Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Power of the Push Up

The push up is one of my favorite exercises and for many reasons.  It is functional, requires no equipment, can be performed anywhere, and is great for building and maintaining strength and muscle tone.  I have consistently performed them since high school and I am still learning new variations to this day.  While the push up primarily targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps, it can be altered in ways to really make it a full body exercise.  You can also manipulate the push up to work on power, strength, muscle size, or muscular endurance. So with today's post I would like to share what the research says about push ups and also share some of my favorite variations.  

So what constitutes a proper push up?

First is to set up properly at the hands and arms.  Hands should be approximately shoulder width apart and directly under the shoulders.  When in the down position the elbows should make about a 45 degree angle from the torso. When viewed from above the body and arms should look like an arrow instead of a "T".  This puts the shoulders in a more optimal position and allows for increased recruitment of the upper body muscles.

Next, the body should be held tight and straight throughout the movement.  You can think of the push up as a moving plank.  The hips and shoulders should go up and down as a rigid unit.  No hip sagging or butt hiking!

Lastly is the the tempo.  A proper set of push ups should be done at a steady but controlled tempo, keeping constant tension on the muscles.  If you go really fast then you are just using the elastic properties of the muscle and basically just "bouncing" in and out of the movement.

How much weight are you pushing?

This is a great study that looked at various push ups and correlated them with percent of bodyweight.  According to this study if you do a "standard push up" then it is the equivalent of pushing around 65% of your body weight.  If you place your feet on a 12inch surface then that bumps you up to 70%.  And if you elevate your feet 24 inches then you use approximately 75% of your bodyweight.

Conversely, if you are wanted to regress the movement then you can elevate your hands instead of your feet.  If you raise your hands to a 12 inch surface then you drop to 55% body weight, and if you push from a 24 inch surface then you are using about 40% of your body weight.

What about varied hand position?

This is an interesting study that looked at how hand position effects muscle recruitment during the push up.  According to this study a narrow position, where the fingers form a diamond under the chest, increases activity of the primary chest muscles and triceps muscles.  If you perform the push up with hands slightly forward of the shoulders then this leads to increased abdominal activity.  This is similar to a study that showed high abdominal activity with the push up walk out exercise.  This study also concluded that a push up variation with the hands slightly below shoulder level activated the highest number of muscle fibers and recommended its use for total body conditioning.

What about suspension devices?

Here is a study that looked at how a suspension trainer could impact push ups.  They concluded that using a suspension trainer, such as a TRX, to perform push ups resulted in increased activation of the chest, anterior shoulder, and triceps muscles compared to a standard push up.  That means a suspension trainer could be used as an exercise progression.

Can push ups make you stronger?

This study compared the bench press to band resisted push ups and found similar strength gains.  That means you can use push ups, and a resistance band, to increase maximal strength without the use of heavy weights or equipment. 

What is a good number for max reps?

Although this information is a little dated (2000), here is a chart I found with some normative values for max reps of push ups according to age for men.

20 - 29>5445 - 5435 - 4420 - 34<20
30 - 39>4435 - 4425 - 3415 - 24<15
40 -49>3930 - 3920 - 2912 - 19<12
50 - 59>3425 - 3415 - 248 - 14<8
60+>2920 - 2910 - 195 - 9<5

What about variety?

The varieties of push ups are literally endless.  You can vary foot, hand, and torso position to emphasize different muscle groups.  You can use varying speeds to emphasize different muscle fibers.  And you can alter the number of bases of support to provide an addition core challenge.  Here is a short video of some of my favorite push up variations.

So if you want to be fit, strong, healthy, and functional, I suggest you incorporate push ups into your life.  Have fun and stay fit.

 ,Amerson Fitness

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Upper Body Workout

For the last seven years I have been a student and as you might expect I have been on a typical student schedule.  I would go to classes around 8 or 9 in the morning and I would finish classes around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  I always had plenty of time to workout so I just didn't understand when people made the excuse of not have enough time in the day to exercise.  But things have finally changed for me.  I am now in my final internship before graduating from physical therapy school and I am logging about 45-50 hours a week in the clinic.  By the end of the day I usually don't want to spend another hour at the gym, but I don't want to neglect my health and fitness either.  The solution? Time efficient home workouts.

For the past few months I have been doing the majority of my workouts at home and I have really enjoyed them.  I don't have to waste time driving anywhere, I don't have to wait on annoying "bro's" flexing their biceps, and I don't have to listen to ear raping dubstep music while I workout.  So today I want to share with you a very quick and efficient upper body workout that you can do at home with minimal equipment and time.  It is called the Push Pull Pyramid.

I use the workout with pushups and pull-ups but you can easily sub in other pushing and pulling exercises depending on your goals and training level.  For simplicity sake I will describe the workout using pushups and pull-ups.  

It is best to use exercises that you can perform between 10-30 reps if you were to perform a max rep set.  You simply perform back and forth sets of pushing then pulling with little rest in between.  Start will low rep sets then gradually build up to high rep sets, and then work your way back down.  For instance my max reps in pull-ups right now is around 16 and my max reps in pushups right now is around 40 reps.  My workout looks like this:

Pushups: 4-8-12-16-20-16-12-8-4

Pullups: 2-4-6-8-10-8-6-4-2

(So I start with 4 pushups then do 2 pull-ups. Rest. Then do 8 pushups and 4 pull-ups. Rest. And so on...)

The key with this workout is that it allows you to perform a larger volume of work while controlling fatigue.  So you are able to do more in less time.  I am able to compete this workout in about 10 minutes and it adds up to 100 pushups and 50 pull-ups total.  

Everybody, and I do mean everybody, has 10-15 minutes in the day that they can devote to exercise.  This workout is quick, efficient, and quite challenging if you push yourself.  It is great for improving your pushing and pulling numbers or for just a really good upper body pump.  And who doesn't like a good pump?

So when you are running low on time give the Push Pull Pyramid a try.  Until next time.

 Stay Fit,

     Amerson Fitness

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Best Ab Exercises

I recently did a post about attaining the coveted six pack.  In that post, which you can read here, I described how one can go about getting a six pack.  That post was more related to lifestyle choices that lead to a toned midsection, so today I would like to share with you some actual exercises that will help you build and strengthen your abs.  So lets jump right into it.

Compound Movements
If you are looking to build a strong core foundation then you need to focus on large muscle group compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows, and standing presses.  A 2013 systematic review, which is the top tier in research design, found that compound movements were superior to core-specific exercises in training and strengthening key core muscles.  Additional studies have also shown high core muscle activation with movements that require upright posture while holding weights such as standing shoulder presses and weighted carries.  For examples of great compound movements I would suggest checking my post on the best functional exercises here.

Now you may be asking, "What if I just really want to focus on the six pack muscles?"

Well, first I would tell you that just focusing on that muscle is not the best strategy.  While the six pack muscles may look good, they don't really do much for core stability. That being said, as long as you are training the core with various compound movements then I have no problems with a little special attention to the six pack.

So what are some exercises you can do to strengthen the Rectus Abdominis? What is that muscle you ask?  That is the six pack muscle.  It is the big one that lies on top of the other abdominal muscles and gets all the attention.  And there are a few exercises that you can do to make this muscle bigger, stronger, and more visible.

One 2014 study compared 3 anterior chain whole body linkage exercises and found that they all produced high activation of the abdominal wall with significantly high levels for the rectus abdominis.  Additionally this study found that all three of the exercises were quite conservative in terms of spine load compared to other posterior chain exercises that use an external load.  That simply means that these exercises can provide you with a  great stimulus for increasing abdominal size and strength while conserving your back.  Here is a video demonstrating each one of the exercises mentioned in the study plus a few extra that I think are equally effective.

According to the study the Leg Raise created the highest activation of the rectus abdominis compared to the other exercises.  In second place was the Walk Out followed by the Body Saw.  The TRX Rollout and the Ab Wheel are essentially different variations of the same exercise and are also very similar to the Walk Out.

If you are strength training three days per week, which I typically recommend, then you can focus on just one of these exercises each day you train.  I would start out doing as many good repetitions as possible and perform three sets.  Gradually work your way up to 10-15 reps for reach exercise.  Focus on staying tight through the abdominals and lower back and go at a smooth and steady tempo.  Do not rush through the exercises just to count reps.  If you can work your way up to 3-4 sets of 15 reps for each exercise, and get your diet in check, then you should have a pretty nice midsection.  Personally I perform each of these exercises on a regular basis, I do strength training 3 days per week, and I watch my diet.  I turn 30 this year and so far I am happy with the results.  

Stay Fit

 ,Amerson Fitness