The Difference Between Standard Pushups and Military Pushups

Handsome man doing pushups in the gym
How hard can military push-ups be, anyway? (Image: djiledesign/iStock/Getty Images)

The phrase "military push-up" may conjure an image of some fantastically challenging form of an already demanding (but rewarding) exercise. How does a military push-up differ from a regular suburban American push-up? Not as much as you might think.

So assume the position and let's take a look at the various possibilities.

The Elbow Myth

In popular terms, a military push-up is commonly described as a push-up that emphasizes the triceps by keeping the elbows tucked to the sides. This would likely indicate a narrower spacing of hands than with a standard push-up, which usually assumes that the hands are spaced at roughly shoulder width apart.

Keeping your elbows tucked to your sides will indeed elicit more activation of the triceps, but to the best of anyone's knowledge, there has been no decree by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in regard to elbow placements and push-ups.

Woman doing pushups.
Contrary to popular belief, the military push-up says nothing about tucking your elbows. (Image: Zoonar RF/Zoonar/Getty Images)

The Real Army Push-Up

The ability to do push-ups -- as well as sit-ups and pull-ups -- has long been considered an important measure of general fitness. And rightly so. Push-ups are a great indicator of not only upper body strength, especially the chest, shoulder and tricep muscles, but also general core strength and stability.

You may be surprised to learn that, other than the fact that army push-ups mean there's a drill sergeant ready to kick your butt if you don't maintain proper form, there's little or no difference between army push-ups and standard push-ups.

Assume the Position

According to West Point's Army Physical Fitness test, you will assume the position by "placing your hands where they are comfortable for you." You also have a certain amount of free will when it comes to your feet, which may be placed "together or up to 12 inches apart." (The American Council on Exercise -- ACE -- specifies that during a standard push-up, your feet be placed together.) Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles, but then if you've been doing push-ups right all along, you already knew that.

Performing the Push-Up

When the drill sergeant says "go," well, get to it. Start by bending your elbows and lowering your whole body toward earth -- until your arms are "at least parallel to the ground." That gives a bit more leeway than the ACE version, which advises you to touch your chest to the floor.

Push Back Up

Now comes the hard part: return to the starting position. That means pressing your hands into the floor and lifting your body upward until your arms are fully extended. Keep in mind that your body "must remain rigid in a generally straight line and move as a unit" or else sarge is going to be displeased.

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