Do More: Push-Ups

The push-up is an overlooked exercise that often gets butchered when performed. It may not look like much, but the push-up is actually an incredible tool for strength and stability.  Way too many people fall in love with other pushing exercises, especially the bench press, and leave the push-up and its variations out of their programs.  Well I am going to break a lot of hearts by saying: As an athlete, the push-up is more useful than the bench press. The sooner that you incorporate push-ups into your routine, the sooner your shoulder health and core stability will improve.



Think back to your younger days. Most likely, one of the first exercises that you were taught was the push-up. There are a few reasons for this.  First and foremost, the push-up has the simplest setup.  You literally need nothing but a spot on the floor.  The second reason is because the push-up is a true testament to upper body strength.  Thirdly, many people think that the push-up is an easy, harmless exercise that anyone can perform.  Though the push-up is simple in set up, and relatively basic in execution, it still can cause problems when performed incorrectly or when an athlete does not possess the requisite upper body strength necessary. So in this week’s “Do More” installment, we will discuss the push-up – how to properly perform the exercise, some common mistakes made during the movement, why the exercise is so incredible, and some different regressions and progressions.



How to Properly Perform a Push-Up:


1.       Lie flat on your stomach arms at your side


2.       Raise hands to your side so that palms are flat on the ground


3.       Hands will be placed right outside shoulder width


4.       Keep your rib cage down and brace your core


5.       Squeeze your glutes and your hip flexor


6.       Lower yourself to the ground. Do not let your elbows flare out. Keep your elbows approximately 45 degrees from your body.


7.       As you lower yourself, your scapulae (shoulder blades) should retract. Think of trying to hold something between your shoulder blades.


8.       Lower yourself until your chest reaches the ground.


9.       Push the ground away while maintaining your elbows at 45 degrees.


10.   As you push the ground away (and push yourself up), allow your scapulae to move freely along your rib cage.


11.   At the top of the push-up, your scapulae should be protracted.


12.   Repeat




Some Common Mistakes:


1.       Hand placement

a.       Oftentimes people place their hands too far away from the body.  They are either too far up or too wide.

b.      Keep your hands shoulder width (or slightly wider) apart with a long, vertical arm.


2.       Sagging Hips

a.       This mistake shows up when the lower back and hips droop lower than the upper body.  This leaves your lower back in a vulnerable position and suggests a lack of core stability and glute engagement. Allowing your hips to sag increases the lordosis in your lumbar spine.

b.      To correct: squeeze your glutes and hip flexors, brace your core by locking your ribs down.

c.       Ensure that your shoulder, hips, and ankles are in a straight line throughout the movement


3.       Lack of Scapular Movement

a.       People neglect to let scapulae move freely along their rib cage

b.      Most commonly, people cut the push-up short at the top position – never allowing the scapulae to protract

                                                               i.      This eliminates one of the biggest benefits of the push-up

c.       Be sure to reach a full range of motion.  As you get to the top, really try to push the ground away from you so that you can feel your shoulder blades move away from the spine and along your rib cage.


4.       Head and Neck Position

a.       Do NOT shoot your head forward as you lower yourself in the push-up

b.      Keep your chin tucked in a double chin position

c.       By shooting your head and neck forward you fail to get true scapular protraction and retraction.

d.      A simple cue to use: “CHEST BEFORE CHIN”.  This will remind you that your chest should touch the floor before your chin does, thus keeping your chin in the proper position.

e.      Also, DO NOT LOOK UP when performing a push-up. Keep a neutral spine throughout.



Benefits of the Push-Up:


1.       Easy Set-Up


2.       Do them anywhere, no gym needed


3.       Countless ways to progress the push-up to challenge yourself


4.       Also easy to regress if necessary


5.       Scapular Stability


6.       Core Stability


7.       Closed Chain Exercise: allows for scapular movement unlike the bench press.


        a.       This is the reason why overhead athletes like softball and baseball players should use the push-up and its variations in place of the bench press


8.       A great alternative to the bench press:


        a.       The push-up is more shoulder friendly in regards to (1) how the humerus sits in the shoulder socket and (2) it provides a full range of motion for the scapulae unlike the bench where athletes are coached to pull the scaps down and back throughout the entire movement.


        b.      If you are experiencing biceps tightness/pain during the bottom portion of the bench press then swapping out the bench for the push-up may ease your biceps pain.




There you have it. As you can see in the lists above, the push-up may be one of the best “bang for your buck” exercises that you can do as an athlete.  I suggest that it is an exercise that you keep in your programs so that you can build your strength and also keep your shoulders happy. Check back later this week for the second entry into the “Do More: Push-Ups” installment where I will take you through some different variations of the push-up that you can use in your workouts.  Happy Fourth of July! Make sure you keep your fingers away from those fireworks!

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