- Personal trainer Max Lowery says push-ups should be the foundation of any bodyweight training programme.
- He says the secret to a proper press-up is practicing ‘negatives,’ eccentric contractions that build muscle faster.
- He shared his three-step plan to the perfect press-up with Business Insider.
I’ve been going to a circuit bodyweight strength training class every (OK, most) weeks for several months now, yet I still can’t do a single decent press-up.
Despite ramping up my exercise from nothing to at least frequent HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions, I don’t appear to be improving my technique – at all.
So I enlisted the help of 28-year-old Max Lowery, a personal trainer who believes a press-up should be the foundation of any bodyweight strength programme.
He shared his three-step plan – and a new video tutorial – on nailing the perfect press-up with Business Insider, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been doing it all wrong.
Bur first, why are press-ups so challenging?
"People find push-ups difficult because they use many different muscle groups and involve moving your bodyweight in a controlled way," Lowery said.
"They can often be indicative of an individual's athletic foundation - if someone can't hold his or her body tightly in a straight line from ankle to shoulder and perform a push-up with full range of motion, it means there will be many weaknesses that translate into other exercises and sports."
Contrary to what many newbie gym-goers, and in particular women, have been told, Lowery advises that you avoid practicing a press-up on your knees at all costs. This, he says, will never translate into doing a full press-up.
He said the secret to being able to perform a proper press-up is focusing on "negatives," where you practice a downwards-only motion, often as slowly as possible.
"Negatives use eccentric contractions, which build muscle faster than their concentric, or positive, counterparts," he said.
"They also teach the nervous system to stimulate muscle fibres more effectively."
Avoid a sagging back
Just like with the plank, Lowery says it's a popular exercise he sees frequently done wrong by people at the gym. "By guys in particular, you'll see it being done like this with your back sagged."
This, he said, decreases the range of motion, which makes it easier and means there's no core strengthening benefits of the movement.
Three steps to perfection
Lowery has devised a three-step plan to the perfect push-up, which he called his "progression list," and naturally, its includes some negatives. He says with practice, it will get you performing push-ups to be proud of.
1. Incline press-ups
You'll need something raised for this, like a box, to rest your hands on.
First, assume this position:
With your core engaged, you want to move your chest onto the box, he explained. "Having the raised surface makes it easier, so it's therefore really important to get that full range of motion," he said.
"In time with the reps, inhale as you go down, and exhale up. You're training the nervous system to recruit those muscle fibres in that position."
He added: "It's important to fully extend your arms back up on each movement because that way you're training your elbow socket and joint."
Next up, it was practicing some "negatives" (or eccentrics), which he deems the secret to a true press-up.
It basically involves lowering yourself as slowly as possible, and then getting back up any way you can.
In order to do this, according to Lowery you need to "get back into your press up position, squeeze your glutes, and engage your core..."
"...Then as slowly as possible lower yourself - taking about 10 seconds - to the ground."
When you get to the floor, drop your knees, lift yourself up, and repeat. Lowery recommends aiming to do this five times for between three to five sets.
"Above all make sure your chest is going down first," he added - in other words, don't lead with your pelvis.
3. Hollow plank
The final step is to practice your hollow plank - which he likes to do in a very particular way - that activates your muscle set better.
"Contract your abs as hard as you can. By that I mean tense as if someone's going to punch you in the stomach," Lowery said. "Then drive your abs down, push your elbows back, tilt your hips, squeeze your glutes, and push yourself away from the ground."
He advises people wanting to perfect their press-up to incorporate these three exercise movements into your strength training programme, one during each of your three weekly workouts.
"As long as you're consistent, I promise you will end up getting that full press-up and it will look so impressive."
But he added that performing them here and there in the odd HIIT class isn't going to cut it. You need to be practicing them two to three times per week, gradually increasing intensity - reps, sets, time etc.
I'd better get back to class.
Here's the YouTube tutorial in full: