If I could only choose only one upper body exercise to do for the rest of my life, it would probably be the almighty push-up, (though pull-up’s would be a close second.)
The reason being is that push-up’s works just about every muscle in your upper body, and there are so many variations, and it encourages well rounded strength (most think of it just working the chest, but it’s also great for the shoulders, arm, core, and to a degree the back.) It’s a great foundational exercise for teaching yourself to be mindful of proper form and tempo when learning other body weight and free weight movements (especially squeezing the core, resisting gravity, proper breathing and having good posture.)
The almighty push-up is possibly the oldest form of resistance training around, and it’s origin can be traced back thousands of years to India when Yogi’s did a form of push-up (now refered to as the “Hindu Push-Up.”)
We did these circular push-up’s at the start of every martial arts class as part of our warm up regimen back in my Chung Moo Do days (circa 1998-99) and called them “circular push-up’s.” We also did “5 second push-up’s” with the traditional style push-up’s, and they were called that because we collectively counted alound while lowering ourselves on a 5 second count until we were parallel to the ground; then we held for 5 seconds isometrically, before rising again on a 5 second count. Looking back, doing those push-ups and fighting gravity slowly-that was one of the greatest teaching moments, because you learned about time under tension, and the importance of not lowering a weight too quickly (in this case your own) to maximize muscle growth. Oftentimes on the last push-up of those sets we would hold it isometrically with whatever little strength we had left until our arms failed, and in that moment we learned how necessary failure is to growth.
There are so many variations of the push-up, but I favor the basic push-up, (or press-up in British Lexicon) as it’s the easiest version to be mindful of having ideal form, and it’s been tried and true for so long. There is a reason it’s still used today in the military as one of the most basic strength building exercises-it’s possibly the most efficient use of your resistance training time, especially if you’re a beginner looking to build strength in safe, but challenging manner.
If you’re looking to start a push-up regimen, I have some help for you here: