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  • Writer's pictureJoe

Easy Tips for Putting Together the Perfect Push-up

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

a picture from above of a person doing a push-up, with the blog title overlaid.

Push-ups are one of the most common exercises in the entire fitness realm. Thanks to COVID-19, you are probably doing a whole lot more of them. Want to make sure you’re making the most of your time away from the gym? We're here to help. Here is our guide on putting together the perfect push-up.

Getting set up for the push-up

First key to a successful push-up: hand and elbow positioning. The position of your arms in a classic push-up will determine which muscles are favored over others. This is manipulated in exercises such as a close grip, military-style push-up, which largely favors the triceps brachii muscles. We're starting with Classic Push-ups, so let’s talk about how we can favor the chest:

Person at the bottom of a push-up position, with elbows stacked over wrists.
CAC Trainer Joe stacking elbows over wrists

• 45-degree angle with elbows

If someone were looking at you from above, we want them to see an “arrow” shape and not a “T.” This will ensure your chest is put into a position to work effectively. Making a T with your elbows is going to favor your Shoulders and Triceps in an inefficient way, making the movement harder and taking away emphasis from the goal of the exercise, your chest.

• Elbows stacked over wrists

In the bottom position of your push-up, you want your elbows directly over your wrists, not angled forward or back. This will give you the most support and structural integrity in this position which will help other parts of the movement to work better as a whole.

Shoulder position is something that often gets compromised, unbeknownst to the average push-upper. The problem of "sunken shoulders" refers to prominent shoulder blades during a push-up. When your shoulders are stable, it makes your chest muscles better able to work by decreasing “energy leaks” in the system. (Similar to how you are better able to jump higher off of concrete versus off of a foam pad.) A drill that works well for practicing how to do this is a “Scap Punch” exercise.

an animated GIF of a person lying on floor, shoulders at rest, then "punching up" to do a "Scap Punch"

Scap Punch: Start by lying on your back and reach your arms straight up perpendicular to the ground. While keeping your arms straight, punch your shoulders forward so your whole arm moves higher

towards the sky; this is called shoulder protraction. Elbows should stay completely straight, not bending at any moment.

Once you become comfortable with this you can then add load by flipping over and trying this in a push-up position. Try it on your knees first, and then in a full push-up/ high plank position.

The hips do not lie

With any exercise, it is important to maintain core stability throughout the entire range of motion, and the push-up is no different. A big indicator of an unstable core is your hip positioning. In the photo set below, the first image shows the hips dropping; CAC Instructor Jen is demonstrating what it looks like when the push-upper is not utilizing her abdominal muscles well. Without assistance from your core musculature, all the lower body tension goes to your low back muscles, which are not in a good position to help you through the exercise.

The second picture shows another common hip positioning error, which can also come from attempting to overcorrect the former hip positioning. Her glutes are lifted above her hips, and sometimes the head might hang down. (Almost a downward dog.)

In the last picture marked with a check, Jen's hips are in line with her shoulders and her pelvis is “tucked in” (think tucking your tail between your legs). This is called a posterior tilt of your hips, which ensures that tension is directed towards the front of your core muscles and away from the back. To achieve posterior tilt, your abdominal and glute muscles contract to rotate the hips backwards, resulting in the appearance of a flat back.

Think of your push-up as a moving plank. Abs are never lax, hips and shoulders stay in a straight line with one not moving before the other.

Extra tip from the pros

If you’re not able to do a complete push-up following these cues, then try elevating yourself onto a counter-top or a coffee table. That way you can get all the core benefits of a full push-up that knee-push-ups don’t provide. You can slowly scale the elevation, according to your current level of strength.

There are many ways to modify this exercise to make it easier or more difficult- but it’s important to keep these foundations in mind no matter your fitness level. Stay tuned for more posts, and feel free to let us know anything you’d like to see. In the meantime, drop and give me 50…or 10 😁

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