Push-ups – Scalings, Errors, and Fixes
by Erik Castiglione
The push-up: it’s one of the first, most basic exercises that people learn when they decide to begin working out. And with good reason! It’s an excellent movement to build upper body strength and stamina, to learn full body tension and coordination, and to build healthy shoulders. Because our backs are not pinned to a rigid surface, like they are in the bench press or floor press, our shoulder blades are free to move in a push-up. And they can move in a coordinated rhythm with the arms, which is how our upper bodies should naturally move. This is essential for healthy shoulders. Of course, to gain these benefits, we’re assuming that the athlete is performing the push-up correctly and scaling it appropriately. Unfortunately, since we tend to perform our push-ups against the clock in a metcon, and in high numbers, our collective push-up form suffers greatly. Let’s look at some proper push-ups, some common errors, and how to fix them.
-Hands under shoulders
-Hands screwed into ground
-Full body moves in coordination
-Chest to deck
-Full lock-out at top
Flaw: Elbows flaring (can occur on floor, knees, or bar)
Cause: Either your hand position is too wide, or your hands are angled in
Correction: Set your hands directly under your shoulders, and screw them into the ground directionally away from your center (i.e. externally rotate your hands – your elbow pits will turn forward)
Flaw: Excessive piking (VERY prevalent in knee push-ups, can occur on bar or floor as well)
Cause: Lack of hip extension and glute activation
Correction: Push your hips forward and squeeze your butt
Flaw: Disassociation of upper and lower body (aka Saturday Night Special)
Cause: Lack of full body coordination/flexing at the waist
Correction: Lower your lower body at the same time as your upper until quads (NOT knees) touch the ground
Cause: Lack of quad and core engagement
Correction: Lock out knees by squeezing quads, don’t allow knees to touch the ground, and keep your core tight
Flaw: Lack of range of motion – either lack of extension at the top, or no chest to deck at the bottom
Cause: We’re going to assume that you’re not being lazy, you just aren’t strong enough to complete a full ROM push-up.
Correction: Scale! Use a bar push-up, a band assisted push-up, or a knee push-up. We prefer a bar or band, as long as they are done properly. The band should always go around your chest, NOT your waist – it’s important to engage your core, and you can’t learn how if a band is doing that work for you.