Do your Push-Ups look like this?
One of the first strength movements we are taught as children in elementary school is the basic Push-Up. It is a staple of many training programs- and rightfully so. Unfortunately it is taken for granted that everyone knows ‘proper form’ when executing this move. A Push-Up with good form, is a great indicator of upper body and core strength and compliments every resisted strength exercise.
The problem I see though on a daily basis is the quality in which Push-Ups are being performed. Just as I demonstrate in the video above, I routinely see elbows flared out, scapulars (shoulder blades) digging together and hips raised or dropping well below the upper body, preventing full range of motion- all in the name of completing a certain amount of reps. Each of these flaws will ultimately result in shoulder pain, back pain or both- without ever getting you better at performing Push-Ups.
For my clients, the focus is not on quantity, but rather high quality. Therefore, we work towards performing a Push-Up as follows:
Elbows at about a 45 degree angle. Hips in line with the upper body throughout the movement, shoulders directly over top your hands. The tempo is controlled on the way down and explosive on the way up. And the depth is about a ‘fist-width’ from the ground.
If you cannot perform a Push-Up with the parameters I just outlined, you’d be best served to stop attempting full Push-Ups, and instead work from the Push-Up Position Plank.
Why Not Perform the Full Rep?
In the more is better age of fitness in which we now exist, you may be confused as to why I’d recommend doing less by not performing full reps of the Push-Up. While on the surface it may seem like you’re doing less, you’ll ultimately reap far more benefits from first mastering the Push-Up Position Plank. Ultimately you will progress by adding in subsequent variations from the Push-Up Position and still get more ‘reward’ than performing countless sub-par Push-Ups.
By working from a quality Push-Up Position for a set amount of time, you’re directly strengthening the muscles you need to perform a full Push-Up. In this position you also will get comfortable with holding your own body weight, and in time and with the proper progressions, you will be able to perform full Push-Ups with absolutely perfect form. In order for this to happen though, you need to build from the ground up and work through each Push-Up Position Plank Variation.
When I say “Push-Up Position Plank Variations” this refers to any movement from the basic PUPP- the moves I outline below are what I feel to be the most basic but also most effective. Each of them will at some point put your bodyweight on one hand. When this happens and you properly drive your hips down towards the ground, you are getting a tremendous amount of anti-rotational abdominal work. Not to mention the normal core activation you get from bracing your abs during a Push-Up Position Plank.
What is Anti-Rotational Abdominal Training & Why is it Important?
Any move that you resist your hips rotating, is considered anti-rotational. This action occurs in the transverse plane of motion, where rotation occurs. Consistent anti-rotational training will not only improve your core strength but also enhance your balance and coordination as well.
In terms of full-body health, this is a far superior option to working your core (obliques in particular) compared to the “old-school” body weight options of: Russian Twists, Bicycle Crunches or V-Ups- all of which greatly compromise your lower back.
Additionally, by doing these anti-rotational moves for time, you are guaranteeing proper time under tension for your core, upper body musculature and your shoulder stabilizers. A huge downside I routinely see in individuals performing sets of Push-Ups is they want to get them done as fast as possible- which has its merit in certain instances, such as a max rep test in a pre-determined amount of time. However, generally speaking, by rushing through the reps, you completely miss out maximizing your core activation and shoulder stabilizers- which are two of the biggest benefits of being in a Push-Up Position!
Push-Up Position Plank
Regardless of what variation you choose to do, this position will always be your starting point- therefore it is imperative to make sure it’s absolutely perfect! Your shoulders should be directly over your hands (finger tips straight ahead) with your neck relaxed. The hips should be directly in line with your upper body, and your glutes should be activated. As you squeeze your glutes also focus on “bracing” down with your abs. (When you “brace,” your abs should be tensed up like you’re about to get punched in the stomach). If it’s available at your gym, try to get parallel with a floor length mirror so you can teach yourself how it “feels” to be in a perfect body position. Being aware of something as simple as your hips dropping, or your shoulders being behind your hands, will be imperative the more you start moving around within the Push-Up Position.
PRO TIP: Holding this position for a max hold is a great and most importantly safe method to test your upper body strength levels. Every 4, 8 or 12 weeks assume this position and hold until you can’t maintain proper body positioning. Especially for beginners, or those not interested in max numbers, this is a great way to chart continued improvement in upper body strength levels.
Push-Up Position Tap Variations
The same form applies for each of these variations- the only difference is where your hands wind up tapping or moving. They are listed in order below from easiest to most difficult, then the final variation puts it all together- which is a great way to make 30 seconds pass by really quick! Make sure when performing these moves keep the following in mind:
- Shoulders ALWAYS over your hands (minimizes unneeded stress on shoulders and lower back)
- Finger tips straight ahead
- Hips can sway, but should never open- in other words, stay parallel to the ground!
- Start with feet shoulder width, then adjust based on what you need- a wider stance will make the move easier, while a narrow stance makes it more difficult
- The more controlled you perform these reps, the better quality core work you will get
Push-Up Position Opposite Wrist Tap
Push-Up Position Opposite Elbow Tap
Push-Up Position Opposite Shoulder Tap
Push-Up Position Arm to Side
Push-Up Position Arm to Front
Push-Up Position Tap Combination
Once you master each of these moves and can perform them for 45-60 seconds with perfect form, you should be ready to progress towards full Push-Ups with proper form. You may need to hit them from an incline at first, just to get used to the “new” range of motion, but as you feel more and more comfortable with the move, lower the incline until you’re flat on the floor performing perfect reps. Just because you can do perfect Push-Ups though, doesn’t mean you should abandon these variations. Remember, one of the keys to improving your total body strength gains is time under tension. Therefore, adding in a Push-Up to each of these variations will only progress the move even further by increasing your total work time, while also adding the anti-rotational component as well.
As always, start small- 15-20 seconds with perfect form. Progress in time first until you can hold each move for 45-60 seconds, then move to the next variation. These can either be built into your warm-up or mixed into the workout as well. Either way, your commitment to quality reps will ultimately yield much better results than forcing copious amounts of sub-par repetitions.
Yours in Fitness and Health,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.