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MICHELE MOULTON: Push-ups are a great workout tool

HEALTH & FITNESS COLUMN: Push-ups improve upper body strength and require no equipment

Michele Moulton

Michele Moulton

Every once in a while I have to make sure that my boys realize that even though I am 42 years old, I can still put them in their place. My oldest son, Austin, is 13 and slowly starting to think that he can beat his mom at everything. We started talking about the weight-training class that he is taking at school, and somehow the subject shifted to push-ups.

Let me first explain something … push-up competitions are a normal activity around our house. My 7-year-old, Harrison, loves for me to count while he does push-ups! Anyway, the next thing I know, Austin is challenging me to a push-up competition, and Harrison is on the floor prepared to count our reps.

Needless to say, I won with 50 in a row. Not bad for an old lady!

Push-ups. The American English term push-up was first used between 1905 and 1910. Wikipedia defines a push-up as “a common calisthenics exercise performed in a prone position by raising and lowering the body using the arms.” I personally think the push-up is one of the single best upper body exercises that you can perform. Push-ups primarily target the chest, arms and shoulders. Unlike pull-ups (another very effective upper body exercise), push-ups require no equipment and can be performed anywhere.

I use push-ups — in some shape, form or fashion — in almost every one of my Boot Camp classes that I teach. I really like to incorporate push-ups because they can be modified for all levels of athletes. Beginners can do “wall” push-ups, which are performed by standing at a wall and pushing away from the wall with the arms. The farther your feet are from the wall, the more difficult the move becomes.

Once the “wall” push-up is conquered, an athlete can try “table” or “chair” push-ups using the same idea as the “wall” push-up. The lower the object, the more difficult the push-up. As I said previously, these can be done with no equipment. Several of my female athletes do “modified” or “knee” push-ups. “Knee” push-ups are easier than traditional push-ups, as the lower body is supported by the knees instead of the toes.

There are tons of modifications that can be made to the traditional push-up. I often have my athletes do “diamond” push-ups when we are really focusing on our triceps. These are performed by placing both palms on the ground and touching together both thumbs and pointer fingers to make a diamond shape. This technique puts much more pressure on the tricep muscles. They’re tough. I cannot do nearly as many of these as I can regular push-ups.

We also change the angle of our body sometimes to hit different body parts a little more. Decline push-ups target the upper chest. Try putting your feet on a bench and your hands on the floor. You will definitely feel more of a burn in the upper chest.

The reverse is true of an incline push-up. Try putting your hands on a bench and your feet on the floor to hit more of your lower chest. The incline push-up is an easier move, but you can make it harder by trying to balance your hands on a medicine ball if you are feeling strong. The unstable environment caused by the movement of the medicine ball will definitely make you work harder.

I did a little research on push-ups. I thought my 50 in a row was pretty good until I found out that the record for the most push-ups non-stop was 10,507, set by Minoru Yoshida of Japan in October 1980. Wow! This record was the last of its category for non-stop push-ups to be published by the Guinness World Records.

A new category “Most Push-ups in 24 Hours” has since been introduced. The current world record for most push-ups in 24 hours is by Charles Servizio who did 46,001 push-ups in 21 hours, 6 minutes on April 24-25, 1993. That’s a lot of push-ups.

How many push-ups can you do? My husband is a retired Marine. You can tell that he’s had to do one or two push-ups during his time in the military, as he can knock out over 100 in a row easily.

If you’ve mastered traditional push-ups like he has, try to challenge yourself with more difficult variations. Try one-arm push-ups and switch from side to side or make your push-ups more explosive by adding a clap in between by clapping your hands while in the air. There are many possibilities for customizing and increasing the intensity of a push-up to really challenge yourself. Ever tried a backhanded push-up or knuckle push-ups?

Anyone can learn to do a push-up. My 7-year-old can do about 10 with good form. If you aren’t regularly incorporating push-ups into your workout routine, you should start today. And even if you are sitting at home thinking, “I haven’t done a push-up in years,” there is no excuse why you can’t start working on them again. Start with the wall and then go from there.

And, ladies, I believe in girl power. Work on those push-ups! Set a number to work toward and go from there! It’s always cool when you can do more than some of the guys you know. And it’s a good workout tool.

Now, get on the floor and get started!

Michele Moulton is a certified group fitness, boot camp and Spinning instructor with more than 23 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. She operates Bodystrong Fitness offering group fitness classes at the Stardust Skating Rink facility and teaches Spinning at the Albany YMCA. She is a Category 1 cyclist and the PCP Race Team Director. She is also a state auditor and the mother of two boys, Austin and Harrison.