If I were to generalize the one single movement that the majority of my clients struggle to do correctly, it would be the push-up. I have clients that can squat, pull, and jump like champs – but when it comes to push-ups, their form literally collapses. And as much as I hate to say it, the problem is more common in women than in men (due to biological differences in strength distribution, to be sure, but still it’s just a reality).
Last week I had an #AskAmanda reader (and former client!) ask me about the chaturanga specifically – a yoga-inspired style of push-up (below) where the elbows are kept close to the sides and the body is lowered in a controlled motion (not unlike a push-up, but not exactly the same). Please note: a chaturanga is wayyyyy harder than a push-up, so I’ll address that movement in a bit.
As for the perfect “regular” push-up, it all starts with the perfect (full, on your hands) plank. You need to get used to supporting your body weight on your arms, utilizing your core for stability, and setting your basic alignment in place so that when it comes time to actually drop into the push-up, the basic foundation is already strong. I suggest starting with 10 seconds of planking every morning and evening, then adding 10 seconds (to each morning/evening effort) daily until you reach a full minute – you can then begin working toward your push-up.
Once the full minute plank is easy, it’s push-up time – but don’t worry, I’m not dropping you to the floor yet. I start all of my clients on incline push-ups, which means putting your hands on something elevated (like a chair, bench, or box) and moving your chest toward the edge of that thing. Unlike doing push-ups from the knees, which I only recommend in case of injury (like lower back strain), doing incline push-ups trains your body in the same position (i.e. on the toes) as you will eventually maintain on the floor. Start with 3-5 push-ups where you can actually touch your chest to the surface, then work your way up to a set of 8-10.
Once you can drop your chest to the bench every single rep with full contact, you’re ready to try push-ups on the floor. There are various ways to start here – you can try negative push-ups, positive push-ups, or bottom-up push-ups, all of which are covered in great detail here – until you can complete one full, beautiful, perfect form push-up (hurrah!). And believe me – all that work is worth it, because the push-up is actually one of the most effective, comprehensive, and efficient upper-body exercises you can do – and it requires no equipment of any kind and you can do it anywhere (#winning).
Now, onward to the chaturanga – the “real” topic of today’s #AskAmanda. Let’s be real – if you can’t do a perfect push-up, you probably won’t have a half-decent chaturanga. And that’s ok – because here, dropping to the knees is a great modification to learn how to perfect this yoga staple – just make sure the upper body is still perfectly aligned, like this:
In the meantime, while you’re keeping your knees down on chaturangas during class, work on developing the “right” muscles outside of class – namely, the chest, triceps, shoulders, rear delts, and rhomboids. Great exercises for these include chest flye, triceps dips, rear flyes, and seated rows, as well as combination movements like – you guessed it – regular push-ups. Strong muscles build a structure onto which you can refine movements – rather than trying to “force” challenging movements onto a weak foundation.
If you are looking for more specific guidance on the chaturanga itself, check out this comprehensive article on form and function of the pose – very helpful even for us more seasoned yogis!
Thanks again to my readers who keep suggesting GREAT #AskAmanda topics – and keep ’em coming! What health/fitness conundrum would you like solved? Ask away in the comments!