Michelle Obama made her first post-White House appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” earlier this month and the two reminisced about the former First Lady’s 2012 appearance when she bested DeGeneres in a push-up contest (Obama beat the talk show host 25-20).
Though they both admitted their push-up game is no longer as strong (Obama quipped that she’d beat DeGeneres anyway), their conversation highlighted a fundamental exercise that, though common, probably doesn’t get its proper due as much as it deserves.
Here’s everything you need to know about push-ups, and why you should incorporate them into your regular exercise routine.
How to Do a Proper Push-Up
Like every exercise, form is crucial when it comes to performing a push-up. Here’s how to set up for a correct one.
First, when down on the ground, set your hands at a distance that is slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Angle your hands in a way that feels comfortable to you. Same goes for your feet. Some people prefer their feet hip-distance apart, while others prefer them together. However, keep in mind that the wider your feet are, the more stable your body will be.
When it comes to creating a visual of what your body should look like, think of a straight line from head to toe. You don’t want to crank up your neck, stick out your butt, or sink your hips low. You should be looking slightly ahead of you and not completely down at the ground. Think: chin first to hit the floor — not your nose or forehead.
Don’t forget to engage your core — meaning drawing your belly button in — because it helps maintain your form, too.
Now that you’re properly aligned, it’s time to do a push-up. At the top of your push-up, your arms should be straight. Inhale, and steadily lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle or smaller. Depending on your level of experience, and flexibility, some might be able to lower down all the way until their chest hits the ground, while 90 degrees might be the lowest for others. It’s all good!
Once your chest touches the floor, or your elbow bends at 90 degrees, explode back up on the exhale.
Why Push-Ups Are So Good for You
Push-ups are a full body workout, which means they’re highly effective when done correctly. They work every muscle in your body, from your neck to your toes, strengthening your chest, abs, shoulders and tricep muscles.
Because it’s a compound exercise, you’re training your muscles to get stronger by working together. You’re not just sculpting your arms, but your shoulders, chest, and back, as well as your legs and core.
Since push-ups rely on bodyweight, it’s also a great exercise to help improve stability and balance, as well as to help build core strength.
Where to Start
Don’t rush and think you need to do 25 Obama-approved push-ups right away. Doing a few push-ups correctly is far more effective than doing 25 incorrect ones.
If you’re a beginner, start with a baseline of five push-ups a few times a week, and try to increase that number each week. Remember, modifications are perfectly fine too. Don’t hesitate to do push-ups on your knees, against a wall, or on an incline for extra support. Be sure to track your progress. It’ll help you stay motivated, and is a great way to document your improvement. Then, once you’ve built up your strength, you can move onto regular push-ups.
Who knows? You might just be able to beat both DeGeneres and Obama in a push-up competition!
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