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Why Push Ups Are The Best Exercise For A Strong & Fit Body

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 22 November 2016
Hits: 31539

For such an easy to do exercise Push-ups deliver a real punch to your body's health. For as much as it can give you the great physique most of us are looking for, they provide a very unique way of strengthening our bodies and targeting areas that are commonly weak. We use this exercise in it's various forms often in our rehabilitation programs, in particular for neck and shoulder pain, but also with overall integrated skill development with spinal injury and various nervous system disease. They are without doubt one of the oldest and most common of all exercises to every person around the world. They are often used as a fitness test in Police, Military and various sporting clubs as well as being a cornerstone of programs for martial arts and gymnastics. It is fair to say everyone knows what a push up is and a rough idea of how to do one correctly. Unfortunately not many people are aware of the amazing benefits this exercise provides. In this article, I will explain the true value of the push up, how to do it right, and also give you a few different versions to try out that will really challenge you.

The True Value Of The Push Up

Push ups are a great Functional integrated exercise to use, and I prefer this to the bench press any day. While a bulk of the workload is performed by the chest, shoulders and triceps, the exercise cannot be done correctly without almost every muscle in the body participating. The abdominal muscles must stabilize your torso to keep your hips from sagging or lifting up too high, and various other muscles such as Serratus Anterior play a role in assisting the stability of the head, shoulder and spine. As with chin ups this exercise teaches you how to correctly sequence movements which is very important for developing great timing.

Even your breathing must be right to be able to execute this correctly. This is one reason why exercises like these work so well with people suffering from nervous system injuries or disease. It helps to rewire the faulty program being communicated to the muscles via correct timing and sequence.

We must remember that one of the very first times we ever used our arms to do any physical work was a push up off the floor when we were babies. We developed strength into the arms to a point where we could push our body up and get us into position to crawl, and eventually to stand. This is so important to remember when working with injury with shoulder and neck as it means you can go back to this stage to relearn how the program was first created.

Read our article on Infant Development to see more on this subject.

Often our poor posture and movement skills we develop as adults sets up injuries as joints no longer align and work as they were designed. The push up is unique for it is not strength alone that makes it work, but the complete integration of the entire body with muscles and the nervous system, breathing, flexibility and overall coordination & timing! Wow that is a lot for what many regard as an easy exercise. And as mentioned earlier developing strength with this exercise is critical for a healthy shoulder, but if your technique is not right you can do more harm than good.

My question to you is are you performing this exercise correctly?

Below are two videos to watch that explain several key elements to the push-up technique you need to be aware of. The first video on the left looks very closely at the role of the scapula and how you can use the push-up as an assessment tool to identify winging of the scapula and serratus anterior weakness. The second video on the right looks more closely at the mistakes made with the hips and trunk for providing core stability and maintaining a neutral posture.

What Is The Correct Push Up Technique?


Make sure you watch the video above to see what the common mistakes are so you can avoid them. Below is the step by step instructions to follow. Pay careful attention to the breathing technique used here as this is crucial in developing the right timing and also creating enough pressure in your core muscles to provide stability to your spine.


  • Lie face down hands a comfortable width at shoulder height.
  • Take a diaphragmatic breath (belly breath) and draw your belly button inwards. Exhale through pursed lips pushing yourself up to a plank position keeping your head and spine in alignment.
  • Inhale as you lower back to the ground.
  • Repeat for the prescribed number of reps.

To fully grasp the concept of Breathing and how to use your abdominal muscles to create intra-abdominal pressure make sure you check out the article Do You Know How To Breathe Correctly When You Exercise?

Push Up Variations For Serratus Anterior Activation

Serratus Anterior is a key muscle for keeping healthy function of the shoulder and plays a pivotal role in maintaining the correct alignment of the shoulder girdle. Anyone with neck or shoulder pain you can almost guarantee this muscle is almost switched off and become lazy and weak.

Read more about this here in the article Why Serratus Anterior Is So Important For Healthy Shoulder Function.

Push-ups are without doubt one of the best exercises to activate this muscle and encourage perfect timing with pushing movements. If you have ever completed a lot of push-ups and the next day you have that sore muscle feeling down the side of your rib cage, that is the serratus anterior you have worked so hard. Sure you will feel sore triceps and chest muscles but if you have performed the exercise correctly you will definitely feel muscles you never usually feel with exercises like the bench press.

We spend a lot of time working in four point position and push up position with all types of shoulder and neck pain for we know, and research has proven that the shoulder is more stable and stronger than when we stand. This allows us to work on areas that are weak without producing pain. Eventually we aim to stand up and complete pushing movements in this position but the stepping stone to getting there is using exercises like horse stance and the push up.

Below on the left is a video that shows you four different ways of using the Push-up to encourage Serratus Anterior as well as challenge the body. The video to the right shows you the Yoga Push-up which is a great regression to use for those struggling with overhead movements and activating the serratus anterior.


Evolve To Standing Exercise Using The Turkish Get Up

I must admit I love this exercise as it just does so much for your body.

Again strength is not usually the limiting factor in doing this, often it is lack of flexibility, stability and coordination preventing people from doing this exercise. It relates to the push up for they both share a common goal of pushing up your body weight to get off the floor. The Turkish Get Up is a bit harder in that it also creates more complex movement patterns needed to execute the movement. Holding the dumbbell or kettlebell above your head also creates enormous shoulder stability and postural control.

This is most commonly seen in Crossfit or MMA training programs these days, but we also use this in rehabilitation with clients suffering back pain, hip pain and various other injuries or weakness that prevents them from completing the simple task of getting up off the floor. We have to regress this and break it into easier movements but the process or method of moving efficiently is still the same.

The video on the right shows you several Swissball push-up variations and in particular the one shown in the picture with a bar is an excellent exercise for rotator cuff strength.


Do You Need More Ideas or Help?

If you are looking for more ideas on how to use this to build muscle, athletic power or even specific methods for sports then you need our latest PDF Ebook "101 Training Programs & The Little Black Book Of Training Secrets" as you will find this will have all the answers you are looking for. Click on the image below to find out more and get a copy. 

If you are struggling with shoulder pain you will find out detailed report for this invaluable. And you can also grab a copy of our FREE REPORT on functional training below.



As I said at the beginning the push up is so much more than just a simple body weight exercise. It is wired into our system at such an early age and is a foundation movement upon which others are made and developed. Learning how to master this is essential for a healthy body, and also a powerful body if you play sports.  The best thing is you need no equipment, you can do them almost anywhere and there is endless variations to continually challenge you. 

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 300 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily. You can also subscribe to our FREE fortnightly newsletter by clicking here.

If you do need specific help with your exercise program please feel free to reach out to me for help and we can set you up with your individualised program.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.


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