The traditional push-up should be a cornerstone of every martial artist's body-weight routine. This exercise works out your shoulders, chest, arms and core muscles all at once. However, many people need to build up to this basic exercise. If you can't do a push-up yet, don't worry – regular practice will have you bench-pressing the earth in no time. You can get started by doing modified push-ups. The most common way to make this exercise easier is to do it from your knees instead of your toes. You can also place your hands on something higher from the ground, like a bench or a low chair, to reduce the difficulty level.
If you can do a regular push-up, take a close look at your form. If you hold your weight the wrong way while exercising, you can inhibit progress and risk injury. While you're performing your push-up, focus on keeping a straight line from your head to your toes. If your back is curved or your butt is high, you're not engaging your core properly. You can practice form by exercising in front of a mirror or having a buddy give you feedback.
Once you have that down, consider adding these variations to your push-up routine:
Knuckle push-ups give your wrists and forearms a more rigorous workout than traditional push-ups do. They also offer a benefit many martial artists desperately need: knuckle calluses. When the top of your knuckles experience the repeated pressure of the push-up, the area starts to build up more skin. This makes practicing punches safer and easier, since the skin across your fist will be harder to damage.
If you're transitioning into knuckle push-ups, take it easy, and rest between sets. Knuckle push-ups are hard work, and they utilize muscles that are often otherwise neglected. It may take a while before you can do a full set, and you don't want to hurt yourself in the meantime.
Diamond push-ups are a great way to work out your triceps. Since you do them by placing your hands in a diamond shape just below your chest, you won't be able to use your chest or shoulders as easily as you can in a traditional or knuckle push-up. As a result, your triceps have to be the star of the show. Since this relies so heavily on a muscle you may not have enough strength in starting off, you should practice these push-ups from your knees at first. Once you're comfortable with the movement and the form, transition onto your toes. However, you should still take it slow while you're building strength.
Decline push-ups work the same muscles as regular push-ups, but they're an excellent way to ramp up intensity. You do them by placing your feet on an elevated surface, like a weight bench or a step stool, and performing a push-up from that position. This variation requires more work from your chest, and increases the overall weight on your upper body. Since this results in a significant boost in difficulty, don't pair it with knuckle or diamond push-ups until you've mastered it and are totally confident in your form.
If you're looking to improve your explosive power and strength, consider working up toward clapping push-ups. This is when you perform a push-up and actually thrust your upper body into the air, clap your hands and land back in the starting position. If you're not comfortable clapping right away, try just practicing lifting off the ground first. Be careful, however, as this move is hard on your hands and wrists. Once you start to get tired, stop for the day and come back to it during your next workout session once your body has had time to recover.