Like most people who begin their fitness journey, you are focused, excited and ready for change. You will step foot in the gym for the first time with no plan, no knowledge of how to use the machines and have no idea how to use free weights. You will take a second to think about what you can possibly start with that is simple, requires no equipment, but trains the upper body and you will probably want to do all of this without looking like a newbie.
Can you take a guess? It’s known by millions, used to test the level of fitness in the military and used in those epic films where the action stars are sweating, pumping iron and training as they prepare to win the boxing match - which all sounds very similar to Rocky.
Have you guessed it yet? It is the PUSH UP.
Push ups were as hard as bricks when I began working out. They certainly weren’t easy (like most exercises) for me and they were something I pushed aside for too long. I steered towards the machines and free weights, which were basically the cool stuff I saw in the magazines and online. That was the whole reason why I went to the gym, I wasn’t going for push ups - I could do those anywhere?!
In hindsight, I wish I had done the opposite. I neglected push ups due to my lack of knowledge at the time and I didn't understand how the push up is the foundation to all pressing exercises you progress onto.
A lot of gym goers start with press ups - I see it all the time. Women in particular like to start with push ups because they often feel that their upper bodies lack strength. What I often notice is that people will drop down to the floor, attempting to push out as many reps possible to near enough failure with bad form. Believe me when I say this - I love it that females in particular are going after what they want and not just shying away in the cardio section.
The main problem is that they are using incorrect form and in addition to this, they have not yet built the level of strength needed to go into 'full press up mode'. You can’t just jump into the deep end like that as it only sets you up for frustration.
I am going to break down the steps to mastering this exercise if you are still new to it or even if you are far into your fitness journey, yet still desperate to concur push ups and make them a strong point.
Firstly, you need to look at the from a physics point of view. When in a full press up position you are resisting the weight of yourself from head to toe. The force in you pulling down and the resistance is your weight on way back up. If we can remove some weight it becomes easier. So, by lowering the knees to the floor or changing the angle of our body (so imagine leaning on your kitchen top let’s say, you reduce the weight bearing down) we make what was initially impossible to just about manageable for you. Now that you have made the exercise safer, proper form can be monitored and you are now competent in your ability to nail it!
Where you should start?
I want you to start on a high incline, so nearly standing with a slight forward lean and on the balls of the feet.
Put both hands roughly outside shoulder width, feet the same.
Next pretend you own a tail and took it underneath you like a scared dog would do. You will feel the butt tighten and abs engage.
From here slightly tuck in your elbows - as if you want to stop someone from tickling your arm pits. From above you will look like an arrow shape. Now you’re ready!
Commit and bend both elbows simultaneously slowly lowering your chest towards the surface until the elbows and shoulders are parallel keeping aware of your body position.
Once you reach the bottom, forcefully push down hard through both palms, maintaining the tail tucked under, abs tight and push your chest away to the starting position with the elbows locked and head straight ready for the next rep.
Hallelujah!! You have completed the push up!
How do I progress? Now you’ve learnt the basics, it’s a case of practice and perfecting practice to teach your mind to become more efficient and effective. This only comes from putting the time and effort in. You should start to notice how less energetic and smoother it feels. You won’t have to over think what you should be doing with your body as it will become second nature (don’t think you can forget everything, or else you will slip into bad habits) and then you know it’s time to challenge yourself further.
I would start with added reps to build some endurance. Working up to 20-30reps.
Next add serval sets going for the same number.
Once you are doing 2-3 sets without feeling puffed out you can move to the next version.
Depending on what it is you are using to do them on, you now need to move down lower towards the floor, not massively, a few inches is enough, but making sure it is lower than where you were and I promise the difference can be drastic. Use the same steps as above and rise and repeat the process.
I followed your steps, I am on floor now but can’t even get one rep! What should I do? This is going to differ for everyone; some people will be fine on the floor doing their first full rep and it will tip others over the edge. If struggling, I would take some body weight away again. Lower both knees to the floor, cross the feet or keep them together - the choice is yours as it’s preference based and doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you maintain the same position you had in the full version - nothing changes. Start increasing the reps like you did on the high incline until they become easy. This won’t take long if you stay consistent and don’t give up to soon when it gets tough and progress seems slow, please be patient and trust me.
After mastering this, it's eventually time to turn it up a notch and take the full push up head on with a can-do mind set.
My tips are to fully commit and envision how you want it to look and feel. There are some studies to show visualisation training prior to performing a given task, dramatically improves your chances of succeeding. For example, for sport athletes and power lifters, it will dramatically improve their chances of succeeding.
Give it everything you have don’t half heartily go for it, you will fail!
There will be times when you don’t get 1 press up, yes it sucks.. although sometimes it happens. You plan out how you want it run step by step, but a lot of the time it can take a U turn. What matters is don’t give up hope just yet.
There is there one more trick up my sleeve...
Continue in the full press up which stays the same but this time we are going to reduce the range of motion to your strengths. Most people are strongest at the point in the movement where the elbows are parallel with shoulders. Beyond this position, they’re often the weakest. This is due to the muscle being fully stretched. You have strength in this position, you’ve done the full range of motion press up in the first stages (incline and knees) although the resistant is greater now and it requires further strength in the muscles. So how we manage to build this new strength is by working with what you can do and your range of motion.
Find something that matches the distance you can go down, use a soft ball or a few cushions in case you fail to put beneath you.
From here, lower down to the object lightly touch it and then explode back up.
Get used to this, build up confidence and execute the movement with control and certainty in your mind and body.
After building up the reps it’s now time to position the object even lower and build the rep up again.
Keep with this strategy until finally you are at the floor. I can’t give a precise time frame for how long it will take you, but remember that progress big or small is still progress. Go at you own pace and enjoy the process. You will get there, stayed focused and in no time, you’ll look back on how far you have come.
Now get started and follow my advice to perfecting the perfect push up!
Article no.2 SQUATS
Everyone seems to be squatting at the gym – and who can blame them?
It’s a perfect compound exercise that works many muscles all at once – including your glutes, quads and core.
But so many people do it wrong, activating the wrong muscles and leaving themselves prone to injury.
British Military Fitness recently reported that one in five men perform exercises wrong after learning bad habits from copying others working out – something many of us do.
So to nip bad form in the bud, we enlisted a top personal trainer at London fitness studio SIX3NINE to talk us through how to perform the perfect squat.
Squatting is a fundamental multi-joint movement and takes coordination and focus to do correctly and safely.
In a squat, we use the knees, hips, ankles and, in some versions, even the wrists.
It places a tremendous amount of stress on your muscles, including your core, connective tissues and joints, as they work to stabilise you.
Why we should squat ?
Most people head to the gym to get fitter and lose fat. Squats essentially tick all the boxes and are one of the fastest ways to get you there, as long as you are eating according to your goals and tracking macros.
This super-effective exercise also reduces the chance of injury in everyday life and in the gym.
Completed in higher rep ranges a squat will leave you just as breathless as doing cardio – it works your heart a lot.
You can also incorporate it into different styles of training to make it more aerobic.
Why most fail to squat correctly
Most people think that they know how to squat. Is it easy right? Just push your hips back and down you go to the floor.
However, for the average person who works 45 hours a week and is sat down for the majority of the time, many environmental factors mean they may struggle.
Ask them to try and nine times out of 10 they will bend their knees first, putting them under extreme pressure.
They will then automatically lift their heels, therefore their hips will move backwards to get some sort of balance.
This is a disaster and isn’t safe. We unlearn the squat as we age.
Everyone can squat; take a look at a baby who can sit with their bum to the floor, knees over their toes with a straight back. This could be considered the perfect squat.
But then we grow up and start working, and the majority of jobs involve sitting at a desk.
If we don’t use our muscles, they weaken and they have no need to stay strong because we don’t use them. We stiffen up in the hips, hamstrings, quads and our upper back begins to round.
This all stops us doing this simple movement we all did as babies.
How to relearn the squat
To get around this problem we have to get more flexible – start stretching, foam rolling and waking up all of these lazy muscles.
Take time out in the day or before bed and do several stretches on the floor.
You’ll be surprised how much this will help not only your squats but also how much it will help in day-to-day general life and as a way of correcting your posture.
Back, shoulder and neck pain will be a thing of the past.
Speedflex trainer Andy Hedley adds: ‘When learning to squat it can be helpful to put your hands on the back of your head and keep your elbows pinned back, in doing so you support the spine from top to bottom and it helps you to realise if or when you start to lean forward so you can self-correct your form.
If you lean too far forward or push off your toes, your lower back and knees end up taking most of the weight. This puts you at risk of injury, muscular imbalance and overloading muscles which may not be able to handle the weight or intensity of the exercise.’
Let’s break it down and learn how to master this great exercise.
Squats have many different versions: barbell, kettle bell, dumb bell and more. Then depending on the kit that you choose, you can delve into variations of these.
We’ll keep it simple and run through how to do the basic movement.
Once mastered, it’s down to you whether you use some kit to challenge you further.
• Firstly, stand in a position where your feet are shoulder width apart. Tweak it slightly to find what’s comfortable.
• Point your feet out slightly by 10-15 degrees. Stand upright with your hips forward and squeeze your glutes.
• Keep your head forward and find a point of reference to keep balanced.
• Next, take both hands over your head with your elbows pointing out wide.
• Keep your chest up and weight back on your heels.
• Once here bend your knees and hips simultaneously and sit down in between your hips.
• As you descend, keep your knees out over your feet and resist the urge to let them buckle inwards.
• When you hit full depth, ascend by pushing through your heels, squeezing your glutes and quads, exploding back up.
• As you ascend, think about pushing your hips forward to lock them out, returning you to the start position. Imagine the feet are spreading out on the floor (left foot to the left, right foot to the right) without actually moving the feet.
• Help yourself by taking a huge belly-breath before beginning each rep [repetition] and hold it tight through your core until you’ve completed the rep.
How doing it wrong can harm you
If you’re performing a squat incorrectly and just using your own body weight, you can probably get away with it (though it won’t be effective).
But by adding a barbell with weights, incorrect movements can cause serious injury.
Most typical incorrect squats include the knees knocking inwards, heels lifting, back rounding too much and my biggest pet peeve – half squats.
Stopping at parallel can make your knees worse if you already suffer from knee pain.
Squatting all the way to the floor will build strength and control in the hips, as well as developing the glutes, quads and hamstrings. It is beneficial for females to squat as low as possible.
You can and should squat all the way down.
If you can’t, then start stretching. Try to get more flexible in your hips, calves and hamstrings, and practice body weight squats until you can hit the bottom with decent form.
It doesn’t matter if you are new to the gym or a more regular goer – once you nail this exercise, you’ll see remarkable results.
Whether your goal is to increase the power and strength you need for sport, build impressive legs for a fitness competition or rehab from an injury, the squat will suit your regime and help you attain your goal.