elevated Push Ups
Elevated push ups are just what they sound like – your hands are on an elevated surface, whether it’s something as tall as a kitchen table or as low as a few blocks that are inches off the ground. This will depend on your level of strength and experience.
If you’ve just progressed from wall push ups, pick something that is at a level that’s right for you – I generally find the back of a park bench or the side of a picnic table to be a perfect height for doing incline push ups.
Do 4 sets of elevated push ups with a 2-minute rest between sets, every other day. Again, keep track of all of your stats for how many proper form repetitions you can do in each set. Once you can do 4 sets of 20 repetitions, it’s time to either move to regular push ups, knee push ups, or a lower height for your hands to be supported.
To work on progression, try to doing your elevated push ups on the stairs in your house. As you get stronger, you can move your hands to lower and lower steps until your hands are on the ground.
Now, once you’re cranking out four sets of proper form elevated push ups you need to progress to either regular push ups, a lower incline push up, or push ups with your knees on the ground. In my opinion, if you can do 4 sets of 20 repetitions of incline push ups, it might be time to switch to regular push ups.
So you’ve learned how to do a push up, you can do a few of them, but you want to get better. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
Basic push ups can get boring - fortunately there are dozens upon dozens of variations to make things more difficult for you. Although I think the Hundred Push Ups program is a solid program for folks to follow, I’m a bigger fan of making the push ups tougher once you’re able to do more than four sets of 20+ push ups.
Why? Because muscle and strength get built when you’re lifting a heavy enough weight that somewhere between 6-12 repetitions per set is a challenge (and even up to 15-20 reps to an extent…but beyond that it becomes less about strength and muscle building and more about muscular endurance).
Once you’re cranking out perfect form push ups like it’s your job, try some of these variations on for size. Click on each for a video demonstration (done by yours truly):
And that’s just a few examples. This great post over on the Art of Manliness highlights over 35+ push up variations, including the brutally difficult handstand push up. I think I have a ways to go until I get there.
Over the next few months while traveling, I’ll be working on building muscle by only doing body weight exercises and following the body weight routines laid out in the Rebel Strength Guide (which is just one path of exercises you can chose) – I’m going to do my best to stay healthy, build muscle, and come back in better shape than before I left. I’ll be keeping track of all of my workouts to show what happens to a guy who travels for months and has nothing but his own body weight to use for his workouts.
That’s all for today: go home, set up an camera or grab a friend and have them film you, and check your form on your push ups. I hope you’ll find that your form is as good as you expected, but it’s okay if it’s not, it’ll give you something to work on.
Now, go do some push ups!
Today’s Rebel Hero: My buddy Zach Daniels, banjo player extraordinaire. Zach has shared the stage with guys like Lyle Lovett, Shawn Mullins, Zac Brown Band, the Barenaked Ladies, and pretty much every other big league artist out there.
If you didn’t think it was possible to shred on a banjo, you are sorely mistaken, my friend.
Because it is. And Zach does in fact shred on a banjo.
Last week Zach hopped on board a music festival cruise with the Barenaked Ladies, and he decided to represent with a kick-ass Nerd Fitness t-shirt!