Developing the Perfect Push Up – What you have been doing wrong for so many years –

In my eyes the Push-up is in the Top 5 most functional exercises for your body (when done properly), and it should be treated as such.  Why is it that this exercise has shown to contain the worst form of any other exercise out there?  From people claiming they can do Millions (and Billions) of push-ups non-stop has led me to believe that not many people know how to do a proper push-up.

I will Start off with a video quiz:

(ignore the fact that his shirt is off)

Ok so how many push-ups did he perform?

The correct answer is Zero!  Unfortunately this is a common occurrence in the fitness world today.  He completed zero push-ups because his body was not in the proper position.  

Strength Coach Mike Boyle uses the term “Technical” Failure as the correct number of reps for a set of push-ups.  Technical Failure means the individual was not able to keep perfect (or near perfect) form in order to complete the exercise.  In the case for the person in the video above he did not even start in the correct body position therefor he hit technical failure before he even started.

Another Common mistake I see people doing is what I call the Half Push-Up.  These are the individuals who claim to be able to do seemingly endless amounts of Push-ups with no problem at all.  

Here is a great example of what I am talking about:

(the fact that what looks like a trainer doing the counting really pisses me off)

Like I said before the push-up is one of the best exercises for your body, but only when it’s done properly.

First off the push-up requires tremendous core stability, and the best exercise that relates tot he push-up for core stability is the Plank!  Think about it, your body is in the exact same position for a plank as it is for a push-up.  So it makes sense that doing planks will dramatically help your push-up.

The other factor relating to core stability in the push-up is in the hips.  Unfortunately most individuals due to daily life requirements and activities have developed whats known as an Anterior Pelvic Tilt.  Simply put it means that your pelvis is naturally (or unnaturally in this case) rotated forward at the top and backward at the bottom.  Here is a Diagram to show you what I am talking about:

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This usually comes from an individual who is in a constant state of Hip Flexion (sitting in a desk/car all day).  

What this does is puts a tremendous amount of stress on the Hip Flexors and the Lower Back specifically the Erector Spinae Muscles.  Because the erectors are attached at the hip, and the hip is rotated the way it is, the erectors become tight.  This causes people to go into hyper-extension of the lower spine in order to alleviate the tightness of the muscles. This can cause herniations of the spinal disks if left untreated.

As you can see in the first video the person displays a hyper-extended spine.  This usually happens from having a weak core so instead the body puts the stress on the erectors (which are not as strong as the core), which then causes the lower back to give out.  And thus you get this, bad form and an extremely high potential for injury.

The next component to look at to developing the perfect push-up is to look at the shoulders/upper back.

I will start with the scapula (shoulder blade).  The Joint-By-Joint Approach to how the joints in the body operate (developed by Strength Coaches Mike Boyle and Grey Cook) explains that the Scapula is a Stability Joint.  A stability joint should remain stable (duh) during the exercise that is being performed in order to have maximum efficiency.  

What this means that the old standard of squeezing your shoulder blades together during the eccentric phase (lowering) of the push-up is no more.  You want to try to make sure your back is as wide as possible during the exercise and avoid scapular retraction (squeezing).

Next we move on to the shoulders, but more specifically the hands/arm movements that will impact the shoulders.  The average person does their push-ups with their elbows flailed out to their sides (perpendicular to their body).  This is bad because you will inevitably do one of two things.  you will either have to retract (squeeze) your shoulder blades (which we just established is bad), or you will end up hyper-extending the shoulder itself (which is when you lower your body to the point that your shoulder is lower to the ground than your elbow).  Think about this – when you do a dumbell bench press and you get that extra stress on your shoulder/pec when you lower the weight too low (during the eccentric phase), same reasoning.  

We solve this problem by forcing an action with our hands, which will in turn correct both the elbow and shoulder position simultaneously.

The Great Charlie Weingroff calls it The Pickle Jar Method.  First you get into a good push-up position.  Then you imagine your hands are on top of 2 pickle jars.  Now drive your hands down and away like you are trying to open those jars.  Notice what happened to your elbows when you did this.  They should have rotated externally slightly.  This is a good thing because now when you lower your body into the push-up, your arms will be closer to your sides which won’t cause your shoulders to go into hyper-extension.  

Use this picture for reference on how your arm position should be during the push-up:

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Combining all of these fine tuned details will give you the perfect push-up.  They will be difficult (push-ups were not meant to be easy).

Here is a short video on how the perfect push-up should look when you add all of these quick form changes:

I hope this article helps to shed some light on the push-up and that it can be used as more than just a chest exercise.  

If you have any questions please leave a comment and I will answer anything related!

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

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Fitness Stuff You Should Be Reading!

Ben Bruno’s Tnation article entitled “Is your leg strength up to snuff”.  It’s a great article on where your leg strength should be as far as bilateral vs. unilateral training.  here’s a small excerpt from the article: “So if you can trap bar deadlift 450 pounds for 6 reps, you should strive to be able to Bulgarian split squat 225 pounds for 6 reps.”  He talks about absolute strength vs. relative strength, which is always an interesting topic.

http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/is_your_leg_strength_up_to_snuff

 

Mike Robertson posted a blog recently about the neutral spine.  This is an extremely important thing to have.  I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people doing deadlifts with hugely rounded backs (I used to be this way, god I was an idiot).  While the neutral spine is important in the deadlift, what does “neutral” spine really mean?  Mike goes into great depth about what it really means to keep a neutral spine, and when/how it should be used.  Great Article!

http://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog/the-myth-of-neutral-spine/

 

I am about to blow your mind:  Squats are not just for the quads!  Squats are also great for the hamstrings and glutes.  Bret Contreras “the glute guy” has done a bunch of research (cause he is good at that) and has found the best squat depth for maximum glute activation.  So yes squats are great for the quads, but to get a nice butt (double but(t) was intentional) definitely do more squats.  Check out his article and see for yourself!

http://bretcontreras.com/2012/12/best-squat-depth-for-glute-activation/

Innovation – The Modified Glute/Ham Raise

My job as a Strength and Conditioning Coach is not to reinvent the wheel, but to simply make it faster and more efficient.

The Glute/Ham raise is a high level progression in your posterior chain exercises (meaning only the more experienced lifters should be performing it).  The exercise is along the same progression line of the hip bridge/hip thrust, as it is a great exercise for exactly what it is called, the Glutes and the Hamstrings!

Unfortunately the only facilities that I have seen carry the Glute/Ham Raise equipment has been Strength and Conditioning facilities.  I have yet to see a commercial type gym carry it (yet most of them do have Multiple hamstring curl machines, i don’t get it).  Here is a picture of the elusive Glute/Ham Raise equipment.

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Look familiar? Probably not…

Upon first inspection it does have some similarities to a back extension machine or something you would use for your abs?  But no, this device has a much greater function.  Here it is in action:

Now how does an individual perform this extremely beneficial exercise without the right equipment?

I will be the first to admit that I did not invent this modification it has been around for a while now. However after some collaboration with a fellow friend and Strength Coach we have determined that this is the best/safest way to perform the exercise and still get all of the great benefits it offers.

All you will need is a Lat Pulldown Cable Machine (if your gym does not have one of these you need to find a new gym) and a Superband (Most gyms will have one of these, and if not they are relatively cheap online, about 20 bucks)

Here is the superband: (picture is right out of the perform better catalog)

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First step is to kneel on the seat pad of the lat pulldown facing away from the machine, and then tuck your ankles down under the leg rest.  The next important safety step is to have the superband wrapped around around the machine, then wrapped around your body (for both assistance and support).

Now that you are set up in proper position, extend your hips and maintain that as you lean your body forward.  You will feel the tension in your hamstrings as you lower your body forward.  Use that tension to pull your body back upright. 

Here is the exercise:

(Ignore the guy doing the crazy stupid lat pulldowns in the background, he also does this really stupid thing where he does a barbell bench while bridging on the bench…)

Give it a try and curse me out in the comments when your hamstrings are too sore for you to walk.

Hangover Mondays!

Happy Monday Everyone!  Hope everyone had an eventful weekend.

I spent the weekend at my parents house doing Christmas related things (getting the tree, decorating, etc).

Sunday however was a very eventful day!

I went to the Giants vs. Saints game and it was Glorious!

This was my First Game at the New Giants Stadium and I had a blast.2012-12-09_16-25-31_307

Not To Mention that the Giants spanked the Saints and scored 52 points against them, no easy feat by any team!

 

 

Now onto the Important Stuff:

Good News Everyone!

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I got a new Job!

Starting this week sometime (still working out the fine print) I will be working at Elite Human Performance In Danbury, Ct.

The owner Christian Oropeza is an extremely like minded individual and I am happy that he has brought me on to his successful business that he has built from the ground up in the last 5 years.

He wants to incorporate my specialty (The Functional Movement Screen) into each of his clients programs, so I feel that I will fit in perfectly.

Hopefully his website (www.EHPFIT.com) will soon have a link to my blog (you know the thing that you are reading right now?) and that will add some exposure to my work.

I will keep you posted on the details as they develop.

Hope everyone has a good week!

 

 

Fitness Stuff You Should Be Reading!

Jim Wendler created the famous 5/3/1 program that is guaranteed to increase your Bench/Military Press/Squat/Deadlift.  It has worked for me in the past and has worked for every person that I have talked to about the program.  His most recent T-nation article entitled “The Virtual Bench Press Seminar” is all about how to set yourself up for a perfect bench press, and lets face it, everyone and their mother would like to bench more, so check this article out and see if your form is horrible.

http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/the_virtual_bench_press_seminar

I have constantly praised Charlie Weingroff for being arguably the smartest guy in the fitness industry, and this post is nothing short of that.  Here he goes over in (extreme) detail the rotary stability test on the FMS:

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Yeah, that one.  Not only does he go into great detail how to score the test, he gives great insight on where the movement itself originated from.  The Rotary Stability is considered a “Primitive Movement Pattern”, which means we learn the movement when we are first learning motor control (which is around the ages of 4-6 months, give or take).  Again Charlie’s stuff may not be the easiest to read, but it is still well worth anything that comes out of his mouth (err. fingers in this case).

http://charlieweingroff.com/category/articles/page/3/ 

The Turkish Get-Up is essentially the most functional exercise that you could ever do.  It is a multi-part exercise that covers every movement pattern that your body has, in every plane of motion possible (in this dimension at least).  It is an extremely difficult exercise to learn and your body must be fully capable to perform each of the individual movements before you combine them all into one.  Tony Gentilcore made a video a few months ago about everything you need to know about the TGU.  While the video is a little lengthy (about 30 minutes), it is very informative and covers all of the bases for performing the exercise safely and correctly.  I advise that everyone watch this video and I highly recommend incorporating the TGU into your program.

http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/cressey-performance-in-service-get-upswing-tutorial/ 

How the Trainer Trains!

I get asked over and over again by clients as well as random people what I do for my workouts.

The simple answer I tell them is: It Depends!

As a Fitness Professional I am always varying or tweaking exercises in and out of my program to not only add variety, but to see if certain exercises work better for me than others.

I quoted Dan John  in a previous post about “What you do in the first 15 minutes of your workout is probably the most important, treat it as such”.  The first exercises in your workout should be the one that you want to improve the most, and that is the way I write my programs.

I currently have been plagued with some slight knee discomfort.  Mainly during single leg exercises (lunges, split squats).  I do not want to take anything away from my quad dominant training, while performing some rehab exercises for the knee.  I have been focusing more on bilateral movements, specifically Goblet Squats (a front squat variation).

Since the weight in the goblet squat is anterior on your body, it automatically puts your body into a slight posterior shift (to account for your body’s center of gravity).  This allows you to sit back into your squat and places less stress on the knee when squatting (not that a traditional back squat puts that much more on it).

I also try to do at least one deadlift variation each training day.  I alternate between bilateral and single leg Hip Dominant exercises.

As of right now this is how my week is planned out:

Monday: RDL’s

Tuesday: Single Leg Barbell Deadlifts (stiff leg)

Wednesday: Sumo Deadlifts

Thursday: Single Leg RDL’s

Friday: Trap Bar Deadlift

The weight/rep scheme will obviously be different for each exercises.  On the Single Leg movements I am doing a 6-8 rep per set scheme, and the Bilateral Movements I am doing a 3-5 rep per set scheme.

My upper body work lately has been spuratic since my current main focus is on my deadlifts.  I am however working on hitting the milestone of benching 315 (currently sitting at 305 with extreme poise).  A few months ago I was barely able to put up 275 (where I was at for about 2 years) and recently I put up 295, and then 305 (on separate days), so 315 is not to far off the horizon for me.

I always make sure I hit all of the primary upper body movements at least twice per week to facilitate my body’s needs, again weight/reps currently is not a huge factor.

One of the few things in my programming that always remains constant is my warmup.  I always start out with about 5 or so minutes of foam rolling.  Followed by some mobility drills to maintain my bodys movement qualities.  From there I move on to some activation drills (this varies depending on what muscle groups I am working that day.

After my warmup I usually do a few sets of Turkish Get-Ups super set with some Close Grip Hang Snatches.  Strength Coach Mike Boyle suggests performing the close grip snatch as opposed to the regular wide grip as it is a lot easier on your shoulders.

Here is a video of the close grip snatch just for a visual:

So the moral of the story is that my training isn’t so much different from the average gym-goer.  The one thing to take away from this is to remember that varying up your routine is always an acceptable thing, just make sure the exercises you are swapping out/in are not taking away from the primary movements that your body needs.