I could rant on about a few things when it comes to the push-up, but I’ll choose two key points that I believe to have the greatest overall impact.
Core Stability – Everyone knows they need to “strengthen their core,” but few do. This is by far where I see the biggest breakdown in push-up form and the cascade effect of a weak core will result in poor biomechanics everywhere else. You shoulder hurts when you do a push-up? It’s probably because your core wasn’t strong enough to support the variation you were attempting. Work on core strength and stability first and choose a push-up regression that allows you to promote proper engagement and sequencing of your core at a difficulty level that you are actually capable of.
Points of Contact – I find this to be one of the most overlooked areas with any exercise. Your points of contact are arguably the most import aspect of any exercise. They anchor you to the external object that you are leveraging off of and transferring force through. If you do not have solid contact your are giving away leverage and therefore strength.
With the push-up the main contact points are your hands. If performing a push-up on the floor, spread those fingers apart and create as large a surface area. The larger your contact surface is on your base of support, the greater your stability, feedback loop and force transfer will be, giving you more strength. Whether you are gripping a bar or using the floor, use the muscles in your hands! You need to have an active base. Your wrists hurt when you do a push-up? There’s a good chance you’re not using the muscles in your hands and wrists that provide support and create small space cushions around those joints. Actively squeeze into the ground with those fingers and hands, or if on a bar, crush it. Not only will this help protect your joints, the radiation effect of engaging those muscles will increase your overall strength in the movement.
Make sure your feet are well anchored as well. They are another contact point and your body will leverage from them as well.
My favorite push-up regression is the incline push-up. The incline can be adjusted to any level to make the movement achievable for all with out shortening levers such as with a bent knee push-up. This promotes learning to engage your body and move it as an entire unit, maximizing the safety and effectiveness of the movement.
How to perform the push-up:
- Whether on an incline, decline or the floor, start in a front support (straight arm plank) position on toes, with hands slightly wider than shoulder width and inline with shoulders.
- Fingers should be spread apart to create more surface area while actively engaging hand and forearm muscles.
- Head shoulders and hips should be in a neutral aligned position squared up with one another. Picture as steel rod going through your body from head to toe. Squeeze thighs, glutes and abdominals thinking of holding in your poo and pee.
- Fill-up mid-back by driving hands through the floor, scooping your shoulder blades and slightly corkscrewing them into the ground by thinking of turning your hands out.
- Initiate movement by thinking of actively pulling your torso toward the ground allowing elbows to bend. Head, shoulders and hips must stay aligned and all move together as one unit.
- Lower until chest touches the ground or object you are on.
- Drive hands through the ground maintaining tight body position returning to start.
- If you cannot get your chest down to your target object, you are performing a variation that is too difficult for your current level. Squash your ego and regress the movement so that you can perform it properly and then as you get stronger, slowly increase the difficulty.