To kick off our month of getting to know our bodies a little bit better, I want to introduce you to the concept of push and pull exercises. You may not even realize it, but our bodies are set up to do 1 of 2 movements (sorta). We either push, or we pull. This can occur in either the horizontal or the vertical planes and each use a combination of joint actions and muscles to accomplish this.
For our first blog of the month, I am going to go over the muscles and some exercises involved in the horizontal push group of exercises.
If you were to push something away from your body while standing up - this could be a person, a box, or the doors to a building - you would be using the horizontal push muscles. These are the push-up muscles that allow you to create distance between you and the resistance/load/weights etc. This is primarily your pectoralis major muscles, and tri-ceps, but also includes the front portion of your shoulder muscles, the flexors of the forearm, and the anterior core muscles.
Despite the fact that this group of muscles includes some of the smaller muscles (compared to your pull muscles, which we will see look at on Saturday), this muscles are incredibly overworked. Specifically the pectoralis muscles. When we sit at our desks, drive our cars, watch television, or look at our phones, the shoudlers round forward, activating the pectoralis muscles. For many of us who have jobs where we have to sit at desks with our arms forward on a keyboard all day, these muscles are constantly being worked. This is why for many of us, doing 1 push up is easier than doing 1 proper pull-up.
This lack of variability in posture causes the muscles here to shorten over time. So when you see people with very rounded shoulders, especially in elderly people, it is likely because their pectoralis muscles have shortened over time and it is actually difficult for them to correct their posture.
All this to say, training our horizontal push muscles should be less of a priority than our horizontal pull muscles. If you want to include a horizontal push day, focus more on the tri-ceps, transverse abdominals, and serratus muscles to improve arm strength, core stability, and shoulder blade alignment - respectively.
Horizontal Push Exercises
A true classic in the world of fitness and health. Being able to lower your body to the ground, and push yourself back up sounds easy, but for many of us is incredibly hard to do. I have mentioned the push-up first because this should be your true test of horizontal push strength. Can you move your own weight well?
To accomplish the perfect push up, you should be able to go from a straight arm plank, to lowering your body as one unit (ie. no hip, shoulder, or head dipping) to the group, and then press yourself back up as one unit in a smooth motion. Try not to snap the elbows up as this causes unnecessary strain on the tendons and ligaments in that area.
There are a ton of ways to work the tri-ceps. You can you the cables, a straight bar, your own body-weight in a tri-cep dip, or with a tri-cep kickback. I want to highlight one that I think is a great place to start. It targets the tri-ceps more than the chest, but still gets enough pec-activation that your work on strengthening your pecs.
The dumbbell tri-cep press (as I like to call it - it is more commonly known as the dumbbell close grip press) can be done either flat on the bench, or on incline. Taking two dumbbells together, bring the dumbbells to the chest, keeping the elbows close to the body, and press the dumbbells straight up. Lower the dumbbells down to the chest, and repeat :)
This final exercise is such a great one to master. The plank is a classic because it is so important to our daily lives. It actually part of a larger group of exercises known as the anti-extension core exercises, but is worth mentioning here because having a strong core in pushing exercises will protect your back from injury, and will give you a stronger push as well.
You can modify the plank in a ton of ways as well. You can go straight arm, from the knees, on a ball, and even add some movement into the plank on the ball by pushing the ball out and pulling it back in (small pushes) to really challenge the core.
more exercise options
I wanted to give you a few quick options to try out on your next push day, but there are so many more. Below I have listed a few names by their most common (i hope) names. You can look these up and add them to your own program.
Please Note: When trying to exercises, always start with a light weight. I don't care if you are the most jacked guy or girl, if you haven't tried an exercise before, start light and work your way up to something challenging once you know you have the perfect technique ***
So there you have it, friends! You are now group-of-exercises/muscles closer to understanding and loving your body so much more!
There are tons of "push-day" workouts out there, so search around and find a few that you like. Remember, though, that most of us have over-worked pec muscles, so focus less on building strength in the pecs, and more so on the horizontal push supporting muscles like the tri-ceps, rectus abdominals, and serratus anterior.
"Do something good for your body today"
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's most recent research, her travel adventures, and her personal fitness journey.