I have been to many circuit classes in my time and in every class the women are allowed to do ‘girly push ups’ – push ups on your knees.
This is fine for beginners and it is a fact of life that the vast majority of women, myself included, start off with a real disadvantage in upper body strength compared to men.
However I’ve also noticed that after months or even years of circuit training most women are still doing girly push ups. The progression isn’t happening.
Is this the fault of the women? Not entirely. It’s also the fault of the instructors.
In ten years of attending circuit classes at various establishments across the country I have only ever come across one instructor who has made an effort to get his female participants to progress to the full push up as soon as possible.
Was he a boot camp instructor? Was he a tough military type? Nope, he was an aerobics teacher.
Luckily for me, this was the first instructor I ever encountered. Within a few weeks of attending Stewart’s class I was managing full push ups – and I’ve never looked back. I can now knock out 50-plus good push ups in one go. Stewart is probably responsible for my entire strength career as the full push up was the first exercise requiring real strength that I ever mastered.
For me, the lesson is obvious. If instructors don’t encourage their female clients to aspire to full push ups from the word go, few will ever make the progression. They will get used to doing push ups on their knees and won’t build the strength to move on.
The way Stewart taught us was to focus on push ups right at the end of the class. We had already done our aerobic workout and were doing work on the mats, so there was no need to get a conditioning effect from the push ups – and hence no need to make them easier.
Stewart would insist that every single person in the class (and we were all women) attempted full push ups. He said that one full push up is better than four girly push ups – and he’s right! He gave us the following technique tips:
Keep your body ramrod straight. Imagine trying to open a jam jar using the point of a knife under the lid. Your body is like the knife, acting as a lever. The straighter you are, the better the leverage.
Try to pull your belly button up to the ceiling. This will keep your core straight and strong.
Try to push evenly through your whole body. When people are attempting push ups for the first time, they often push with their arms first and sort of snake up to their feet. But you should try to move your whole body upwards as one (think of the knife), pushing with arms and feet and pulling with belly button.
Put your hands on the floor not on the mat. You waste energy pushing into the mat which is a soft giving surface.
Another useful detail was that we started by lying on the floor and pushing up, not starting in the top position and lowering (which is what most people naturally do). This is a great way to train the push up since if you can master the push off the floor, you can do the whole thing.
Having a practice session at the end of class is a useful way to get people to progress. Naturally if the object of the circuit class is to get a conditioning workout you will need to let people do girly push ups initially in order to get the aerobic benefit. But you also need to include an opportunity to build the strength and technique to do full push ups, otherwise it doesn’t happen.
Another tip for instructors: I’ve seen time and again women complaining about push ups because they can’t do them, and each time instructors just give in and let them get away with box push ups or whatever. But aren’t you being paid to improve people? Of course women will complain about having to do push ups if they can’t do them, it’s only natural. What they don’t realise – and what you should realise – is that they are capable of doing them. They just need training and practise. You need to open up that door for them, just like Stewart did with me all those years ago.
The final word, of course, must go to the ladies. You can do full push ups. They are hard but once you learn them it is relatively easy to maintain the skill. Come on, put the guys to shame!
- Fun with press-ups!
- 100 pushup complex (video clip)
- Crossfit push up development video clip
- How-to: Handstand push up
- Bodyweight or bust!
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