One of the simplest, yet, typically butchered movements in all of fitness is – the push up. This is partially because people only focus on range of motion. However, if we do not perform proper anatomical motion, this is also a movement that can cause a lot of unwanted aches and pains due to its ease of repeatability. Our bodies are adaptation machines. So, if we move well our body learns it and strengthens it. If we move poorly our body learns it and typically leads to pain or injury.
So how should we be moving in a pushup? Lets visit what should be universally understood for a push up:
- Hands on ground shoulder width stacking arms straight from wrist to shoulder
- Fingers are pointed forward
- Shoulders stay back and down to avoid impingement
- Legs straight (quads squeezed) with balls of the feet on the ground
- Maintain plank and rigid body (tight core)
- Lower chest to the ground
- Chest and head moves slightly forward, meaning the elbows go back towards the hips and stay stacked over the wrist as you descend down
- Finish by pushing back to full extension at the top
How the shoulder is meant to move in a push up:
At the start (top) your shoulder will be protracted and depressed. During the movement (chest to floor), your scap will retract naturally. And as you press up the shoulder will then go back to being protracted and depressed. It is very important to keep your shoulder blades from elevating as that is what leads to the elbows bowing outward putting the shoulder into internal rotation. This helps avoid impingement and hanging out on the humeral head (picture or video of good push up)
How to Strengthen this movement-
Work on strengthening shoulder blade movement and integrity through protraction and retraction. Banded pull aparts, banded external rotations, YTW, Push up plus, hanging scap raises, planks, elevated push ups, dip depressions and holds, serratus anterior strengthening exercises- foam roller slide, russian dips, push up russian dip.
Do not go to your knees. Typically this is a way that people use to scale. However, it limits the demand on core development that is much needed. We don’t want to shorten the lever, we want to make the angle and force of gravity less demanding by going elevated!
Our joints have nearly infinite movement if moving correctly. However, if we don’t utilize proper care and movement it leads to pain or worse injury. Think about if you didn’t regularly maintain a car with oil changes or tire rotations. Eventually things wear down and lead to bigger problems. So, focus on proper motion and aid it with proper care through mobility, stretching, and recovery.