Sensei Kirkham,


Here is an excerpt from one of my books. I though you might like to run it. I’ve taken the liberty to plug the book and my site at the end 

Loren Christensen



If push-ups increased muscle size, I would have completed army basic training with 42-inch arms. Every time I screwed up, the drill sergeant would scream at me, "Christensen, give me 50 push-ups." It was always 50 or 75, never just five or ten. Sometimes I had to do them two or three times in one hour. By the time I graduated from basic and advanced training, I was convinced I had done at least one push-up for every star in the sky.


A personal prejudice

Instructors, don't discipline your students by making them do push-ups. The old "Give me ten" has probably turned more people, especially young people, off exercise than any other one thing. If you want your students to benefit from exercise, why in the world would you use it as punishment? If your style of teaching is to punish your students for errors and infractions (that's another subject of debate), choose something other than exercise.

OK, I feel better, now.


If for some odd reason you were unable to do any other exercise except push-ups, you wouldn't be that bad off. Although they only mildly stimulate the biceps muscles, they are excellent for conditioning and strengthening the shoulders, chest, back, upper arms, stomach, neck, wrists, and hands.

If you are interested in gaining muscle size in the upper arms, you may or may not get it with push-ups. I never have, even when I was doing zillions of them for my country. I did get in condition, and I did get to the point where I could whip off a hundred without much effort, but my arms never looked like Arnold Schwarzennegar's.

There are, however, many variations of the push-up movement, and lots of routines that just might increase muscle size. So if free-hand exercises are the only exercises you can do, and you want to increase your muscle size as well as your power, then explore the variety of ways to do the common push-up.

But will push-ups help your karate? Definitely. The exercise duplicates the motion of the punch - jab, straight, reverse - working the exact muscles needed to deliver a powerful blow.

Do females have to do push-up differently than men? No, that's an old wive's tale. If a female is way out of shape and lacks upper-body strength, she may want to start out doing them on her knees, but the same is true for any man who is out of condition. If you have to start out that way, that's fine. But your immediate goal is to do them off your knees, then progress to the more difficult variations.

Let's take a look at a few variations of the push-up and see how it can be used to put power in your punches.

Pause Push-up

Assume the regular push-up position, hands about shoulder-width apart and your legs spread as far as possible to stretch your back, stomach and groin area. Lower yourself until you are about two inches from the floor and hold the position for 30 seconds. Push yourself back up to the starting position, hold for five seconds, then do another rep.

If these are hard for you, do only five reps, rest a moment, then do another five. Work up to three sets of ten reps.


Forearm push-up

This is a great triceps pumper; three sets of eight will inflate your arms like a balloon.

A word of caution. If you have problem elbows - pain, clicking, etc - this variation might aggravate the problem. If so, skip this exercise.

Assume the standard push-up position but with your forearms on the floor rather than your palms. To begin the movement, press your palms down with enough force to lift your forearms off the floor. Continue pressing until they are straight up and down, then reverse the motion by slowly lowering your elbows back to the floor. Continue in this fashion until you have completed one set.


One-arm push-up

These have been around for a long time but Silvester Stallone in ROCKY, and actor Jack Palance's demonstration on the Academy Awards made them a household word.

Since one-arm push-ups can be quite stressful on the elbow joint and all the support parts that make the joint function, do these only after your triceps and elbows have been thoroughly warmed up from other exercises. Don't do them at all if you have elbow problems.

Assume the standard two-hand pushup position, then twist your upper body so it's positioned over your right arm. Chamber your left fist at your hip. Lower yourself down as far as you can go comfortably, then push back up.

Do them on the palm of your hand until you get the hang of them, then on your knuckles to strengthen your hands and wrists. Eventually you may want to try them just on your thumb and index finger.


Rib-rubbing push-up

Assume the push-up position, hands directly under your shoulders. Keep your elbows tucked in snug against your sides so that the up and down motion simulates the same motion as in straight and reverse punching. Keep your back straight and your chin up.

To develop the entire range of the punch, place your hands on two, two-inch high blocks, so your body descends further than when your hands are on the floor. When you have lowered yourself as far as you can go, your hands will be about half way back along your sides. Then as you push yourself up, your muscles, in particular your punching muscles, will be worked through the entire range of the punch.


Spade push-up

This position stimulates the outer triceps head. Assume the push-up position with the tips of your index fingers and thumbs touching. The space between your fingers will look like a spade. Spread your legs to get a good stretch in your chest and groin. Lower yourself until your chest just touches the floor, then push upward until your arms are straight. Hold the upright position for 10-15 seconds, then lower yourself again. Do three sets, 10-15 reps.


Plyometric push-up

This requires a powerful thrust to propel you off the floor, enhancing your ability to explode with the muscles of your arms, shoulders, chest and back. This shouldn't be confused with the type of push-up where you clap your hands in the air. The plyometric variation is harder because you don't go up as far and you drop down further, all of which makes the action faster. Begin in a standard push-up position with your chest and legs touching the floor, then push upwards so forcefully your hands come off the floor. Keep your arms bent and your hands even with your chest as you drop back to the floor, then explode right back up again. This exercise doesn't work the full range of motion, which is OK.

Think of this as bouncing off your hands by using a powerful upward motion on each rep. The instant your hands hit the floor, thrust upward with speed and explosive power; make it your goal to touch the floor for as short a time as possible.

You may not catch on to the rhythm of this variation right away. Plyometric pushups are extremely stressful on your muscles, so make sure you are thoroughly warmed up before you do them. If they are too difficult, start out with your knees on the floor. Do three sets of ten reps.


Finger-tips-touching push-ups

Assume the push-up position. With your palms on the floor, turn your fingers inward so the finger tips of each hand touch. This places stress on your wrists, but mostly on the outer head of the triceps, the portion of the muscle involved in extending the backfist and driving the straight punch.

Three sets of ten should do.


Handstand push-ups

You will get a rush from these - a rush of blood to your head. Handstand push-ups take a bit of practice, but they are worth the effort. It's easiest to do them against a wall, or have a training partner hold your feet. If you are a gymnast, you can probably do them in the center of a room without support.

Lower yourself as far as you can, then push yourself back up. If at first you can only dip a little, that's OK. Do two or three sets of six reps lowering yourself just a short ways. But as your strength increases, progressively lower yourself further and further, beginning with one set, then a second set, then all three. Strive to go all the way down.

There are many ways to do push-ups. One time I was teaching a class of 35 students and asked each one of them to come up with a different variation - and they did. Use your imagination and you will discover all kinds of power-building push-ups. Here are few more that should be self-explanatory.


Hands set wide Feet-on-chair, hands on floor

Hands touching Back-of-hands

Speed reps Hop-across-the-floor

Slow reps Fast reps

Lower slowly, upward explosively

Clap hands between each rep

Knuckle push-ups Thumbs only pushups

Finger tips push-ups Edge-of-hand push-ups

One finger push-ups Partner-sitting-on-back



Although all push-ups are good, those that position your arms directly underneath your shoulders and allow you to tuck your elbows tight against your sides are the most beneficial for developing punching power.

FREE TIP: If you do your push-ups on the same day you practice your fighting art, it's best to do them at the end of the class. If you do them at the beginning, say as part of your warm up, you will be too tired to throw quality punches during your class.


This is an excerpt from my book POWER FIGHTING: How To Develop Explosive Punches, Kicks, Blocks, and Grappling


This and other martial arts books can be seen on my web site at LWC BOOKS


Loren W. Christensen