From when I was young, push-ups were attractive to me for a few reasons:
- They are easy to understand – hands on the floor, and push away from the the floor. Done.
- It offered quick results – do one more push-up than your previous best attempt, and you were stronger, and had more endurance. Doing rep upon rep of push-ups will definitely boost a young man’s confidence.
- It is easy to show off as a young’n – after learning the basics, I began to experiment and play around with the push-up and found out I was pretty decent at them!
However, despite all these awesome reasons why the push-up was the bomb growing up, it is still butchered to this day.
Today will be different, as I will be painting a path in which I outline the problems and solutions for faulty push-ups.
First, let’s analyze how to do the push-up incorrectly, in order to find out how to do them correctly.
INCORRECT WAYS TO DO A PUSH-UP
Problem: Head reaches floor first.
Too much cervical flexion during the movement will often utilize too much upper trap as well.
Solution: Pack the neck!
This common problem is easily remedied by bringing the neck into a neutral position. When I previously coached this to get athletes into this position, the first thing they do is bring their chin to their neck, creating a different problem altogether. In reality the proper cuing I usually use now is “bring your mouth to the back of your neck” or just give them some kinesthetic feedback by placing a PVC Pipe or my hand to ensure proper movement of the neck during the push-up.
Problem: Chest doesn’t reach the floor/stomach hits the floor first.
In actuality this problem coincides with the first problem – since the head reaches first, the trainee usually thinks “I can’t go down any further, my face is already in the floor.”
This could be due to lack of strength in the arms, chest, abdominal musculature, or even scapular muscles due to those muscles wanting to protect the body (“I haven’t gone this low ever! Gotta turn on more so the body doesn’t go too low.”)
Solution: Eccentric Push-Ups & Incline Push-Ups
There are several ways to remedy the half-rep push-up. One way is to allow the body to slowly reach into the bottom position of the push-up for a certain tempo, WHILE actively fighting the downward tension that gravity is exerting on you. Maintaining tension in the muscles during the eccentric is crucial, otherwise you won’t be affected in a positive manner. After you let your body [slowly] fall during the movement in proper form, bend your knees, and return to the starting position.
Another way to incorporate variety to overcome resistance in the push-up is performing an incline push-up, such as on a smith machine or bench, and slowly lowering the height as the push-ups get easier and easier over a length of time.
Problem: Elbows flare out.
While this isn’t as common as the first two problems, it is still prevalent in that many trainees will begin to flare their elbows out due to fatigue, or even as their initial recruitment strategy during the push-up. What this indicates to me is either a lack of triceps strength or too much deltoid recruitment during the movement.
In reality, flaring of the elbows screams out to me that you may be underestimating this exercise and its accompanying benefits, as there is a lack of tension in the musculature surrounding the core and triceps.
Solution: Bring elbows to a 45° angle during the movement.
If the above issue were to be explained geometrically, I would equate that to around a 90° angle. So I would like to see the angle of push-ups performed with the elbows in around 45° – this shifts the weight away from the anterior deltoids, and moreso on the chest and triceps – the real reason why you do push-ups!
What this does also is it allows us to create tension in the lats. How you ask? When you’re in the 45° angle position, half of the work is done. I’ve always done this movement initially, mainly because if I wanted to progress, I had to experiment on my own and found this as a useful action for the push-up.
However, Pavel Tsatsouline – the man behind the curtain when it comes to bodyweight training, and kettlebell work – describes a bit more succinctly, and he calls this the corkscrew method, in which you place your hands down, and “split the floor apart”, which does several things for us: mainly, it creates proximal to distal tension from the obliques to the lats and posterior shoulder musculature, to the hands and even feet if done appropriately.
So there you have it. I outlined the quick and dirty problems vs solutions for the push-up. Next installment I’ll discuss the various progressions of the push-ups I would have our athletes perform if they were beyond a normal push-up!
UPDATE: After enumerating the various ways to perform a push-up incorrectly, you would think I would have posted a video of someone performing this movement correctly. Obviously I overlooked that little (but huge) detail in this post!
Did you enjoy this first post in the series on push-ups? There is more where that is coming from! Please like this blog post or share it on your favorite platform if you have any of these push-up woes! Thanks in advance.