How To Get Functionally Fit, Part 1: Upper Body Push

In this first of a 5-part series on bodyweight exercises to get you functionally fit, we examine upper body movements that require pushing to work the chest, deltoid and triceps.

gettng some air time with explosive push-ups
This article is adapted from "BioHack #12" in the forthcoming 12 Ageproof BioHacks book. Those on the list prior to publication will get it for FREE. If you're not already a Subscriber, go here to find out more.

SOMETIMES WE see so many different ways to do something that confusion sets in, muddles everything, and we wind doing nothing.

If you’ve ever set foot in a well-equipped gym, you know what I mean. You went there ready to exercise, but once you walked in and saw all those fancy machines and stacks of dumb bells and barbells competing for your attention, you became the proverbial deer in the headlights.  Frozen.  Wondering what to do first, then next, and so on.

Unless you’re an Olympic athlete, exercise doesn’t need to be complicated, confusing or time consuming. In fact, if your aim is to become functionally fit, you posses everything you need wherever you are, assuming you brought your body with you.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.

The older I get, the less I care about hoisting heavy weights over my head, and the more I care about being sufficiently strong, flexible and enduring to live a vital life unencumbered by physical weakness, brittle bones and immobility.

How about you?

If you’re with me on this, I’ve got some exercises to show you.  They come in five parts, this article being Part 1, which covers upper body push exercises that mainly workout your chest, shoulders and triceps.

  • Part 2 will cover  upper body pull exercises that mainly workout your lats and biceps.
  • Part 3 will cover lower body push exercises that mainly workout your quadriceps, glutes (butt) and calves.
  • Part 4 will cover upper body pull exercises that mainly workout your leg biceps and glutes.
  • Part 5 will cover lever and trunk-focused exercises that mainly workout your core, lower back (with some glutes thrown in).

Let’s get going…

 

Exercise for Functional Fitness

If the goal is to be “functionally fit”, it implies that you have the capacity to satisfactorily perform the basic functions of the human body, such as:

•    Lift your body weight (gymnastics)
•    Explosively move your body (sprinting)
•    Move your body over distance (jogging)
•    Articulate you joints over their designed range of motion (yoga)

Naturally, your performance on any of these type of exercises is dependent on your fitness level, which is dependent upon the consistency and rigor of your exercise routines, which is further affected by your age.

Irrespective of the quality and consistency of your exercise routines, age will diminish explosive moments starting in your thirties (jumping, sprinting), jogging performance in your forties and body weight strength in your fifties and beyond (pull-ups, dips).

Happily, the capacity to maintain mobility through various mobility exercises, such as stretching and yoga, can last a very long time; perhaps as long as you do.

There are a thousand ways to exercise your body, but basically they pretty much can be described by five types of movement:

1.    Upper body push;
2.    Upper body pull;
3.    Lower body push;
4.    Lower body pull; and
5.    Levers.

Any of these movements can be done using the resistance of our body weight or by using equipment, such as free weights (barbells and dumbbells), weight machines or resistance bands.

Personally, I like them all, but the key consideration here is compliance.  Compliance means doing what you set out to do.  A smart way to ensure this happens is to sufficiently simplify your intended actions in order to minimize the potential for excuse-making.

If you have a body, you have all the equipment you need to become very strong and functionally fit.  The excuses, thereby, are diminished.

Yes, it’s true that there is no way you can manipulate your body to become strong enough to do a 388 pound (176 kg) Olympic snatch like Lu Xiaojun without years of weightlifting toil (and being a genetic marvel), nor will you ever dead lift 900 pounds like do some mighty beasts who are Power Lifting competitors.

Lu Xiaojun Olympic snatch

Lu Xiaojun, Olympic weightlifting champion

That’s just fine, because the objective of functional fitness is simply to accomplish what the human body is designed to do.  Nature never intended for us to be able to lift 900 pounds off the ground, but she did expect us to lift (pull/push) our body weight, move it explosively when necessary, to move it over distance, or through the range of motion enabled by our joints, tendons and muscles.

Two more points before we get to the exercises (and a “note to women”).

Point #1: Don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you know a heck of a lot about weightlifting and have done lots of it that doing bodyweight exercises would be ineffective, or not challenging.  Perhaps like you, I’ve spent decades going to various gyms to exercise. I was happy learning all kinds of weightlifting techniques.  Heck, in my early teens, I would rather pour myself into Muscle Builder magazine (typically featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover) than be mesmerized by Playboy magazines (although, as my mother would tell you with a sigh, I displayed a few center folders taped to my bedroom walls).

I knew about forced sets, super sets, concentration curls, tempo lifting, muscle isolation, eccentric loading, etc., etc.  Glancing around the gym, I noted that a lot of others did too. But year after year, it seemed that nobody among all those I’d see at the gym consistently improved their strength or body composition. I bet that despite all those years lifting weights in the gym, few could repeatedly lift their body weight a worthy number of reps.

I couldn’t.

I recently put myself to the test. In the gym, I selected 185 pounds on the lat pull machine, sat down and pulled the bar to my chest 15 times.  That might have looked pretty impressive because 185 pounds was most of the weight stack on that particular machine. But guess what?  I weigh 210 pounds, so when tested myself with pull-ups, I could do only five.

More tests were done.

I could squat with more than my body weight’s worth of plates on the bar across my shoulders, so why could I not do one single-leg squat with just my own body weight?

I could sit in an abdominal machine and do crunches with more than 100 pounds, but could not hold a plank position for more than three minutes.

plank core exercise

These results are typical for people who lift weights, but do not train their bodies with exercises using their own body weight.  This is foolhardy because every moment in life outside the gym, the thing you have to move is your own body.  It’s our bodies we need to be able to use and control, or own bodies that we need to pull, push and move over distance and time.  Being able to do this is what functional fitness is all about.

Point #2: The heavier and longer are your arms, legs and torso, the more difficult performing bodyweight exercises will be. It’s just a matter of physics.  All other things being equal, a larger person will be stronger than a smaller person relative to lifting a particular weight, but not relative to lifting his or her own body weight.

Ever notice the size of gymnasts?  None look like Shaq O’Neal.  Shaq is probably stronger than any gymnast when it comes to how much weight he could lift, but not when it comes to lifting his own weight.

Think of it in terms of work.  The definition of work is: Work = Force x Distance.

To accurately compare the Work required by a typically sized male gymnast to do a push-up against the much longer-armed and heavier Shag would require understanding and applying the International System of Units derived for Work (measured as “Joules”) and Force (measured as “Neutons”).

This quickly gets more complicated than we need for our purposes, so let’s bypass the math and accuracy and aim for understanding the concept.  We’ll also let “wingspan” be a proxy for arm length, whereas wingspan is actually longer given that it includes chest width.

To get a conceptual sense of how much more Work it would take for Shaq to do a push-up than an average sized male gymnast, consider this data that I grabbed from Google searches:

Wingspan Body Weight
Shaq 91 inches (231 cm) 324 pounds (147 kg)
Gymnast 69 inches 175 (cm)* 146 pounds (67 kg)

* Approximated from a table on human proportions.

Justin gets a lift from Shaq

Applying this data to a push-up, when Shaq pushes himself off the floor for one repetition his Work (conceptually) is: 324 lbs (proxy for Force) x 91 in (Distance) = 29,484 (proxy for Work).

For the average-sized male gymnast, the Work performed to do a push-up is: 146 lbs (proxy for Force) x 69 in (Distance) = 14,016 (proxy for Work).

Again, for reasons of simplicity I did not use a unit of measure for Work, but am instead looking for a conceptual comparison. We see that Shaq has to do nearly twice the “work” (26,484 vs 14,016) to perform a push-up than a gymnast.  Ergo, it makes sense that Shaq would not be able to do as many push-ups as the gymnast.

Now you may cry out, “Of course he can’t… a gymnast spends his life practicing bodyweight exercises like push-ups”, and you’d be right.  But the truth is that on average a small, reasonably fit person will be able to do more push-ups than a much larger reasonably fit person because the smaller person has a greater strength-to-weight ratio.

What does this mean for you?

The point you need to get from the Shaq/gymnast comparison is that not all bodies are alike.

The relatively smaller length, weight and leverage points of a small person should — all other things being equal — give him or her a strength advantage relative to his/her body weight as compared to a larger person, even though the larger person may be stronger overall.

People like me — 6’4” tall and 210 pounds — need to be patient when it comes to single-leg squats and pull-ups; after all, we’re lifting a lot more weight over a long distance relative to our shorter-limbed, lighter brethren.

Yes, progress will be slower for heavy and long people, but there’s an upside for such folks.  The upside is that because we’re lifting more weight with our body weight and we have a larger physical structure, we can typically pack on more muscle with bodyweight training than our smaller framed buddies.

With all that in mind, let’s review some example exercises for upper body bodyweight pull movements, but first a note to the fairer sex.

 

A Note to Women

Women performing bodyweight exercises

I feel compelled to address an ill-conceived notion that some woman have about resistance training.

Pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting — all those exercise that employ large, multiple muscle groups — are not for men only, nor will they make you too big, bulky and muscular. This is particularly true if you stick to bodyweight exercises.

Ladies, your bodies will not get as big or muscular as a man’s if you do resistance training. You neither have the skeletal structure or sufficient testosterone to get as muscular as man, unless you really do some extreme stuff aimed at overwhelming your natural genetic proclivities.  You can, therefore, exercise just as men do.

If you only use light loads (resistance), do not increase the weight progressively, and use weight training machines exclusively, you will not get strong or functionally fit. (By “loads”, I mean the amount of weight lifted, whether body weight, barbells, dumbbells or machines.)

Think about athletes.

Do men and women athletes in the same sport train differently? There may be some differences along the margins, however both genders train mostly the same. The results may be different in terms of size, capacity, strength and power because of physiological differences, but when preparing for competition men and women pretty much train alike.

Want to become stronger and change your body composition? 

Forget doing those exercises that isolate small muscles. Instead, choose exercises that challenge several muscle groups simultaneously.  By and large, that’s what bodyweight exercises do.

 

The Basics

Here in Part 1, I’m going to cover upper body push exercises that mainly work your chest, shoulders and triceps.  Upper body pull, lower body push and pull, and lever exercises will be covered in Parts 2 thru 5.

You’ll quickly see that these five bodyweight exercises covered in the 5-part series are really exercise movement types, each offering a wide variety of specific exercises, from easy to hard. The beauty of this approach is the way it enables us to conceive of resistance training. As we begin to categorize each movement into groups defined by pushing, pulling or levering, we open ourselves to becoming creative.

Too weak to push yourself off the floor as the typical push-up demands? Fine, then stand up and push yourself away from the wall.  Same muscles, mostly, but dramatically different loads.

Basically, when we move our arms and legs we’re either pushing or pulling our body through time and space. When we run, we push off our feet using a variety of muscles from the feet, legs, glutes and up through the back, and use our arms for balance and a bit of propulsion as they swing rhythmically back and forth.

When we stand up from the couch, we contract the thighs (quadriceps) and glutes (gluteus maximus, or “butt”) and push down through the feet as we press up. If, instead of arising from the couch, we did so from the floor aided by the help of someone already standing, we would use our arms to help our legs by pulling ourselves up and toward our helper. In this case, our lats (latissimus dorsi), biceps and forearms contract as they pull our bodies up.

Focusing on the type of exercise movement — pushing or pulling — helps pinpoint the biomechanics involved in performing the exercise.

For instance, once you recognize that pushing your body away from something with your arms engages your pecs, chest and triceps muscles, you can get creative by experimenting with various positions that use those muscles to push.

This becomes a lesson in Progression: You experience how using your arms to push your chest away from a wall (low load) gradually progresses to being able to push your chest away from the floor (high load).  In both instances, the same muscle group was used, but with varying Work loads.

Which leads me to the Progression Principle, which along with everything presented in this 5-part series on functional fitness, is discussed in my forthcoming book.  Simply put, and as it sounds, the Progression Principal involves the steadily improvement of your functional fitness capacity by incrementally making the exercises harder to do.

As you’ll discover, Progression can be applied to each of the five bodyweight exercise movement types to perform the pushing or pulling by varying your position relative to the gravitational load induced by your body weight relative to the position you put yourself in to perform the movement.

With each of the following exercise movement types, I’ll present the simplest movement and progress to the most difficult. The exercise with which you can perform at least eight repetitions is the one to begin with.

Beginners should build a solid foundation of strength and capacity by working up to 15 repetitions for with upper body exercises, and 25 for lower body exercises.  For instance, if all you can do is eight reps of push-ups on your knees, stay with this exercise until you can do 15 reps before moving on to regular push-ups.

Typically, the best way to breathe is to inhale during the eccentric phase of the movement (when the muscles lengthen), and exhale during the concentric phase (muscles shorten).  For instance, when performing a push-up your pushing muscles (in this case: chest, frontal deltoid and triceps) are eccentric when your chest is on the floor, and concentric when you’re in the plank position.

Give yourself the rest you need for recovery, whether it be in between sets of exercises in a workout, or days in between workouts.  Muscles do not get stronger or bigger when exercised, but when resting. When exercised, muscles get microscope tears from the work effort and when these tears are repaired, the muscles grow and get stronger. This happens during the recovery period in-between workouts.

 

Type 1 Bodyweight Exercise Movement  — Upper Body Push

Upper body muscles that contract (shorten) when pushing a load, whether it’s your body or anything else, are mainly the:

  • Pectorals (chest)
  • Deltoid (shoulders)
  • Triceps (back of the arms)
  • Abdominal and Serratus Anterior (if tightened during the movement)

Primary muscles used for push-ups

Common exercises for the upper body include push-ups, handstand push-ups, triceps dips and parallel bar dips. The common denominator between all these exercises is that you’re pressing, or pushing your body away from an immovable object, like a wall, floor or bar.

A picture is worth 1,000 words, so I’ll add some pictures along with a description of the bodyweight exercises

Wall Press and Incline Push-up

 Wall and Incline Push-ups

Primary muscles used:  Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, Triceps.

Description: Either the Wall Press or Incline Push-up is ideal for people with modest upper body strength or mobility relative to their weight. More of the load for both of these exercises is supported by the legs and feet than in regular or decline push-ups.

How to do it:

(1) Face the wall, feet placed shoulder width apart. (The further your feet are from the wall, the harder the exercise.) Stand on your toes.

(2) Place your  hands in line with and a few inches wider than your chest. Rotate the hands slightly so the thumbs move away from the body and positioned slightly rotated out (thumbs move away from the body).

(3) Keep your elbows about a two fist distance away from your body, tense your body, inhale as you bend your elbows and your chest approaches the wall and exhale as you press your chest away from the wall.

Tip:  Turn your face from side to side with each repetition if you feel it improves the movement, and progressively move your feet further from the wall as you get stronger. Once you can do 15 reps, progress to Knee Bent Push-up.

 

Knees Bent Push-up

bend knee push-up

Primary muscles used:  Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, Triceps.

Description:

Like the Wall Press, the Knees Bent Push-up is for those who need to reduce the load placed on the chest, front deltoid and triceps. In this position, more of the load is transferred to the lower body than for a typical push-up position. The load placed on the muscles engaged is approximately 49% of your bodyweight.

How to do it:

(1) Lay down on the floor with your hands thumbs distance away from your chest, hands rotated out sightly (thumbs move away from the body), and your elbows flared out about a two fist distance away from your body.

(2) Bend your knees so that your weight is on your knees and hands, round your back a bit and tighten your abdominal and gluteal (butt) muscles. (You do not want to sag in the middle.)

(3) Tense your body, inhale, and as you exhale push your chest from the floor.

Tip:  The further your feet are from your buttocks, the easier is the movement, so to progress move your feet (you knees rooted to the floor) toward your butt. Keep your head and neck aligned with your spine, rather than allowing your head to hand down toward the floor. Once you can do 15 repetitions progress to the Regular Push-up.

 

Regular Push-up

military push-up

Primary muscles used:  Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, Triceps.

Description:

The Regular Push-up is also referred to as the “Military Push-up”. Most of us have seen some depiction of a military man or woman doing push-up drills. Approximately 64% of your bodyweight is lifted in a Regular Push-up.

How to do it:

(1) Lie down on the floor with your hands thumbs distance away from your chest, hands rotated out sightly (thumbs move away from the body), and your elbows flared out about a two fist distance away from your body.

(2) Stiffen your body, round your back slightly and tighten your glutes. (You do not want to sag in the middle.)

(3) Balance your body weight between your toes and hands, inhale and as you exhale press your chest off the floor.

Tip:  Keep your head, neck and spine aligned — no head hanging. Progress to 15 reps with good form before moving on to the Incline Push-up. You can increase the difficulty by raising your hands off the floor once your chest touches it.

 

Decline Push-up

decline-push-up
Primary muscles used:  Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, Triceps.

Description:

The Decline Push-up elevates your feet so that more load is placed on the upper chest and deltoid muscles. Depending on the height of the feet relative to chest, up to 80% of your bodyweight can be lifted in a Incline Push-up.

How to do it:

(1) Lie down on the floor with your hands thumbs distance away from your chest, hands rotated out sightly (thumbs move away from the body), and your elbows about a two fist distance away from your body.

(2) Elevate your feet on a stair, box, bench or chair.

(3) Stiffen your body, and with your toes and hands holding the weight of your body, inhale and as you exhale press your chest off the floor.

Tip:  The higher you place your feet, the more your upper pecs and deltoid are activated. Once you can do 20 slowly and with good form, progress to Explosive Push-up.

 

Explosive Push-up

explosive push-up
Primary muscles used:  Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, Triceps.

Description:

The Explosive Push-up builds strength and power, as it requires sufficient effort not only to lift the upper body, but to propel it higher than arms length.  You can do this push-up with your hands in one position, or vary them with each repetition. The three hand variation positions are: Hands beside the chest; left hand forward, right back; and right hand forward, left back.

How to do it:

(1) Lie down on the floor with your hands a thumbs distance away from your chest, hands rotated out sightly and your elbows flared out about a two fist distance away from your body.

(2) Stiffen your body, and with your toes and hands holding the weight of your body, inhale and as you exhale explode your chest off the floor; meaning press yourself so strongly and quickly off the floor that you can lift your hands off the floor once your arms are extended.

(3) After you become comfortable with the exercise, practice shifting your hand positions with each repetition. On the first rep, return to the floor with your hands in the original position, beside your chest.

(4) On the second rep, once extended, shift your hands so that one is forward about six inches (15 cm) and the back other six inches (15 cm).

(5) On the third rep, reverse the hand position, such that the opposite hand is forward and backward. Continue with this sequence until you’ve completed the set.

Tip: Begin with the variation that keeps your hand position fixed, rather than repositioning them with each repetition. Until you get accustomed to this exercise, do it no more than twice per week.

 

Hindu Push-up

Hindu Pushup
Primary muscles used:  Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, Triceps.

Description:

The Hindu Push-up is a common exercise used in the training routines of East Indian, Iranian, Turkish, Chinese and Japanese wrestlers. It is called “Hindu” because many believe it originated in India. If you’ve taken yoga, you’ll recognize that it’s similar to moving from “down dog” to “up dog”.  Although it primarily taxes the pushing muscles of the upper body, the entire body is involved in the movement.

How to do it:

(1) Start with your butt up in the air, hands forward, so that your body approximates an inverted “V”.

(2) Place your hands just outside the width of your shoulders, and your feet wider apart than your hands.

(3) Keep your head down, back flat (feel the stretch in your hamstrings), and let your head move to the ground as you bend your elbows, keeping them flared from your body but not perpendicular to it.

(4) Let your nose barely touch the floor as your  upper body begins to move past your hands, and bends up such that your hips are beside your hands, back nearly perpendicular to the floor and head bent back, eyes looking toward the ceiling.

(5) Finally, return to the starting position by pushing your hips back, and returning to the inverted “V” position.

Tip: You may find it more natural to breathe out when moving your body through your arms, and breathe in as you hinge back into the inverted “V”. Widening your feet will improve balance, but also makes it easier so gradually bring your feet closer together until they’re about shoulder width apart. When moving back into the starting position from the “up dog” position, do not return your chest to the floor and push up and back, as this would then be the Dive Bomber movement described next.  Instead, push your hips back, keeping your arms extended.

 

Dive Bomber

Dive Bomber Push-up

Primary muscles used:  Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, Triceps.

Description:

The Dive Bomber push-up is similar to the Hindu Push-up except that you reverse the forward motion to get back to the starting position rather than hinge back at the hips.

How to do it:

(1) Start in the “Downward Dog” position, with hands  slightly more than shoulder width apart on floor, feet wider still, and hips raised toward ceiling (forming an inverted “V” with your body).

(2) Bend your elbows, allowing them to flare to the side just a bit and dive forward moving your face and chest to the floor.

(3) As your head approaches the floor, straighten your arms and arch your back, sliding your pelvis forward between or in front of your hands, as if in “Upward Dog”.

(4) Now reverse the forward movement by pushing back into your heels, letting your chest move toward the floor and pushing back with your arms into the “Downward Dog” position.

Tip:  Like with the Hindu Push-up lead with your chest as it swoops down toward the floor while keeping your hips high. Once your chest begins to move past your arms, let you hips move toward the floor. As you reverse this movement to get back to the start position, initiate this by simultaneously letting your chest move to the floor as you push your hips back and up into the “Downward Dog” position.

 

Pike Push-up

Pike Push-up variations
Primary muscles used:  Anterior and Lateral Deltoid, Triceps, Latissimus dorsi (for stability)

Description:

There are many variations of the Pike Push-up. The idea is to put the load on your shoulders by bringing more of your weight forward over the shoulder girdle than with push-ups. This can be accomplished by putting yourself in an inverted “V” position with your buttocks at the apex and feet positioned at varying distances from the hands, or by bending your knees, bringing your feet close to your arms and pressing from that position. With all variations of Pike Push-ups, it will be your head — not your chest — that will be moving toward and away from the floor.

How to do it:

(1) Start in the inverted V position where you’re up on your feet, hand positioned the same as if doing a Push-up.

(2) Stiffen your body, and with your toes and hands holding the weight of your body, inhale, let your head move to the floor, and as you exhale press it away from the floor.

Tip: The closer your feet are to your arms, or the higher they’re elevated, the more difficult is the exercise.  Get a good foundation by practicing with easier positions until you can do 10 or more reps before progressing to a more difficult position. If you’re preparing for the Handstand Push-up, be able to hold yourself  arms locked against the wall in the handstand position for at least two minutes before attempting a Handstand Push-up.

 

Handstand Push-up

Handstand Push-up

Primary muscles used:  Anterior and Lateral Deltoid, Triceps, Latissimus dorsi (for stability)

Description: The Handstand Push-up is the penultimate bodyweight exercise for the shoulders. It’s the most difficult to do, even if a wall is used for balance, simply because the load is your entire weight. Many can do a few push-ups, but very few can do a single Handstand Push-up. It will take practice and perseverance.

How to do it:

(1) Face a wall and position your hands 12 to 18 inches (30 – 46 cm) from it.

(2) Pushing either off one or two feet, invert yourself so that your feet rest against the wall and your head is in between your arms. (Your body should bow a bit toward the wall.)

(3) Tense your body, look down at the floor, inhale and slowly unlock your elbows, bringing your head to the floor, and then, exhaling, press yourself back up.

Tip: Do not let your elbows flare out so they are parallel to the wall; rather, let them point away from the wall. As you get stronger, elevate your hands on sturdy books or blocks so that the deltoid muscles can contract further before your head touches the floor. Unless you are gymnastically inclined, I highly recommend being coached for this exercise, as well as any other exercises that are both technically and functionally challenging.

 

Your Takeaway

I started out by saying that exercise doesn’t need to be complicated; hopefully, I didn’t prove the opposite with this long article.

Just remember these five points:

  1. The best way to get functionally fit is to use your body weight for the “load” or resistance necessary to build strength and endurance.
  2. The reason functional fitness is a worthy goal is because it’s all about making your body better able to move through time and space under load. Wouldn’t it be nice to throw your grand kid over your shoulder when 70 and rapidly walk up five flights of stairs?
  3. There are five basic movement types, and here the focus was on upper body push which mostly involves the chest, shoulders and triceps.  If you do them correctly and thereby tighten your core, that will be exercised as well.
  4. Women have to work out like men, just as female athletes do, if you wish to become functionally fit. You need not worry about getting bulky.
  5. Progression and consistency attains the goal.  Exercise regularly and gradually increase the load (resistance).  The exercises shown above begin with the easiest upper body pushing movements and progress (as you will) onto the most difficult.

Grab a buddy and make it fun!

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Joe Garma
 

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Janet - August 21, 2016

Hi Joe,

Loved this week’s article. Much resonated with my current focus! I recently bought a pull-up bar to improve my upper body strength and to gain muscle in my arms. You do progress with persistence. I liked your commentary about women’s fear of getting bulky. That was my exact sentiment in years past. Now that I am 62, however, I want muscles! It’s a challenge now and I find I can’t skip a few days anymore.

My continuing goal is to be able to walk and move with strength and grace as I age. Your commentary and tips for being functionally fit using your own body weight is universal as it keeps things simple, manageable, and realistic to maintain as part of an ongoing lifestyle regime. I look forward to your forthcoming parts on lower body exercises. Thanks for a really great article!

Janet

Reply
Joe Garma - August 21, 2016

Pleased you liked it, Janet… there’s more coming in this venue.

Pull-ups are hard. One way to begin the challenge for beginners is: (1) First practice hanging until you can do it for a couple of minutes or more. (2) Move on to “negatives”, whereby you step up on something to get your chin over the bar and then slowly let your arms lengthen, then step up again and repeat. (3) After you can do several negatives, begin providing assistance doing the “positive” (lift up) portion, either by using a chair or step to push up with your legs or have someone step behind you as you’re hanging and hold your lower legs, one in each hand. As you pull you simultaneously push your lower leg down against the helper’s hands, thereby giving yourself an assist. (4) Once you can do one or two chin-ups, try doing one every minute until you can no longer do one. Eventually, you’ll be able to do a few at a time unaided.

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