Some people dread the word while others want to do 100 the minute their hands hit the floor. Love them or hate them, push-ups are essential to most group fitness classes. They are a great exercise; Push-ups are surprisingly functional, require no equipment, and tax your entire upper body while requiring the rest of the body to act as stabilizers. In other words, this exercise gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
Love them or hate them, push-ups are essential to most group fitness classes.
Have you ever noticed that you can classify group fitness participants into two categories? There are people who do push-ups on their toes and people who do push-ups on their knees. We sometimes refer to push-ups performed on the knees as “Girl Push-Ups,” which can be insulting and derogatory if you are working with unfit males; Not to mention, we are instilling a horrible thought into females’ subconscious by telling them they are not strong enough to lift their own body weight. Shortening the lever by bending the knees in a push-up is the classic regression every fitness professional uses. It is such a common regression that most people know immediately to drop to their knees when you utter the word push-up.
In every class, we have a gauntlet of fitness abilities. We see beginners, group fitness groupies, and athletes. And for the most part, we offer 3 or 4 levels of progression for movements so that there is an option for everyone to feel successful accomplishing; For example, think of how many ways you can build a burpee to make it appropriate for everyone. Now, think about the push-up. You thought of bending both of your knees, didn’t you? Well, that push-up is great for beginners, but what about that participant who can make it all the way through your push-up routine on their knees but can’t on their toes? Don’t they deserve a middle ground?
After teaching group fitness for over a decade, I have observed that a person can forever be lost in the bent-knee push-up group, never progressing to a full push-up. Even if a participant can rock 100 push-ups on their knees, they don’t believe they are strong enough to try even one full extension push-up. As fitness instructors, we have to break this mold of people only belonging in two groups. We have to stop allowing only two types of push-ups in our classes.
True, there are many other variations of a push-up that will make the bent-knee push-up appropriate for a moderate participant, such as lifting an arm at the top of a push-up, adding gliding discs, or even slowing down the pace of the push-up. But I want to get people off of their knees and show the participants that they are strong enough to lift their own body weight, even if it is just for one repetition.
So let’s brainstorm together. What are some variables we can manipulate in order to create a push-up that is harder than being on both knees but not as hard as being on the toes?
Length of lever.
In a typical bent-knee push-up, both knees are bent with the feet in the air. Have your participant stay in the same body alignment, but straighten one leg so that the knee is not on the floor, but the toe is. In other words, one leg is in a full push-up and one in a bent-knee push up. This requires a little more upper body strength to lift the participant to the starting position, plus, this exercise allows for the participant to feel what it is like to have a leg straight while going through the lowering and lifting motion of a push-up.
You could even offer the option of lifting the leg in the air so that the participants are actually doing a one-leg supported push-up, just be careful to watch the alignment of the pelvic girdle.
Range of Motion
Now, let’s manipulate range of motion. Sometimes, this push-up is known as a “belly flop push-up” or a “superman push-up.” Ask your participants to begin in a push-up position on their toes. Lower completely to the ground, so that the torso is on the floor and the participants could lift into a superman position, if asked (which you could totally add in). Then, have the participants bend their knees so their feet are in the air, and press to the top of the push-up on your knees. Straighten the legs again to lower to the floor to repeat the process. What’s great about this push-up is that it ensures you will not have anyone performing pulsing push-ups, plus it teaches the participants that they can lower their bodies to the floor while their knees are straight!
Reversing this process is a great idea for stronger clients: Lower to the ground with the knees bent and then lift with straight legs. It requires more upper body strength than the first option, but is still a regression from a complete straight push-up.
Maximize the Push-Up!
Keep in mind that this article is completely applicable to tricep or close-grip push-ups as well! Let’s make sure we are maximizing the push-up exercise for each of our participants in class. We should be offering movements for a wide range of participants, just as we do for other exercises. It’s time to encourage our participants to believe in their own strength and push themselves out of their comfort zones.