Push ups are hard. Sometimes you look like you’re just doing a cobra stretch, sometimes you look crooked, other times you’re on your knees because they feel impossible, or they hurt your shoulders, so you just avoid them altogether. This blog answers your questions about pushups and how you can work toward achieving a flawless one.
Why are push ups so challenging?
The biggest barrier to push up strength is that you must produce force in a position with your arms bent and elbows behind your body. Many people can barely get their elbows far enough behind their bodies when standing up, much less when it’s loaded with their bodyweight AND their core has to remain engaged. What’s even more difficult is that the muscles supporting the shoulder blades (especially the serratus anterior muscles) have to be strong enough to pull the shoulder blades forward around the ribs so that the arms can put force into the floor, and this is no easy task.
So, how do I work toward a full push up?
One of the best ways to move toward a full push up is to elevate your hands onto something: a box, table, sturdy (very sturdy) chair, bench, anything! I’m choosing this over the knee push up because it allows you to be on your feet, which better mimics a full push up since you have to keep your core engaged. In an ideal world, the only parts that move during a pushup are the shoulder joint and the shoulder blade.
The second best way to work toward a push up is the knee push up, BUT only if it’s done as strictly as possible with no sagging of the hips. We want to focus driving through the shoulder blade/armpit area just as much as we want to focus on driving our hands through the floor.
Does hand position matter?
In general, you want your hands to be set up with your index fingers pointed forward. However, your arm position can be a little bit more flexible, as long as your elbows point somewhere between 0 and 45 degrees off of your body.
What about shoulder blade position?
The best push ups begin in a plank position with your shoulder blades spread far away from each other and away from the spine. Slowly control the descent of the pushup by pulling the shoulder blades back, together, and down. Pause at the bottom. As you initiate your push up from the bottom, simultaneously push the shoulder blades away from each other, returning to a spread wide position once you reach the top plank position of the push up.
What if I have pain in my wrists or shoulders?
If you’re having any pain in your wrists or shoulders, try altering the position of your hands to use a wider or narrower (narrower usually being easier on the wrists). If you need to, you can rotate your hands inward or outward, but work toward getting them straight ahead. You can also adjust the position of your shoulder blades in either the top or the bottom of the pushup (usually pushing them further away from each other at the top of the pushup, and closer together at the bottom will feel a bit better).
Bottom Line: There are many ways to work toward a perfect pushup, and it will be a little bit different for everyone, but you can get there with consistency.
As always, I hope this helps! If you have any questions or would like to read about certain topics, send us an email at TeamSP@SportsPerformancePT.com.
-Dr. Marissa Rescott, PT, DPT, CF-L1
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