Push Ups – Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ahhh...the push up.  What an amazing exercise!  Push ups are one of the most basic yet effective exercise movements that you can perform.  However, even though many of us have been performing push ups since elementary school, our mechanics are often poor.

I recently completed my Movement and Mobility Specialist Certification from MobilityWOD, and proper push up technique was a hot topic.  With such a basic movement, how can we be doing it wrong?  Whether you are a seasoned athlete or someone new to working out, we think the following tips will help you perfect your push ups.

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Trunk Stabilization 

A perfect push up starts with a stable trunk.  If your core isn't tight, a proper push up is going to be really hard to do.  If you don't follow a trunk stabilization or bracing technique before and during exercise, you need to start implementing this today.  Here's what Dr. Kelly Starett recommends in his book, The Supple Leopard.

  1. Feet shoulder width apart
  2. Screw your feet into the ground...think about your feet being on dinner plates, and spin those plates
  3. Squeeze your butt
  4. Pull your ribcage down
  5. Pull your belly button into your spine
  6. Place your head in neutral
  7. Put your shoulders into a stable position

Once your trunk is stable, not only will you find more power and strength in your push up, but you will also have a really hard time sagging your hips.  We see a droopy core or sagging hips all the time, and it's usually a result of poor stabilization in the core area.

If your trunk is stable, your body will be in a straight line.  Watch your head position.  You want to keep your spine neutral.  As you get tired, it's easy to let the head fall.  On the flip side, you also don't want the head up.  Keep the head position and the spine as straight as possible during all reps.

Practice a stabilization or bracing technique.  Engage your glutes and your abdomen when you are doing a push ups.  When you get tired, squeeze your butt even tighter to prevent your mechanics from going down the drain.

Chicken Wing Arms

Okay, so up until I really started researching mobility and movement techniques, I was guilty of this flaw.  I like to call it the chicken wing arm.  You've seen it.  It is more common in females than in males, but if you have ever seen someone perform push ups with their elbows flaring wide, you've seen the chicken wing arm.  This flaw causes the shoulder to internally rotate, putting pressure onto the shoulder and limiting your range of motion.

So, if you are guilty of flaring those elbows, be patient.  This one can be hard to fix, and it can make you feel like a really crappy push up-er.  But...you have got to start somewhere.

Place your hands underneath the shoulders, or just a touch wider than the shoulders.  Go through the trunk stabilization, and make sure you squeeze your butt.  As you lower yourself down, your elbows should come back instead of out.  Keep them close.  Make sure that your hands stay flat and your fingers are facing forward.

Watch yourself in the mirror or film yourself.  Notice your forearms, elbows, and your shoulders.  You should see a vertical forearm, your arm move toward a 90 degree angle and then back up.  What you should not see is rotation at the shoulder.

Range of Motion

If you aren't getting full range of motion, you need to modify so that you can get to end range.  Missing out on the full range of motion will inhibit you from working all of the muscles that should be used in a proper push up.  Full range of motion would put your arms at 90 degrees.  If you struggle here, begin with a chest to floor push up to ensure that you hit a full range of motion.

Modifications

Stop doing push ups on your knees!  Yep, I said it.  Get off your knees.  Have you ever wondered why after modifying your push ups for years, you still can't do a proper push up?  Up until about a year ago, we always modified push ups for our clients by having them drop to their knees.

Unfortunately, by dropping to the knees, it is nearly impossible to create a stable trunk and have proper mechanics.  Instead of modifying your push ups by dropping to your knees, try adopting the "worm" technique.  Josh and I address this in detail in the video above, so make sure you check it out.

To perform the "worm," focus on lowering yourself all the way to the ground.  Remember, your trunk is stable and your elbows are tracking back.  From the ground squeeze your butt tight and worm up to the starting position.  You will notice that with your butt squeezed, your range of motion in the spine is limited.  This is a good thing.  You don't want your bones or joints stopping your range of motion.  Once you are at the top of the push up position, go back through your stabilization and perform your next rep.

If you find that you cannot lower yourself to the ground properly, try moving to a wall or incline push up.  For a wall push up, simply place your hands on a wall and perform the push up motion.  Once you can easily do 20-30 repetitions, move to an incline push up.  For the incline push up, your hands just need to be elevated.  You can use a table, bench, couch, or whatever piece of furniture you have around.  Lower yourself down and up, watching your trunk as well as your elbows.

Try changing up your modification.  You will be surprised at how fast your push ups improve.

Now, Start Pushing

Push ups should be a regular part of your training routine.  As you begin to change your push ups and focus on the proper mechanics, make sure you get out of the "completion" mentality.  This means that just because your workout lists 50 push ups doesn't mean you have to do all 50 push ups.  Do what you can and then move on.  Break the push ups into sets so that you can do each one with proper form.  You never want to sacrifice form and good mechanics to hit the rep count listed on your workout.

Want to get some push ups in with FOF?  Come try a week for free at any of our locations.  

We post workouts weekly on our YouTube channel, so make sure you subscribe and try them at home.

Keep those elbows back :).

~KP

Kenzie Presnell

Loving life, enjoying the ride, and trying to live life as healthy as I can.

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