Push-ups are the ultimate move for developing upper body strength and shape, working the chest, shoulders, back, core and forearms. Unfortunately they’re also one of the most abused moves around in terms of form, with many versions of ugly happening in gyms, on playing fields and in living rooms on a regular basis. Here are some dos and don’ts to help combat the ugly and create more perfect push-ups all across the nation.
DON’T be afraid to start on your knees if you don’t have a lot of upper-body strength. To assume the proper position, get into plank with your hands underneath your shoulders and your legs fully extended behind you, back straight, then drop your knees to the floor. Your body should make a straight line from your knees through your hips to your shoulders and head.
DO perform partial reps in a full push-up position, increasing your range of motion as you get stronger until you are able to come all the way to the floor without losing form. Do as many full reps as you can, then drop to your knees and do more reps to failure.
DO actively press away from the ground with your hands and spread your shoulder blades apart at the top of the move as you would in plank. This prevents your scapulae from sliding inward and engages your back and shoulder muscles for better strength and stability.
DO move as a single, solid unit, lowering with a stiff and stable body all the way down then pressing back up the same way. The quieter and steadier your body during the move, the more you can focus on utilizing your chest and triceps to do the work.
DON’T drop your belly or hips, as this puts pressure on your lower back. Instead, squeeze your glutes and actively push your heels away toward the opposite wall to engage your posterior chain and keep your hips in place, alleviating pressure on your spine.
DON’T study the dirty floor between your hands. Your head weighs about 10 pounds (give or take, depending on your ego!) and if you let it dangle between your shoulders it pulls on your spine and upper back muscles. Lift your chin and look in front of your hands about a foot or so to align your head with your spine.
DO change your hand placement to change the emphasis of the move. The wider your hands are, the more you engage your pecs; the closer your hands are the more you engage your triceps.
DON’T race the clock. Yes, push-ups are hard and you want to get ‘er done as fast as possible, but doing them slowly with conscious attention to form will translate into faster gains than cranking out 100 reps of slop.
DON’T forget to breathe. Inhale as you lower toward the ground, then exhale as you press back to the start. Oxygenated muscles perform better and you’ll be able to push out a few more reps if you remember to breathe!