Is It Good to Do Push-Ups?

In general, exercise is good for everyone. In fact, exercise seems to benefit EVERY system of the body, AND it’s one of the BEST ways to relieve stress. So back to the question, should you include push-ups in your exercise program?

The short answer is yes…and no! To best answer this question, we must FIRST assess what shape you’re in BEFORE jumping into any exercise, and push-ups are no exception.

Push-ups are likely one of the oldest forms of a strengthening exercise on record. The beauty of push-ups is that they can be done anywhere and don’t require any special equipment. However, if an individual is not strong enough to perform a push-up, then injury to the shoulders, elbow, wrist, neck, and low back can occur. So, how does one determine where and how to start?

One typically does NOT enter a gym and throw as many plates on a barbell as they can find and start doing bench presses! Nor should one assume he or she can get on the floor and start doing traditional push-ups. You must “wean” into the exercise in order to determine your ability.

FIRST, start in a standing position and lean against a wall with your feet one to two feet (.3 - .6 meters) away from the wall. Pretty easy, isn’t it? In fact, it’s probably too easy, so move your feet further away from the wall and try different distances until you feel a good resistance in your chest, arm, and back muscles.

Gradually increase the load by leaning against a counter top, chair seat, and eventually, the floor. Start with the knees bent and resting on the ground—the so-called “girl push-up” (no offense ladies)! Notice the increased load on your wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and back?

Once you’re comfortable with your progress, move to the more traditional “on your toes” push-up. You can also increase the challenge by moving your hands inward and keeping your elbows more tucked into your sides. This is now becoming quite challenging, isn’t it?

But what if you feel pain somewhere? MODIFY the push-up by reducing the load as noted above. You may find it necessary to NOT go all the way down to the floor with your chest but maybe half way or three-quarters down if you have shoulder problems, for example.

A push-up also strengthens the core, as it’s essentially a front plank. Side planks from the knees first and then feet can be added for additional core strengthening. A “push-up with a plus” is another modification particularly good for the scapular stabilizing muscles. Here, you push up beyond the normal “up” position as high as possible until you feel your shoulder blades (scapulae) spread apart.

Whether you’re trying to get in shape after a long winter or after pregnancy, the benefits of push-ups is you can do them anywhere and at anytime. Your push-up options are almost endless! The KEY to a happy life is being healthy, and exercise is KEY to a happy, healthy life!

Dr. James Sheehan Dr. James Sheehan is an expert in the treatment of neck and back pain.

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