| Article written on October 20th, 2015 at 9:27am | Follow Garrett on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram |
The push-up is often one of those movements that is well-intended, but improperly executed. People are always asked to do push-ups from the floor, when they are not ready for this variation. That is why having a proper push-up progression is key, and also having the knowledge on how to troubleshoot improper form.
Before you get started, here ere are a few of my previous articles on push-ups:
In this month’s, Random Thoughts on Enhancing the Push-Up, I wanted to discuss a few considerations that will ultimately improve your push-up. Instead of dropping to the floor and hammering away at 10, imperfect repetitions, this article will provide some thoughts on how to get the most out of them.
1.First, let’s understand proper set-up and positioning. If you don’t start in the right position, how do you expect the sequence of events thereafter will be correct? Begin with the hands on the floor in line with the shoulders, but just outside shoulder width. The toes should be under the ankles. And, the body needs to be in a straight line from the ankles through the head. You’ll see most people jump down and start so incorrectly that you wonder how they will get a few repetitions in.2. Is the push-up a full body or upper body exercise? This movement requires maximal stability and engagement in a myriad of muscles from the toes through neck. Therefore, it’s safe to say it’s a full body movement. Because of this, there are many different joints that need to stabilize for proper form.
Let’s start at the knees… The knees need to remain extended and rigid. Oftentimes, poor hip and lumbar positioning occurs because the knees tend to move into flexion. It’s always important to engage the quadriceps before beginning the movement. I always tell people to “lock out” their knees. In most cases, the hips and lower back return to proper alignment.
The lumbar spine and hips… This is a big area to see form breakdown as they often droop towards the ground. The anterior core (abdominals, obliques, and transverse abdominis) is a key player to provide the stability necessary to prevent extension. Once we think beyond the simplistic viewpoint that the abs are meant to only crunch the body into flexion, we realize their importance in preventing extension. Cueing “abs tight” can make a difference, but I often find this fault is equally a knee issue as mentioned above. Training anti-extension core stability with exercises like the dead bug, planks, and stir the pot can be helpful.
The thoracic spine… Posture dictates a lot within this movement. Excessive kyphosis (rounding) of the thoracic spine may prevent neutrality. In the younger population, it may be beneficial to teach them to control spine position with the cat/cow before engaging in the push-up. Oftentimes, it’s not that they lack the mobility to get into position, but more so the inability to control it. The cat/cow provides feedback on how to get into neutral and regain proper positioning. In the older, office worker, mobility may need to be addressed first, to offset the negative effects of sitting before performing this movement effectively.
The head and neck… Text neck has become an epidemic. We are staring at screens so much throughout the day that our head/neck is remaining in a protruded position. If we don’t actively retract the head during the push-up, the nose will make it to the ground before the body. I often find this fault in people who sit at desks, and also those who are trying a push-up variation well beyond their ability. Regressing to an easier variation may actually improve this issue without having to teach proper positioning. But, if that doesn’t do the trick, try incorporating a few of these chin tucks to teach cervical neutral.
3. Before beginning the movement, it’s important to “screw” the hands into the ground. This places an external rotation torque through the shoulder and helps centrate the joint. Proper joint centration will allow for better joint motion and stability. The same technique can be used during the squat pattern to provide better centration and engagement of the hip external rotators and gluteals. Notice, as you “screw” the hands in opposite directions (left: counter-clockwise, right: clockwise), the elbows will angle closer to the body. This small adjustment is great for those who keep their elbows high, around shoulder height, or have poor stability in the shoulders.
4. Now that we have discussed all of the things that typically go wrong with the push-up, it’s important to know where to begin. Don’t be worried if you can’t do push-ups from the floor. In reality, most people can’t. You’ll be better off putting your ego aside and trying eccentric or incline variations. Eccentric push-ups are actually regular push-ups, with only focus on the lowering portion. This is valuable while teaching people how to get into proper position and maintain stability throughout the descent. See video below:
The incline push-up includes finding a surface where the upper body is inclined, higher then the lower body. At home you can use the kitchen table or counter, and at the gym use a squat rack or bench. Please don’t do kneeling push-ups. I’ve never seen the appeal or importance of these. When you use the knee as your fulcrum, it significantly shortens the lever arm causing much less demand on stability. Most often, those that do kneeling push-ups still have difficulty progressing to the regular version. Eccentric first, and then Incline is your best bet, while slowly moving the upper body lower until you are able to use the ground. See video below:
I hope you found value in this edition of Random Thoughts. Please feel free to leave feedback or comment below. You can also find me on Facebook and share your thoughts there. Good luck on those push-ups!
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART