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Push-ups: the manliest and most foundational strength exercise for the upper body. They’ve been turning boys into men since the dawn of physical fitness. I won’t bore you with their benefits (i.e., they require no equipment, they’re great for the whole upper body, etc.) — you already know all that! Rather, I’ll be answering the question, “Why is it that even though push-ups produce amazing results in the beginning, I stop seeing any serious progress after a few months?”
No more soreness, no new muscle-gains…you don’t really feel as if you’re getting or looking any stronger. All you get is an increase in repetitions, and that’s the problem! Most of you can do too many push-ups after a certain point.
But you might ask, “Isn’t that good? Isn’t doing more repetitions a sign of progress?”
Well, it depends. If you’re trying to break the Guinness push-up record, then maybe yes. But, if you want a stronger and more defined body, it’s definitely the wrong way to do them. Here’s the thing: if you can do more than 20 repetitions in any strength-related exercise, it simply means that its intensity is not challenging enough for you anymore. You’re not stimulating your muscles to any serious extent, and that’s why you’re not building any more muscle and strength. All you’re doing is building endurance at pushing yourself up and down off the floor.
Utilizing the Mind-to-Muscle Connection to Get More Out of Bodyweight ExercisesInstead of wiling away your time doing push-up after push-up with no real benefit, there is a muscle you can use to make this exercise as challenging as it felt when you were first doing it.
Not only that, but by using this muscle, you’ll also be getting a chest pump like you’ve never felt before! Which muscle is it? The strongest one you possess: your mind! By learning to master the Mind-to-Muscle Connection, you’ll be able to increase muscle tension and do fewer, but more qualitative, repetitions. Below, I walk you through this connection, and then give tips on how to use it to maximize your push-ups.
External Cues vs. Internal Cues
Most people focus on external strength-training cues. These are all those training characteristics that are a) measurable (i.e., reps, sets, resting times, etc.), and b) obvious to the naked eye (such as using good form while executing the exercise). External cues are very important. They should be the first thing one focuses on getting right as a beginner. But, once you’ve mastered them, and once the exercise stops being challenging, combining them with internal cues is key.
The Mind-to-Muscle Connection (MMC) focuses on internal cues, which are the inner sensory feedback your body gives during your training. For example, one internal cue is the muscle burn you feel during the last reps of an exercise. Another one is the muscle pump you feel after a set. Internal cues can help you make the exercise more difficult — without having to add extra weight — allowing you to keep making progress in terms of strength and muscle development.
Another great benefit of utilizing internal cues is that you can do strength-building exercises without stressing your joints too much. This can be especially helpful if you’re over 30, when joints gradually become more sensitive and prone to injury.
To Build Strength, Choose Quality Over Quantity
Mind-to-Muscle techniques are not going to help you do more reps, or lift more weight in a strength-related exercise. On the contrary, they make each exercise more difficult to perform. It won’t be easy in the beginning — you’ll have to put your ego aside, since doing fewer reps feels, well, less manly. But doing fewer, more challenging reps, will build greater strength than doing a ton of easy reps. Strength and muscle development comes more from quality, than quantity. Plus, utilizing MMC cues will give you a greater feeling of control over your body, minimize injury, and help you experience your workouts at a deeper level. Once you learn to apply it to bodyweight exercises like push-ups, you won’t feel like doing them any other way again!