Face a wall or a tree, with your feet together and your toes about two to four feet away from the wall or tree, depending on your height and how much resistance you are looking for. The farther away from the support you are, the more resistance you will add to the muscles. Place your palms on the wall or tree with the fingers pointing upward at shoulder height. Practice these wall or tree push-ups while keeping your elbows close to your ribs. As you straighten your arms, first lift your palms off the wall and or the tree, and then your fingers. Be careful, especially at first, not to overstress the fingers and their joints. Inhale as you move toward the wall or tree and exhale as you push away. Land with your fingers softly when moving toward the wall or tree, and push with your fingers softly when leaving the wall or tree. These push-ups will strengthen your wrists and fingers as well as the arms and upper body. Practice a second set, this time with the elbows turned out and fingers pointing toward each other. Be careful, especially at first, not to overstress the elbow joints by trying to bring the head or the elbows themselves to the wall or tree instead of the chest. Inhale as you move toward the wall or tree and exhale as you push away. Some days you can practice the wall or tree push-ups closer to the wall or tree with the palms higher, and other days you can move your feet farther from the wall or tree and place your palms lower down. Practice only as much as is appropriate for you, and gradually increase the number of repetitions.

Why Two Sets?

Each set will activate and strengthen different groups of muscles. For example, when the elbows are in by your ribs, you will develop many small groups of muscles, especially the biceps and chest muscles. Doing the push-ups with the elbows out will develop your trapezius and deltoid muscles. Both will strengthen the forearms, wrists, and fingers.

Why on the Wall or Tree, and Not on the Floor?

To understand this question, we first need to talk about the chicken and the duck. The chicken has white breast meat while the duck has dark meat. We call it meat when it comes to what we eat but we call it muscles when we refer to ourselves; just a matter of mental convenience. The chicken’s muscles allow it to move very fast so that the chicken can jump very high and even have bursts of flying for very short distances. The developed muscle fiber is not strong enough to allow the chicken to really fly. The chicken does have dark meat, which is in the leg muscles that power the high jumps and the almost flying. On the other hand, the duck uses its muscles for long-distance flights. The duck is stronger but slower. Our muscle fibers are not white and dark like the chicken leg or the duck chest and wings, but we still have fast and slow twitch muscles that behave exactly like the dark and the white muscle fiber in the chicken and the duck. If you want to develop more strength and bulk, use heavier weights or resistance with limited repetitions. If you are looking for speed and a trim physique, use lighter weights with lots of repetition. Now that you have this information, who do you want to be? What body type are you striving to have—the chicken’s or the duck’s?

As a martial artist, I do not want to be slow and bulky. I need to be quick. Performing the push-ups on a wall develops the fast twitch fibers of the muscles that are in charge of performing with speed. Performing push-ups on the floor develop strength in the same muscles, but it will make you lose speed. Now the question is, do you want to be a duck or a chicken? Of course, a balanced approach will be the best answer.

Can They Be More Than Just Physical Push-ups?

Yes. Inhale deeply when moving toward the wall or tree. Move to empty moon, breathe out, and sigh. Linger at the end of the exhalation. The bows are still but the mind is active. Visualize four gates breathing. When inhaling and moving toward the wall or tree, condense your mind in the lower energy center and lead the energy up through the governing vessel to the shoulder blade area. On an exhalation, move away from the wall or tree and expand your mind out and down through the legs, a few inches into the ground, while leading the mind through the arms, fingers, and even through the wall or tree. When your mind expands into the earth beneath you and to the wall or tree in front of you, visualize the bubble around you. The more you move your mind down the energetic baton, the stronger your bubble will be. Connect to the three forces: heaven, human, and earth.

The setting sun will help the visualization of moving the mind down the energetic baton; it reinforces the sensation. When doing the push-ups, inhale when moving toward the wall or tree and exhale when pushing away. When you push, you can also sigh and expel impurities from your entire body through the mouth. The impurities will expel from your body and the tremendous force of the setting sun will pull the impurities away from your body and energetic space. You may sense the whole body becoming transparent when performing this mind/body prescription with the sun setting. If, however, you do not have the luxury of doing this exercise outdoors, during that time, still do it and use your mind to expel the impurities away from the body and your energetic space. If performing on a tree, the tree will help drain the impurities as well.

How Many Push-Ups Should I Do?

You should always use the concept of 80 per cent effort as well as placing your arms at various heights on the wall or tree according to your soft tissue condition. Some days, when you are sore or just want a light workout, perform the wall or tree push-ups with your palms and fingers at your shoulder height. On other days, when you want more challenge and resistance, place your feet farther away from the wall or tree, and the palms and fingers lower down at the solar plexus height. Remember, you have two sets. Some days, you can do them quickly and on others, go slowly. My personal experience is that if you can do the two sets, elbows in and elbows out up to 10 repetitions per set, you are at a beginner level. If you can do up to 30 per set you are intermediate, and if you can do more than 30 per set, you are advanced.

What Should I Be Careful Of?

The neck and the elbows: If you push through the elbows and move them when doing the wall or tree push-ups, you will experience pain in them. Keep the elbows away from the wall or tree and do not move them. It is your chest that moves, and the rest of the body is like a stiff board that just comes along for the ride. If you do too many repetitions too soon, this resistance exercise, which targets the upper body, could cause strain, especially in the neck. The only way to prevent that is to train at 80 per cent of your capability and use the next mind/body prescription of balancing the upper body every time you perform your wall or tree push-ups. Make sure you keep your face relaxed throughout the entire movement. Your tongue should be touching the roof of the mouth.

(This is an excerpt from Sunset Tai Chi—Simplified Tai Chi for Relaxation and Longevity by Ramel Rones with David Silver.)