The push up is probably one of the most classic and commonly performed exercises known to man. You’ll see it performed practically everywhere you go around the world as an easy strength builder, mixed in for conditioning, a test of strength between people, and on and on and on. And to be honest, I have very rarely seen someone “drop down and give me 20” with really efficient form.
How does utilizing proper mechanics of a push up really help? Well, right off the bat it allows you to utilize the proper muscles to perform the exercise. This allows you to perform the push up stronger and better; and, generally, more of them. That is usually the selling point that works with most people: do them this way and you’ll do more! But additionally, you have so many more benefits when doing the wonderful push up properly. Reduced risk of injury is the main one, better core stability, increased joint mobility in the shoulder, elbows and wrists, and, you’ll be able to do more!
1. Use Your Pecs
This is pretty easily understood but usually not actually practiced. If you do 100 push ups as quickly as you can and wake up the next day with sore shoulders and triceps, but your chest is still soft and unused, well, you did something wrong. Here’s how I get people to feel how to get their chest (pectorals, pecs) engaged the entire time: extend your harm out in front of your body and flex your chest. Grab the chest muscle with your other hand to make sure it is constantly engaged. Now go through different ranges of motion, replicating a push up. You’ll notice very quickly that if you elbow gets too far from your side, your chest softens up. Also (leads to step 2):
2. Keep Your Shoulders Set
Almost all the issues I see with peoples push ups derives from a lack of stable shoulders. Without getting too technical, your shoulders should barely move throughout the range of motion. And don’t overcompensate my drawing your shoulder blades back and together like crazy, that actually stretches the pecs out and limits their ability to function properly during the push. You want your shoulders stabilized in in a neutral position; not shrugged, not back, not forward.
3. Perpendicular forearms
This is a cue that is rarely used and helps so, so much. Allowing your forearms to stay perpendicular to the floor throughout the entire range of motion of the push up allows all the muscles the ability to work exactly how they should. If you give your body that chance to function properly, it’s easier to form good habits and get stronger (and perform more reps!). Again, this point alone could use a pretty lengthy article, but suffice it to say you are putting yourself in a much stronger position with perpendicular forearms. It’ll be easier to set your shoulders, and thus, easier to use your chest.
4. Practice Negatives
Ask anyone who has done a really long push up-themed workout if they’re abs felt a little sore after and most of them with answer yes. The core stability of a push up is easily the second most common aspect to be lacking after proper shoulder stability. And performing negatives, while building up adequate strength in the chest, shoulders, and arms, also allows for extended core stability in this specific movement. The push up negative is such a universally effective exercise that I will program it for athletes at any level, not just those with weaker core muscles or those looking to increase their push up ability. Work different time domains, work an explosive push after a 5-second negative once you’ve advanced a bit.
5. Grease The Gears
For everyone I’ve coached that was training for some military (or similar style) test, the best advice I could give them for increasing their push ups number was doing them all the time. We would go through shoulder and forearm positioning, work on how to keep the chest engaged throughout the entire range of motion, assess their core strength and endurance, then: do reps. I would start with a 4-5x per week, 100 reps total for two weeks. Then increase the reps performed each week after that. 2x per week they would do the reps as fast as possible and with as few breaks as possible. 2x per week they would spread the total throughout the day. And if there was a 5th day, it would be up to them how they performed it. The goal was to just always be doing proper push ups. I did this exact thing and went from totaling 26 reps, to 86 reps in one sitting in 45 days. It was pretty cool.
The main thing to be sure of is to assess the positioning of your shoulders and arms. If you are not using your chest for the entire movement, and allowing all the muscles of your shoulders and back to stabilize (and NOT act as movers) then you are on the right path. Just trying to “meathead” your way to more push ups is a sure way to eventually destroy your shoulders. I’ve seen it happen many, many times.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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