Four Tips to Perfect Your Push Up
The push up is a very valuable, very convenient exercise. They require no equipment, you can do them anywhere, and if you’re doing them correctly, make no mistake about it — a bodyweight push up can help you pack on some serious muscle.
Unfortunately, the push up is often treated as an afterthought; commonly mistaken for a “beginner’s exercise” that’s only beneficial to a novice trainee.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The push up is easy to perform — but can be difficult to master — because a push up done with precision form requires full body engagement. Your hips, abs, glutes, and even your fingers play a role in creating the full body tension required to excellently execute a “simple” bodyweight push up.
It’s commonplace for people to brag about hitting 50+ push ups in a single set (guilty). The problem is that they’re almost never done right. Once their technique is cleaned up, two things usually happen: the number of reps they’re used to doing is nearly cut in half, while the quality of those reps goes way, way up. And when the quality of an exercise improves, so do the results.
Here are four tips you can start using immediately to make sure your push up technique is on point.
#1. Allow the shoulder blades to protract
When we’re taught how to bench press, we’re cued to squeeze the shoulder blades tightly together and to keep them that way the entire set. When we revert back to the push up, many tend to keep the shoulder blades stuck together in the same fashion — as if our back was still pinned against a bench.
You do want to actively “row” yourself down to the ground, squeezing the shoulder blades together, just as you would when bench pressing; once you begin your ascent back up, however, you should allow the shoulder blades to protract (separate) at the top. Failing to do so shortens the range of motion and could also be setting you up for some problems in the future. Never allowing the shoulder blades to protract at the top of a push up can create a lack of shoulder mobility if done frequently enough.
Retract on the way down, protract on the way up. Allow the shoulder blades to move through their natural range of motion.
#2. Maintain a “plank position”
Remember that posture dictates muscular function. In other words, if your body is not properly aligned during an exercise, how can it properly recruit the muscles you’re targeting in the first place?
The head, chest, and hips should all be moving up and down in a straight line. There should be no sagging. Before you begin your set; the glutes and quads should be flexed hard, the abs should be braced, and all joint segments should be moving as one throughout the entire set.
Sagging hips means a lack of core stability — which not only compromises the quality of your push ups, but can also contribute to lower back pain. If you feel this happening, end the set and get yourself back into proper alignment.
#3. Don’t flare your elbows
A popular way to perform push ups is to flare your elbows out while you’re doing them. This is one of the most common issues I see, and I’m not sure if this method was first introduced by an orthopedic surgeon looking to drum up some business, but doing push ups this way is a ticking time bomb for a shoulder injury.
Your arms should be slightly tucked at about a 45 degree angle relative to your body. Your elbows will be pointing back towards the wall behind you. This alleviates undue stress to the shoulder joint and appropriately places the focus on the primary muscle groups; the chest, triceps, and anterior aspect of the shoulder.
#4. Maintain an ideal body path
So far, we’ve covered three common technique flaws that are visually easy to see. This last one is more subtle.
Going back to the bench press analogy; when we press with a barbell, the path that the bar should travel for maximal output & efficiency is not straight up and down, but in more of a “J” curve. The same holds true for the push up.
Obviously, we aren’t freely moving a bar in the air here, but we can manipulate the position of our body to create the same mechanics.
At the top of a push up, we’re in an ideal position with our hands under the stable base of our shoulder blades. Once we’ve lowered ourselves down, we want to make sure that we rise back up to that stable position. If we just press straight up, we’re going to cause undesirable pressure on the shoulder joint.
So as we lower ourselves down, allow the body to drift slightly forward so that the hands are lined up right along the line of the lower chest at the bottom of the rep. From the bottom, we want to allow the body to drift back ever so slightly, creating that “J” curve akin to the bar path of a bench press, which will return us to that ideal, stable position we started from.
These four tips here are easy to incorporate, but rest assured, they are a collective game changer. I’ve been training for over a decade, and there are still days where even a set of 20 can be a challenge, depending where they’re placed in the workout.
Now more than ever, bodyweight exercises are an invaluable tool to have during a time when public gyms just aren’t an option. Life will eventually go back to normal and the gyms will reopen. In the meantime, I encourage you to train hard — even if you have zero equipment — because all that you truly need to get in a productive workout is your own bodyweight and the will to work.
Optimize them both and exceed your own expectations.
Thanks for reading! If there’s a fitness related topic you’d like to know more about, I would love to help. Let me know in the comments and I’ll make it happen! I appreciate it.
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