Push-ups are a great exercise when done properly. They strengthen a wide variety of shoulder, arm and core muscles; they can be done anywhere, anytime and they’re easy to adjust sets, reps and difficulty to continue to get maximum benefit. Unfortunately in the gym and the Pilates studio I rarely see a push-up done correctly. Today I’m going to show you some common mistakes people make when attempting push-ups and offer some simple tips to correct them and make them more awesome!
Shoulder blade awareness to improve your push-up
Most of you will be aware your shoulder blades are not fixed to your rib cage so if you’ve never paid attention to them they could be doing all sorts of things! Winging and anterior tipping of the scapula’s (shoulder blades) are the most common poor postured positions I see during a push up. Try the following to improve your push-up.
Notice in the picture below that the shoulder blades are sticking up off the rib cage? This is called winging. Try the cues below to correct it but if you are still having trouble you may have a clinically weak serratus anterior muscle or a long thoracic nerve injury and you should see a musculoskeletal practitioner you trust or give us a call here at Waverley Myotherapy Clinic so we can assess you and give you more appropriate exercises or treatment.
Try one of the following cues and see which works best for you!
- Widen your upper back by thinking of stretching your shirt sideways
- Raise the back of your shirt between your shoulder blades towards the ceiling by 1-2 cms
- Imagine water squirting up towards your breastbone and now try to lift 1-2 cms so you stay dry!
Notice in the first picture below the front of the shoulder is tipping forward? If you could see his shoulder blade you’d also see the lower border lifting off the rib cage. This first picture is what not to do at the bottom of your push-up. The picture on the right is how you should look. This anterior tipping of the shoulder blades is often caused by doing too much too soon. The body will cheat any way it knows how! In the short term you will begin to imbalance the muscles around the shoulder and shoulder blade, in the long term it could lead to a shoulder impingement or a rotator cuff problem. Try the tips below to improve your push-up.
If the following cues don’t work try reducing the load by doing an angled push up or using a band around your hips suspended above to take some of your body weight and help you!
- At the bottom of your push-up
keep your collar bones smiling
- Keep your shirt still through out your push-up
- Wear a tight shirt, if you feel your shirt starting to stretch around the shoulder or shoulder blade adjust until corrected.
Hip positioning awareness to improve your push-up
So often I see sagging hips dipping towards the floor when people are doing push-ups. I’m not sure if it’s a tiredness thing or if they believe push-ups should be felt all in the arms and shoulders and forget what the rest of the body is doing? I see the complete opposite sometimes too; hips way up in the air, perhaps making it easier or lightening the load on a weak core. Whatever the reason, neither positions are conducive to a well formed push-up. Not only does it look funny but it puts the shoulders and upper back in a poor position, puts extra unnecessary load on the wrists and long term can cause back and hip issues too. Try the following to improve your push-up.
Try these cues to correct saggy hips. When you’re in the correct alignement it should feel like no one muscle is taking over; everything is working equally together through the core and glutes.
- Lift the waist band of your pants until you are in a straight line.
- Using a mirror lift your hips until they line up between your heels and your shoulders in a straight line. Then maintain it throughout the push-up.
- Straighten the side seem of your shirt using a mirror beside you.
Try these cues to correct high hips. When you are in the correct alignment it should feel like the muscles around the core and glutes are working equally together which sometimes feels like nothing working at all!
- Straighten the side seem of your shirt using a mirror beside you.
- Using a mirror or a friends eyes, lower your hips until they line up in between your heels and your shoulders.
- Lower your pant pockets towards the floor until your body is in a straight line.
Head positioning to improve your push-up
Last but not least is head positioning. Letting your head sag forward gives the illusion of getting closer to the floor because your face is so very close to it but don’t let it fool you, instead of strong sexy chest and arms you will instead be left with a sore neck and tight shoulders. Try the following to improve your push-up.
Head sagging forward
If your hips and shoulders aren’t in proper placement or if you’re attempting a push-up angle that’s too difficult for you or doing too many repetitions the head sagging forward is more likely to happen thus the reason I left it until last on the list of things to correct. Try these tips to bring your head back into alignment.
- Ask a friend to put some tape on the back of your neck (avoiding your hair) down to the middle of your shoulder blades while standing with your head over your shoulders in the correct alignment. Now when you do a push-up, if you’re head goes forward you will feel the tape stretch and you will know to lift your head back into position.
- Get a friend to record you. Sometimes seeing what you’re doing incorrect can help you to adjust. Get them to record you again doing it correctly so you can associate the new feeling with the correct head posture.
- Lift your gaze from the floor below to a spot about half a metre or so in front of you and feel your head lift into alignment with the rest of your body.
So now you have all the tips and tricks to start to improve your push-up! Remember to regularly switch up your reps, sets and difficulty levels to get maximum benefit. This means one a Monday you might do 2 sets of 8 reps in the full push-ups position and then on Thursdays you might do 1 set of 12 reps of push-ups on your knees. You can alter it by wearing a weight vest to make it harder or do them in a decline position, to make it easier you can use a band around your hips suspended above you or do them in a incline position. Once you get stronger you can try single arms, elbows close by the sides, hands closer in and all sorts of things to keep your body guessing! Have fun and remember if any of these suggestions aren’t working please go to a musculoskeletal specialist such as ourselves here at Waverley Myotherapy Clinic to make sure there is not something more serious causing your misalignment.