Pick Your Best Push Up

Sep 05, 2011 | Updated Nov 04, 2011

One of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises is the push up. It requires no equipment, works a boatload of muscles and can be done basically anywhere. But one tiny compromise in your form and the effectiveness is significantly diminished. Plus, not everyone can do a full set of "regular" push ups. And if you've already mastered the standard form, your muscles may be looking for more of a challenge. How do you find the right push up for you?

New research from Marquette University, published last week in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, aims to answer that question. The researchers analyzed the ground force reactions of six different types of push ups -- a fancy way of saying they tested the difficulty of the six kinds. The push up variations were: the standard push up, a knees-bend push up, push ups with the hands elevated on a block 12 inches off the ground, push ups with hands elevated on a block 24 inches off the ground, push ups with the feet elevated on the 12-inch block and push ups with the feet elevated on the 24-inch block.

"What we found out was the regular pushup was right in in the middle in terms of difficulty," says Tyler Vander Zanden, B.S., S.P.T, a doctorate student of the physical therapy program at Marquette University and one of the researchers on the study. "The hardest push up is with your feet elevated at 24 inches, then with your feet elevated at 12 inches, then the regular push up, then with your hands elevated 12 inches, then the knees-bent variation, and the easiest one to do is with your hands elevated 24 inches," Vander Zanden explains.

So what does this mean for you, the push-er up-per? Vander Zanden says that the continuum of push up options lets you choose where your skill level is and progress from there. "There's a 33 percent increase in difficulty between hands elevated 24 inches and feet elevated 24 inches," he says. "That's a big difference and gives you a lot of room to progress." So if you can't do a regular push up, you can start with your hands elevated and work your way up, with a clear knowledge of how far you've progressed as you move up the ladder of variations.

The research allows you to know what to work towards, says Vander Zanden. And the results? Well, besides a bulletproof core, the bragging rights don't hurt a bit.