EYC Podcast #16 Text Breakdown
One of my favourite things about progressive calisthenics is that progression always brings something new and fresh. The techniques vary, there’s always a new challenge ahead, and there are many different ways to manipulate training in order to introduce a huge amount of variety. Pushups are definitely no exception. The overall goal that I have with the pushup feature video is to show others some of the progressions that exist, and introduce progressive calisthenics. Within the video, I show a push-up progression that can help you reach some of the most advanced variations. There are dozens of different pushup variations that are out there, and the video is not meant to show them all. What it can do is help you see what is possible, and give you a great place to start.
One thing I’ve found to be very important through the process is having a long-term perspective, and an eye on the big picture. Progression takes time, and it may move slower for some, and faster for others. Pushups have always been a strength of mine, so progression never felt slow, or exceedingly difficult. This of course comes with a ton of hard work, however for you, progression may be slower with pushups, and squat progress much smoother, for example. Keeping an eye on the big picture can help you understand that it is a journey and it is all about enjoying the process. Each progression is there for a reason, and maximizing your gains on each one will pay dividends down the line. I used to introduce timelines in my training, basically a time that I wanted to achieve a variation by, but I found that it was ultimately disempowering, especially as you get more advanced. Now I’ve learned to enjoy and celebrate where I am at, and not worry about how long it will take to progress.
On this note, I just want to insert a little bit of advice that became apparent to me recently. Expanding on the idea of certain strengths and weaknesses, don’t let these perceived weaknesses deter you from focusing on them. If you don’t have the confidence in pull-ups that you do in squats, don’t avoid the pull-ups because of this. I went through this very scenario in the past, and my progress with pull-ups suffered because of it. I think this is because we like to see ourselves at our best, and perhaps find it hard to see, or acknowledge these weaknesses in our training. It was a valuable lesson for me though because the opposite should be true. If it is a weakness, more focus, and more effort should be put into improvement.
Throughout my calisthenics career, structuring my progression has been an important part of keeping track of where I am, and trying to not let certain areas fall behind, the above scenario being an exception with more of an emotional cause. One of the ways I’ve done this is by recording where I am at, then a regression, and a progression. So, in other words, a variation I am very comfortable with, one that I am comfortable with, but I still find challenging, then finally a variation that poses the greatest challenge based on my current capabilities. I was first exposed to this from something that is completely unrelated to fitness training. It was actually in piano lessons where i was exposed to this practice method, and not only was it highly endorsed by my teacher, who I have great respect for, but I found it works very well. So, for example, with pushups, I am currently at uneven pushups/lever pushups/tripod one-arm pushups. Now this certainly doesn’t mean that I avoid other variations, it is just a method that I use to understand where I am and it gives me a nice view of the big picture while keeping it engaging and fun. You may find that very little structure works best for you, and more of a “on-the-fly” approach appeals to you, which is just fine. The important thing is to figure out how you like to approach exercise.
Getting into the video a little more, I want to touch on some general pointers that I’ve put together along the way:
1. This touches on the fundamentals. Always keep the back straight and the core engaged. If you find that your back is sagging, or the hips are too high, your core isn’t able to stabilize and regressing is likely a good idea to get your strength up. It’s a good idea to retract your scapula(shoulder blades) to maximize engagement of the muscles.
2. The Close Pushup is a Crucial Exercise – it is the first step in shifting more leverage to the shoulders, triceps, and elbows so it is very important to build a solid foundation. Keep in mind, the variation in the video has the hands touching, however difficulty can be mitigated by inching your hands closer as you get stronger. Overall, it’s such a great exercise that should stay in your routine no matter how strong you get, and is crucial in building enough strength to tackle uneven, or unilateral variations, and don’t be surprised if you find you are spending a lot of time on it. This is not to take away from any variation, they all have their place, I just found that the close pushup was so important to my training, and I spent a great deal of time improving it.
3. As you progress to exercises like the close pushup, more and more emphasis is placed on the triceps, especially the long head, tendons at the elbow, and shoulders. This is especially true for variations like uneven or lever pushups. You may find that you aren’t getting as much emphasis on the chest that you would like. This can be helped by keeping a wider hand placement and the elbow outward. You can also incorporate wide pushups into your routine to ensure you are covering your bases. In the video, I keep my elbow toward my torso, so there is a lot of emphasis on the triceps and shoulders, which is crucial if you want to progress to more advanced variations like the aforementioned lever pushup, or one-arm variations.
4. Understand Why You Are Doing Each of the Progressions – I’ve touched on it briefly already, but every step has its purpose Each progression builds off of the other, and all deserve emphasis. It is really valuable to know, for example, the effect that the close pushup has, as compared to the standard pushup, the effect that the lever pushup has vs the uneven pushup. This will allow you to really maximize your progress, and see the importance of each step. Furthermore, it’s important to note transitional exercises which begin to shift more weight onto one arm, instead of splitting it between the two. An example would be the uneven pushup. They are important because gradual progress can be made in order to transition to the unilateral variation.
5. Understand Regression – the reason I included incline variations in the video is to illustrate how effective they are in making a pushup variation more manageable. Another great way is adjusting leverage, or shortening the lever. I didn’t include shortening the lever in the video, but it is also a great way mitigate difficulty. I speak about this in detail in episode #13, but you certainly aren’t limited to the incline heights seen in the video. If you need to do the pushup using a higher incline, that is perfectly fine. If you need to do knee pushups, that works as well. The main thing is to customize your workouts to your capabilities so you can progress confidently. The beauty of it is these concepts of regression can be applied to any variation.
6. Strength, Hypertrophy, or Endurance – that comes down to knowing what you want, and how to approach training. I speak about this is episode #6, but you’ll likely only be able to perform advanced variations for low reps, so they are great for building raw strength. If you want size, you’ll want to stick to simpler, regressed variations, for endurance, emphasize easier variations with a higher amount of reps. Knowing which you are looking for, will help you achieve your goals quicker, and more effectively. Please note, you will improve in each of these areas innately, however keep these factors in mind if you want to emphasize one over the other.
7. Always Strive to Improve Your Technique – as you get stronger and move on to more difficult progressions, don’t sacrifice your technique to the point of injury, and take notice if you have difficulty performing it with some competency. I’ve spoken previously about how you can allow for some imperfection with technique when progressing to more difficult variations but this is as long as the ideal technique is in mind, and the desire to achieve it is there. This is clearly evident in looking at the tripod one-arm pushup in the video. Ideally, you want to have the feet together, with no shift or twist of the torso, the core stabilized, however it is something that I am constantly improving on. I know the ideal, so I strive to achieve it. This applies to all variations, and is the true test of whether you are able to perform an exercise, and can help you determine whether you are ready to progress.
8. Have Fun – there are so many options to choose from, and ways to train. The video is only one progression of many, and there are dozens of other variations that I didn’t include. That’s the beauty of progressive calisthenics, there is always room for improvement, and ways to make an exercise more or less difficult.