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Of course in this case, when I say push ups, I’m not talking about a brassier or those most excellent rainbow ice-cream popsicles. I’m talking about the exercise that separates the men from the boys, the women from the little girls, and the hardcore from the sub-species of sissies known as wusstards.
Now that I’ve done some name calling, you probably want to know why push ups are great exercises, especially for fighters. If so, you can forever leave the wusstard category, and join us over here at hardcore.
Relevance and Versatility
Push ups and variations are a staple of MMA training because they positively affect many of the things you do in the ring. Take down defense, punching speed, jujitsu escapes … push ups can even help with clinching power. Not only do they directly help specific MMA moves, but there are hundreds of push up variations. Variation is important to keep steady progress (or break through plateaus) and keep over-use type injuries at bay.
In MMA, you want to be able to generate high levels of body force for extended periods of time. The push up is one of the primary measurements – and builders of – strength endurance. Squeezing, pushing, etc. Even when you’re looking to develop speed, you need a strong core foundation of strength to reach higher echelons of performance. Without a proper base, you’ll be held back in many areas – regular endurance, max power, and top speed.
Plus, strength endurance goes hand in hand with grit and will power.
Speaking of hand speed, you can develop sensitivity and hand speed with push ups. You just have to do them right. The right type of push ups can develop wrist/forearm strength and help prevent hand injuries.
Chest and Shoulder Development
Unless you put on a few pounds to make the next weight class, fighters shouldn’t be interested much in body building. When I say development, I mean increasing the muscles capacity to do work, and not increasing its size.
It’s nice to have big pec’s to impress the ladies, but they won’t make you fight any better. Certainly, if you need more strength, but just can’t get your nervous system squeeze any harder (fairly unlikely) putting more muscle on the bones will mean that you can lift heavier and generate more force. Like I said, “IF”.
With that aside, push ups are meat and potatoes chest, triceps, and shoulder developers. They will even assist you in punching harder by helping you keep shoulders relaxed, arms up. Relaxed shoulders = faster punches = more punching power. Depends on the type of push up your doing, but for most of them, that’s the general idea.
Lets outline a few rules here.
Many people think they can crank off 20 or 100 push ups – but they are really just flopping up and down, head bobbing up and down super quickly.
Slow on the way down – don’t just fall down with gravity. *Lower* your self to the ground. Faster on the way up – forcefully push. It is optional to pause for a count at the bottom. No bouncing your chest off the ground like a trampoline.
The exception the this rule is when you do plyometric (explosive) push ups.
Quality over quantity.
It’s better to do 5 super strict push ups than 50 crappy push ups.
Appropriate hand positions include pushing up on your palms, fists (weight resting on your two knuckles closest to the thumb) or fingertips. When doing plyometric pushes, limit yourself to the palm on the ground style.
Fighters should prefer push ups on the knuckles because it strengths their wrists and teaching proper alignment when punching.
As for the position of each hand on the floor – like wide/narrow push ups – it depends on the specific variation. In general, keep your hands directly under your shoulders, the bottom of your palm about an inch closer to your feet.
Ears pulled away from your shoulders, neck long.
Your head should be in the same position relative to your body when at the top of the push up as the bottom.
Lats pulling your shoulders into their sockets.
Imagine for a moment that you are bench pressing. As you lower the bar, try to bend the into a horseshoe shape. When you do the push up, screw your shoulders into their sockets by “gripping” the ground and twisting two imaginary lids on a pickle jar. The lids need to be twisted towards each hands respective pinky finger.
When you’re doing this, you aren’t actually rotating the hands. You are just engaging the lat muscles with some mental imagery.
Stiff like a board.
Unless the variation requires it, your hips and torso should be solid and straight as a plank of wood.
Don’t let them flare out. Keep your chicken wings down – ie: elbows tucked in to your ribcage.
The basic push up.
Down and up. Nothing too crazy, just keep all the above rules in mind while you grind them out. Below is a video with Chris Comfort showing a few variations of the push up on push handles. Notice his slow tempo, hand position, and straight body line.
Uppercut Push ups
Your palms are facing your head, the fists are tight and positioned mid chest, close to your ribcage. Pretend you are doing bicep curls. This one hit the triceps, much like a reverse grip bench press.
One armed push ups
One armed push ups are pretty hardcore. Try them out after you’ve done a few weeks of regular push ups. They are an instruction on whole body tension. If you want some more specific training for the one armed push up, check out Pavel Tsatsoline’s book, The Naked Warrior. Here’s a video with a couple of variations. Note: In the vid there is about ten seconds of the dude doing kenpo karate, then he goes into the push ups, so don’t wig out.
Plyometric Push Ups: Clappers
Alright, that’s a little advanced, but you get the idea. To start off, lower yourself down and then explode up, pushing yourself off the ground. While in the air, make one clap, and bring your hands back underneath the shoulders to catch yourself on the way down. You absorb the drop of your body into the muscles, not your joints, so don’t have stiff arms and locked arms.
There are several variations of this type of push up. One of my favorites is getting one of those yoga blocks (see below) and putting it under one hand so it is elevated higher than the other. Hands are shoulder width apart. You explode up, flying up slightly to one side. As you come down, the opposite hand falls on top of the block. Like the picture below, but with a push up.
You can do this push up without the ballistic tempo and get a good stretch and range of motion in one side of your chest – similar to when you use push up handles.
Swiss Ball/Medicine Ball Push Ups
I was first introduced to these type of push ups by basketball players (they did them on the basketball, of course). The idea is that you’ll work quite your core and stabilizer muscles. You can put your feet on the ball or put the ball under your chest.
Hand Shuffle Push Ups
Here’s a few examples of shuffling your hands while doing push ups that can help increase hand speed.
The push up handles that Chris in the video uses.
The yoga blocks that you can use to elevate one of your hands.
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