The push-up is an iconic exercise that we have all done at some point in our lives that we can’t help but love. While it is an absolute staple in our programs at Driven we feel like it is a great opportunity to share with our readers how to OWN their push-up technique.
While you may have done this exercise hundreds (thousands) of times in your life that doesn’t mean you have the technique nailed down to a science. We don’t want you to think that it is your fault though. The majority of times in our lives we are being TOLD to do push-ups and so the end goal is to do as many as you can in the time allowed. Therefore, we have never been given the knowledge and opportunity to fully harness the power of a push-up.
So let’s begin with some of the technical breakdowns we see in common push-ups.
The DREADED ‘Girl’ Push-Up
Nothing gets me more aggravated than when I see women doing the push-up from their knees. First, it does nothing for them in the long run. Yes, it burns but anything physical will create a burning sensation if it is done long enough. Women who do these types of push-ups are usually stuck doing them this way for the rest of their lives because doing a push-up from the knees does not create the core stability that a real push-up does. Instead, you get your stability from the knees and are therefore missing out an essential element of the push-up.
Also, where does one go from a knee push-up? This version essentially takes half the body out of the exercise. Do you then progress to adding your legs back into the equation? Essentially doubling the difficultly of the exercise in an instant. This is not a logical or effective progression, which is why women get stuck doing these push-ups forever.
The girl push-up needs to become extinct immediately as it does more harm than good, wastes peoples time and energy and demonstrates that as coaches we have not matured enough to get real results for people.
Another common technical breakdown we see is when folks dive the shoulders forward. This is called humeral anterior glide as the humerus (arm of the shoulder) moves forward in the socket. This can create irritation or impingement in the future and it does not place the stress on the exercise solely on the muscles.
We also see the hips sag, butt rise in the air or low back goes into excessive extension. These are all symptoms of the core and glute muscles not being activated throughout the movement.
Next we see the arms out too far in front of us when we do the push-up. This creates an easier but ineffective angle to build a strong and resilient body.
Last, when doing the push-ups it is EXTREMELY common for folks to kick their elbows out so that they are 90 degrees to the body. This is a very disadvantageous position for the shoulder joint to be in because it places stress directly on the joint. It is not uncommon for people who do push-ups this way over time to complain of anterior shoulder pain. The reason for that is while a push-up is considered a low-load exercise the body weight and repetitive motion will beat up the joint over time. Moral of the story, never do a push-up with your arms at 90 degrees to the body.
So with that being said how do you do a push-up properly so that you never have pain from it and completely OWN it in front of your friends?
- Consider a push-up a moving plank. If we are doing planks correctly we know that we need to fully engage the legs, core, glutes and arms to create TENSION throughout the body. This full body tension challenges the core in ways that typical planks never can. It also prepares the body to make a smooth and effective transition to the push-up. For a proper plank you must have your head, spine and glutes neutral and in alignment.
- To get into the proper push-up position start in all fours with a neutral spine and then kick both feet out while maintaining alignment. Make sure your arms are directly underneath your arm-pits.
- Brace your entire body! Again, tension is SO important when we are looking to build a rocking body, be our strongest self and master technique.
- Cork screw your hands into the ground. This creates tension up through the shoulders which is key to keeping them healthy and puts the elbow position in a 45 DEGREE angle.
- Pull yourself down to the ground. We shouldn’t be thinking lower yourself but instead think of popping your chest forward, retracting the shoulder blades while keeping the elbows at 45 degrees.
- Keep your head slightly tilted up so your eyes are starring slightly in front of you
- Push back off of the ground so that your body rises in one motion
- The finish point should have your shoulder blades protracted so that they are at their furthest point away from you
- Pause at the top
Now these steps may seem like a lot but when you really focus on all of the pieces to a proper push-up you get so much out of this exercise.
Once the fundamentals of the push-up are mastered you can then focus on progressing it through a lot of different methods. I will have a separate article on how to best progress the push-up so it continues to challenge you!
Until then make sure you focus on the technique. Take your time with each repetition because a set of 15 great push-ups will create a serious training stimulus. You will like how you feel and the physique benefits that come from it!