Push ups are used in almost every sport, by every trainer, in almost every type of exercise. You see them in yoga, crossfit, at home workouts, fifth grade P.E., in every fitness test ever created…Not quite, but the push up is a seemingly simple + popular upper body exercise that is often butchered.
This article has push up tips that apply to both men and women, but it’s primarily based on altering form often seen in push ups done by women.
These three tips also apply to MOST bilateral variations of the push up (from the knees, hands elevated, feet elevated, deficit push ups etc).
Interestingly enough the tips I’m sharing with you will help you move better, and hopefully get stronger; but they are primarily to protect your low back and shoulder joint, which are put at risk when performing less than optimal push-ups.
Did you know the shoulder is in a compromised position when the hands are out wide, in line with the shoulders and the elbows flare out the side? Aside from being just an ugly movement pattern, it puts the shoulder joint – more specifically the AC (acromioclavicular) joint at risk.
Now everyone is a little different, but as a general cue, the elbows should be 45 degrees from the body with the thumb under the shoulder joint. There is some wiggle room here as we all move a bit differently. As long as your elbows are staying in that 45-degree line and your hands aren’t out in Timbuktu, you’re heading in the right direction. See comparisons below.
The shoulders should be down and back as much as possible throughout the entire push up. In contrast, you don’t want to let your shoulders creep up by your ears or sink down towards the ground. You keep the lats engaged as well as the serratus anterior (my second favorite muscle) by thinking about drilling your hands into the floor with an outward rotation. This externally rotates the shoulder and locks the humerus in place (figuratively). It’s helpful to think about squeezing a tennis ball or orange in the rear aspect of your armpit. This eliminates the chance of the elbows flaring out as the up portion of the push up takes place.
Below you can see a great testing drill for keeping the shoulder packed.
So, your hands are in the right spot, your elbows at 45’s and your shoulders nice and packed by engaging your lats and serratus anterior. #goteam.
Now, let’s protect your low back…
Who doesn’t want tight abs and a tight ass am I right?! Well it’s your lucky day because both are needed for the perfect push up.
Squeezing the glutes and pinning the ribcage down ensures that you have a neutral spine. This way you avoid swaying into hyperextension – a common mistake in the push up. You want your body to act like a board during the push up. Your arms are simply causing the up and down motion of that board (the rest of your body). See the prober starting position below.
I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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Thanks for this. I modify alot as a plus size and am working hard to not modify a pushup.
So glad you found it helpful Wanda! 🙂 Keep it up!
This was very helpful, especially the cues for engaging the lats. Thank you!
Yes! Engaging the lats is a HUGE key for lots of exercises! Thank you for the feedback!