“Everyone knows how to do push ups.” NOT. Every week I remind my boot campers how to perform a push up in good form. Sometimes it is because they want to push harder or not look like the only person who can’t do a proper one. But I can’t stress this enough, a push up in bad form isn’t doing anyone favors. It also isn’t shameful to not be able to do even one, because this sucker takes a lot of practice and build up.
A push up is one of the most basic exercises that builds upper body and core strength. No equipment is needed, not even this and there are no excuses that can justify leaving it out of your workout (unless you are injured/have joint restrictions, then you are absolutely excused).
Proper Form: 3 Things to Focus On
Spine. I am a big defender of spine health. So when doing any exercise I will always mention this first. When executing an exercise from a prone position, it is best to keep your spine in a neutral position. Note that I am not saying “straight” but “neutral.” The difference is that when the spine is in neutral, it is allowed to perform as it should with the natural curves in motion. Pushing the spine into a straight position is forcing it into an unnatural state. Neutral also means not letting the spine hyperextend. When in a prone position, don’t look like your cat, stretched out over couch and under the coffee table. Only a cat can be comfortable and look cool in that position.
Elbows. What part of the arms are pushups actually working? Pushups utilize anterior and medial deltoids (shoulders) as well as the triceps and pectorals (chest). They are a ton of variations on pushups and there are a lot of arguments on which is actually the true one, but I’ll stick to the form that I feel works best for the major muscle groups used. When lowering to the ground, keep the elbows close to the side of the body, bending 90 degrees towards the feet.
Neck. Keep the neck neutral as well. A common compensation I see in pushups is when the neck drops down and forward. A little trick to know if the neck is in the right spot is to actually look a few inches in front of you rather than straight down.
How to Build Up
Start with planks. Having stability throughout the core and shoulders is a key component. Don’t worry about lowering just yet. A proper plank is all about keeping the neck and spine neutral and the shoulders directly over your elbows/wrists. Learning to engage the core, quads and glutes will keep pushups in proper alignment rather than looking like someone is about to break out the worm.
On your knees. Don’t knock anyone doing push ups on their knees. I would rather have a client do pushups on their knees in perfect form any day of the week until they build the strength to go to the next level. (See previous.)
Halfsies. I like having my clients learning how to hold a pushup halfway before even attempting to lower all the way. This still gives the core and shoulders more control without losing form.
Now are we ready to tackle the pushup?