The Fine Art of the Perfect Push Up


Push ups work your whole body—that is, when you do them properly and without modification. A well-executed push up uses the muscles in both your upper and lower body and engages your core. It’s an “old school” exercise that means business, and since it doesn’t require any special equipment, you can “drop and give me 50” pretty much anywhere.

I grew up on a farm, so I’ve always considered my upper body fairly strong. But when I switched from the modified push up (“girl” version) to the unmodified push up (“boy” version), I was surprised by how much harder it was.

Now, no need to get feisty about those push up definitions. Of course a girl can do any kind of push up she wants. I’m simply repeating what our elementary school PE teacher taught us. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all know what I’m referring to. Yes?

Anyway, my switchover to “boy” push ups came when I committed to doing the seven-minute HIIT workout a while back. Push ups were one of the exercises in the drill, and since you only perform each exercise for 30 seconds, I figured I might as well go for the unmodified variety. I can do anything for 30 seconds, right? I was in for a surprise.

I wasn’t able to rattle off a bunch of the “boy” push ups as I could with the “girl” rendition in the past. Being able to do far fewer of the unmodified pushups bothered me initially. Did I suddenly have wet noodle arms? I didn’t like the idea of that, so I found myself in pursuit of the fine art of the perfect push up.

In all of my years of doing push ups, I’d put zero thought into the specifics. What is the perfect push up? A push up is a body-weight exercise, meaning the weight of your own body provides the resistance that builds strength. Therefore, the “girl” push up merely modifies the amount of body weight used to complete the exercise. I was amazed by how much resistance was added just by moving from my knees to my toes. Wowza!

Quickly moving from discouragement to hopefulness, I realized the opportunity in front of me. Here lies the chance to very easily develop my upper body strength—and the rest of me, as I mentioned earlier—just by making this one basic adjustment to my push up form. Nice!

Who cares how many I was able to do in that first 30-second stretch as long as I continue to build strength and increase the number as I go? Isn’t that the point of exercising anyway?

Combining this newly acquired shift in thinking with the information I learned in Maria Atwood’s article “Help! My Body Is Getting Flabby” is exactly what this 40-something self-healther needs to continue down the path of growing older gracefully.

Once I master the fine art of the perfect push up, I can add all kinds of push up variations to my routine—like the single-leg push up. Keeping my eye on the prize. ;)

How many perfect push ups can you do in 30 seconds?

Photo from iStock/Antonio_Diaz

Paula Widish

Paula Widish, author of Trophia: Simple Steps to Everyday Self-Health, is a freelance writer and self-healther. She loves nothing more than sharing tidbits of information she discovers with others. (Actually, she loves her family more than that—and probably bacon too.) Paula has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Relations and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through International Coach Academy.

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