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:


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:


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!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s