Why Push-Ups Are Great and 5 Ways to Make Them Harder

When Push-Ups are done correctly, they can help you get stronger, burn fat and make you a better athlete.

I recently joined the team at Cressey Sports Performance as head group fitness instructor, and I've noticed that a lot of people (athletes included) have trouble with Push-Ups.

That's why I want to show you ways we use the Push-Up in group training. When a Push-Up is done correctly, it has a lot going for it. Not only can it help you get stronger, it can also burn fat and make you a better athlete.

The Push-Up teaches you to move all the different parts of your body as one.

Why Are Push-Ups Important?

Upper-body strength/scapulohumeral rhythm: Most people tend to turn to the Bench Press and Pull-Up for pure upper-body strength, but the Push-Up teaches body parts to move as a unit. Nothing says "strong core" like a properly executed Push-Up. In addition, it teaches proper protraction and retraction of the scapula in coordination with the humeral head, which allows for a nice flowing scapula along the ribcage.

Core strength: Not only does the Push-Up teach you to activate your glutes and core simultaneously, it also teaches you to maintain a neutral spine.

Push-Up Guidelines

Lie on the floor with your hands about shoulder-width apart. I see a lot of people either go too wide, which places excessive stress on the shoulder, or too narrow, which makes the Push-Up look and feel more awkward. Of course, people are different, but let's go with shoulder-width apart—and if it feels funky or you do not like it, simply adjust from there.

Next, you want to get in the top position with your arms extended in front of you and your body up on your toes.

Your feet can be together or slightly apart—whatever makes you comfortable. At the top position you want to squeeze your butt and keep your core tight. Think plank position.

A cool little trick I learned from Mike Robertson is to lay a piece of PVC pipe along your spine and look for three points of contact—the back of your head, your upper back and your butt. This is where I see many people with excessive lumbar curve, i.e., low back dip. If this is you, you need to tighten your midsection more.

Once you have set up and found a neutral spine, simply lower yourself to the ground, staying tight throughout the movement. Everything should be good to go from there.

RELATED: Five Steps to Perfect Push-Up Form

Push-Up Variations

Push-Up from the Pins

I like to see people start elevated from the pins or a bar rather than on their knees, because it helps prepare the body for the actual movement. I've seen lots of success using this method, as clients tend to move down on pins fairly quickly.

Band-Assisted Push-Up

So, you've gone all the way down in pins, but are not quite ready for the floor. This is a great variation, which allows you to train all the way to the floor, but also provides assistance when needed. You can make this exercise as easy or as hard as you want by adjusting the band tension.

Advanced Variations

Already cranking out Push-Ups like Rocky Balboa? No problem. Here are some advanced variations that are sure to get your blood flowing. Check out lacrosse legend Paul Rabil's Chain Push-Up in the video.

Push-Ups with Chains/Bands

Single-Leg Push-Up /Spiderman Push-Up

When you take away a base of support, the movement becomes a lot more challenging. You must resist the urge to rotate your hips or even dip down into an excessive low-back curve.

Elevated Push-Up/Single-Leg/Spiderman

Elevate your feet and you change the demands of the exercise completely. For more of a challenge, try Single-Leg and Spiderman.

TRX Push-Up

I love unstable surface training. Don't sacrifice form to go lower! Pick a height that feels challenging but allows you to maintain a nice neutral spine throughout the movement.

Slideboard Push-Up

Check out more advanced Push-Up variations.

Where Do I Go from Here?

Determine your goals. Then think about how a Push-Up will benefit you.

Typically for strength gains, 4-8 reps tend to be sufficient. If you want to improve your stability and endurance, the 8-12-rep range should do just fine. If you try one of the more advanced versions, your stabilizers might give out sooner than you think.

RELATED: Five Steps to Perfect Push-Up Form

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock