After a few new clients have recently joined Jo’s Thing and immediately drop their knees to the mat when we do pressups, I thought I’d debunk a few myths and share my personal thoughts on pressups. Let’s start with a few facts:
1. Pressups are hard. There’s no getting away from it; like running/rowing/boxing/KB swings (and just about everything else fitness related!), the more you practise them, the better you get at them. But pressups done properly are never easy.
2. If you only ever did 3 exercises in your life, pressups would be one of them. Why? Because although you might think that it’s just an arm strength exercise, you actually engage multiple muscles with every pressup. (and if you’re thinking “what, even your legs? I don’t think so….” then try doing 10 jumping lunges, 10 jumping squats and 10 burpees, followed immediately by 10 pressups. I think you’ll agree at that point that your quads are engaged when you pressup 😉
3. You can make pressups easier and you can make pressups harder. If you’re at the beginning of your pressup journey, then you could start with your hands on an elevated surface. As you progress, lower the surface. If you find normal pressups easy, then elevate your feet (say, on a bench or chair). If that’s still easy, lift one leg, add a superman lift between each, make them dynamic by adding a clap between each…the options are endless!
Now here’s the bit which I feel most strongly about: there is no point in starting by doing pressups on your knees. Part of what makes pressups hard is the need for a strong core. Sure, you’re building tricep strength (the muscle on the back of your arm) but without sufficient core strength, your waist will dip as you reach the bottom of the pressup, just as you start to push back up again. If you start learning pressups by doing them on your knees, the chances are that you’ll stick your bum up in the air instead of pushing your hips forwards and therefore the amount of weight you’re actually pushing up is very low. You’ll also find that you’re doing a pretty good impression of a nodding donkey.
You’re far, far better off by starting off in a full pressup position and just holding that position for as long as you can to build the required strength to begin the process of lowering your body towards the ground. Once you feel you can, keeping your core engaged, your legs straight and your glutes tight (i.e. squeeze your bum), bend your arms slightly whilst inhaling, and push straight back up whilst exhaling. THIS is what will lead you towards a decent pressup. You’ll gradually find yourself able to go closer and closer to the mat and da-daaaaaa, you’ll have mastered the full pressup. Don’t go thinking this will happen overnight but do trust the process – practise makes perfect and your body will thank you.
Here’s my client Jo (age 48), showing us how it’s done. And no, she couldn’t pressup like that when she started training with me! #practisepractisepractise
Not convinced? Keep going with the knees down approach and, er, you’ll get really good at doing, er, pressups with your knees on the mat. Ee-aw.