Push ups are a great way to incorporate full body work into your exercise routine. Not only does it engage all the major muscle groups, but it also causes your stabilizers to fire and your heart rate to increase.
Here I will show you how to properly perform this staple exercise, while getting the max out of your effort and staying safe. These basic principles will transfer to any style of push up, including doing them standing (pushing against a wall.)
With seemingly unlimited variations, it’s no wonder that planks are hailed as a great full body exercise. I’m totally on board with that trend. After a minute of a full plank I feel all sorts of muscles start to shake. On the flip side it can also open you up for injury or have little impact if done wrong. If you have ever been unnecessarily sore (the bad kind,) or thought “this did nothing for me” after completing a set of planks then read on! I’m going to break it down and make this exercise work for you.
First let’s talk about the form overall:
You want your hands to be underneath your shoulders. This might seem a bit awkward at first. But focus on your palm being in line with mid shoulder. If you decide to stay on your forearms, then the same goes with your elbows. Speaking of elbows… when you’re in the full position, engage your biceps/triceps to put less strain on the joint. You want the elbow to be stable but not locked.
Moving down to your hips, make sure you’re not up or down too far. Your ears, hips, and ankles should be in line. Take a second to ensure that your neck is neutral and your ankles are strong at 90 degrees. You don’t want your heels pushing towards the floor, or your foot flat to the sky (as if you’re pointing your toes.) I try to look down periodically during my hold and correct any dipping that is bound to happen as muscles tire.
Your feet should be at a comfortable but challenging distance. A wider stance will make the plank easier and give more stability. A narrow stance will make you work harder to hold your form. If a full plank is not yet achievable, drop down to a half plank on your knees. Sometimes a yoga mat doubled up or even a dish towel will help alleviate any pressure on your patella. Play around and choose what is best.
Now let’s move onto specifics. Whether you’re in a full or half plank, there are a few tweaks you can make that guarantee a muscle burn.
It all boils down to full muscle engagement, (you’re going to hear that word a lot here.) As stated before contract your arms and pull your shoulders away from your ears. Your shoulders should be working to keep your body in line, meaning don’t let them slink past or behind your hands.
Your core muscles should be engaged as well. Some people hear “core” and immediately picture abdominals. But your core muscles include more than that. For a plank think about sucking your naval in, and bracing your low back. Both sides are important!
Activating your gluteals will not only work those muscles but also help support your back. Really squeeze the rear, if done correctly you should feel this extend down the outside of the rump as well.
Next you want to activate your quads and hamstrings. Doing this might shift your stance a little, and that’s ok providing you are still in line.
Putting all of this into practice is a little overwhelming at first. It’s not easy to turn on all of those muscles and keep them strong the whole time. Start with getting into a good plank position, and work down from head to toe activating each muscle then back. After a few sets you won’t have to think about it so much. Then before long it will be automatic. You’ll be reaping the benefits of a good plank in no time!
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