The Ultimate No Frills Workout

A ninjutsu black belt-wearing friend once said, with more than a hint of desperation in his voice, as he assumed a prostrate position on the floor for the umpteenth time, “You know, I can’t wait for push-ups to become obsolete – or at least be regarded as bad for you!”

Sorry, dude. No such luck. Push-ups are the ultimate no-frills exercise for young and old, rich and poor as they cost nothing to do – except in effort. They’re also 100% fad-proof having been around for millennia – it’s said that even Emperor Constantine used to, “get down and give Rome XXV!” – and are likely to be around for some time yet.

Why have they been so popular for so long? Well, several reasons really:

They really, really work

Push-ups are a fiendishly effective compound exercise. This means they build strength in more than one set of muscles at a time simply by using your own bodyweight as resistance. Done properly, they can help tone your biceps/triceps (upper arm), pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulder), and abdominals as well as some core and leg muscles. And, seeing as these are largely “mirror muscles”, i.e.; the ones easily admired in a bathroom mirror, this may explain the push-up’s popularity and longevity.

As a bodyweight exercise, push-ups are unlikely to build bulk muscle mass on their own but they certainly will develop greater strength and agility in the upper body as well as improve overall body posture. Long used as a litmus test for overall fitness, the push-up is an essential tool for getting yourself into shape.

They’re also easy

Ha ha – only joking! As anyone who’s ever done any will know, that’s not true at all. But push-ups ARE easy to bust out as; you need no fancy equipment, just a human-length section of relatively stable land; a pair of hands and feet; some iron will and maybe even a touch of masochism…

You can also do them wherever you like; up a mountain, in a cave, at your work desk or even in an igloo. You can do them at any time of the day or night too. Australian great cricketing fast bowler Dennis Lillee used to do press-ups during the ad breaks while watching TV – although this was in analogue times, nowadays we just use our remotes to fast forward through the sponsors. Is it any wonder we’re so sedentary?

This ease of use also makes them the ideal “challenge” task for calling someone out in social media or raising money for charity as there are no real excuses for failing to man up. So, answers to the question; “You do your 25 press-ups for Mental Health today?” like; “No, I was 40km away from the nearest gym” or “Hey, I only had ten minutes for lunch today!” just don’t fly. There literally is no response acceptable other than to get your unacceptably pudgy fingers off that keyboard/smartphone and onto that carpet. Now, dammit!

They’re hard man currency

Think of every legendary tough nut you’ve ever heard of; Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, The Rock – why even Fonzie on Happy Days (admittedly, AFTER the show jumped the shark) and you’ll think of that person pumping through a heavy set of push-ups. Sure, these guys no doubt train the house down with a variety of exercises – and possibly even some yoga moves – yet do we recall any of them executing a wicked array of Mountain Climbers? No, we do not.

Similarly, there are only some world records we take notice of. So, when Karate Master K J Joseph blasted through 82 push-ups in 60 seconds and Minoru Yoshida smashed the world non-stop record with a staggering 10,507 completions back in 1980, we all leapt up to punch the air. But would we care the same about either’s prowess in Star-Jumps? I think not.

The truth is; Push-ups are so “hard man” they’re even used as a punishment. So, if you’ve ever made a blundering error in your military unit/exercise bootcamp or sports team training, no doubt you’ve experienced someone screaming; “Get down and gimme 50!” in your face. Or worse, into your comrades/teammates’ faces – as that means you’ll get the same number of bruises from them later for being forced to share your sentence.

How to do Push-Ups

  • Lie face down on a mat then raise your elbows up until your hands are flat on the floor just outside your shoulders. Your arms and body should be making an arrow shape.
  • Keeping your entire body straight – especially your back (and butt!) – straighten your arms until you can go up no more.
  • Go back down until your chest is an inch off the floor. That is 1 rep.


  • T – Instead of making an arrowhead, move your hands up alongside your head so your arms form a “T” with your body
  • Incline – Place your hands on a chair and your feet on the floor. Remember to keep your body straight!
  • Decline – Opposite of the above (except for the keeping your body straight bit)
  • One-armed – Spread your feet wider for balance and maybe move your working hand into a more central position under your body
  • Clap – Clap your hands at the high point of the push-up
  • Knuckles – Just an ordinary push-up except with your knuckles on the floor instead of the palms of your hand

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