Truly the one exercise that can be performed anywhere at any time, the press-up is, nevertheless, an often misunderstood and under appreciated aspect of bodyweight fitness.
Many men ditch it early on in their workout lives for the bright lights of the benchpress and other more 'impressive' moves.
But while it might seem a bit Year 10 P.E lesson, the amount of customisation that can be brought to a standard press-up routine makes it an invaluable part of a functional, healthy workout... there's a reason Jake Gyllenhaal did 2,000 a day to get into fighting shape for Southpaw.
Below we highlight how to get the humble press-up right, as well as five essential variations on the 'simple' exercise.
Like all good calisthenic exercises, the press-up works much more than just your chest, with forearms, triceps, shoulders, abs and back muscles all wading in on the action. But good technique is a must. Here are five pointers for making the most of your basic press-up.
1 | Don't flair your elbows
Often the first thing to go when fatigue begins to set in, keeping your elbows pinned to your sides throughout a press-up is essential in order to maximise gains in the chest while avoiding unnecessary pressure on shoulder joints.
2 | Breath
An easy rule to apply to your breathing when performing press-ups is to inhale as you descend and exhale as you ascend. Timing your breathing will also help in maintaining control and proper technique.
3 | Grip the floor
Instead of having your fingers and palms flat during a press-up, imagine that you are gripping onto the floor, with your thumbs facing each other and fingers arched, this will help to increase muscle tension (in a good way) and work your triceps and back muscles even more.
4 | Core
You might think that the action itself is enough to work your abs, but if you want to get optimum six-pack benefit from your press-up then you're going to need to focus and engage your core.
The easiest way to do this is to brace yourself like you're about to take a punch, tightening the stomach muscles and engaging through the full range of motion. Not only does this help work your abdominals, but it also stops your back from arching and, possibly, getting injured.
5 | Tighten your glutes
One of the largest muscle groups at your disposal, by squeezing your glutes during a press-up you will improve posture, maintain a straight back and add to your overall muscle tension.
Mix it up
Now that you're a grandmaster technician, it's time to stave of press-up tedium and add some variation to your routine.
Below we outlay five different kinds of press-ups along with their benefits to five key muscle areas.
1 | Diamond press-up
How? Bring your hands together so that your thumbs and index fingers are creating a diamond shape beneath you, then perform a regular press-up with extra focus on keeping your elbows pinned and your back straight.
Why? For extra focus on your triceps and shoulders.
2 | Press-up with rotation
How? Adopt a regular press-up position, but as you ascend rotate your body so your right arm lifts up and extends overhead, your arms and torso forming a 'T' shape. Return to the starting position and then repeat, alternating between your left and right sides with each repetition.
Why? For added balance and core stability, as well as your serratus anterior - that cool muscle that sits on top of your ribs.
3 | Clapping press-up
How? The same as a regular press-up, but as you reach the end of your descent, load up your muscles and explode upward, focusing on getting your whole body off the ground and clapping your hands before landing.
Why? For added explosive power in your chest, shoulders and triceps.
4 | Dead stop press-up
How? Just like a regular press-up, but instead of bouncing straight back up after your descent, lower your body entirely to the ground and come to a complete stop, bringing your hands off the floor momentarily, then resume your ascent.
Why? The 'dead stop' requires a fuller range of motion than a regular press-up, allowing no opportunity to subconsciously 'cheat' and shorten your descent, which means even more benefit for your chest, abs and back.
5 | Burpee
How? Standing straight up with your feet shoulder width apart, lower your body into a squat position and then kick out your feet, dropping down into a press-up. Bring your feet back into your body and then jump up, trying to elevate as explosively as you can; repeating the movement as soon as you land.
Why? An advanced all-body workout, burpees shred fat and build muscle thanks to their high intensity and inimitable range of motion. A set of 10 clean burpees is a true sign of flexibility and balanced fitness.
If you're looking to move away from machine-based fitness or just incorporate more press-ups into your routine, then aim for 2-3 days a week where they feature, performing sets of 10 and aiming to work your way up to 100 in one workout.
As they are a 'pushing' exercise, you're going to need to counter them with an equal amount of 'pull'; we recommend pull-ups, rows and dips for a balanced regime.
Now you've just got to start pushing.