Push-ups are a basic exercise – and one that works multiple muscle groups. Since push-ups are a bodyweight exercise, you can do them almost anywhere, making this exercise an ideal way to work your muscles when you’re on vacation and stuck in a hotel room without equipment. Regardless of where you are, push-ups should be part of your regular workouts. Being a full body exercise, they train your muscles to work together more efficiently and, of course, they stimulate muscle hypertrophy. Just as importantly, they build muscle strength and endurance.
Here’s the catch. To get the most benefits from push-ups, you have to do them correctly. Yet, most people make one or more push-up mistakes when they do push-ups. These mistakes limit their gains and increase the risk of injury. Let’s look at the most common mistakes that reduce the effectiveness of push-ups.
Push-Up Mistakes: Not Doing the Full Movement
Push-ups are an easy exercise to cheat on. To cheat, simply don’t go down far enough when you descend. What most people do is a “short range” push-up where they lower their body down enough to only partially bend their elbows. Doing this doesn’t give you the full benefits. To maximize the time you put into a push-up, go down until your elbows are at an angle of 90 degrees or less. Not descending at least this far greatly reduces the benefits. If you’re comfortable, you can go even lower, until your chest just touches the floor.
If you can’t descend to at least 90 degrees, modify the move by doing push-ups on your knees until you become stronger You can also place your hands on an elevated platform when you do the exercise. When your hands are elevated, the movement is easier. The goal is to master your form using a less taxing modification until you’re ready to do a regular push-up with your hands on the floor.
Push-Up Mistakes: Improper Hand Positioning
One common mistake people make is pointing the hands inward when doing a push-up. In this position, your elbows flare outward rather than staying close to your torso where they should be. You can correct this by slightly pointing your hands away from your body. By pointing your hands slightly outward, your elbows and shoulders will be in better alignment and you’ll lower your risk of an elbow or shoulder injury.
Push-Up Mistakes: Not Doing Enough Core Exercises
One common problem people have when doing push-ups is they let their back and hips sag. When you do this, it typically means your core isn’t strong enough. Time to change that! If you do core exercises, on a regular basis, you’ll build the core strength that helps you properly hold your body in the push-up position. Ideally, you want your body to form a straight line from the back of your feet to the tip of your head. A weak core will make it hard to keep your body aligned properly.
The best exercise for building a stronger and more stable core are planks. By doing planks, you’ll improve core strength and stability, making it easier to do push-ups with perfect form. That, in turn, will help you get more benefits and avoid injury.
Push-Up Mistakes: Not Keeping Your Neck Neutral
When you do a push-up, your neck should be in a neutral position. What you don’t want to do is twist your neck or let it drop. Doing so can easily lead to a neck strain. How can you correct this? When descending into a push-up, focus your eyes on a spot a foot or so in front of you. Your head should be in alignment with your spine. If you look down or let your neck drop, you place greater stress on your spine as well.
Push-Up Mistakes: Not Doing Push-Up Variations
If you want maximal results from any exercise, you need progressive overload. How do you do that with push-ups? For one, you can increase the number of push-ups you do. However, once you can whip out 20 with ease, it’s time to try harder push-up variations. Some variations that are more challenging include single-leg push-ups, decline push-ups (arms below feet with your feet on a bench), narrow grip push-ups, and spiderman push-ups. To build power, try plyo push-ups. Plyo, or clap push-ups, burn more calories and activate your pecs and triceps more than standard push-ups.
Push-Up Mistakes: Not Varying the Speed
Do you always do your push-ups at the same speed? Why not work your muscles differently by slowing down or speeding the movement up? Doing fast push-ups or adding a plyometric component, burns more calories. Plus, plyo push-ups build power. At the other end of the spectrum, slowing down the speed keeps your muscles under tension longer and that can lead to greater muscle growth. Try going half-way down and holding the position for as long as you can to keep the muscle under tension longer. Vary the speed with which you do each rep on different days.
The Bottom Line
Push-ups work so many muscles, including your arm and shoulder muscles, upper back muscles, chest, and core. You even work your lower body to some degree when you do push-ups. That’s why push-ups have stood the test of time and are still a favorite military exercise. Yet, it’s important to do them correctly to maximize the benefits and avoid injury.
Ask someone knowledgeable to analyze your form to make sure you’re in proper alignment and are completing the full range-of-motion. If your form is off, work on correcting it. Always keep form in mind that it’s better to do 10 full range-of-motion push-ups with proper alignment than to do 20 sloppy ones. Also, congratulate yourself if you can do full push-ups. Not everyone can! It’s a testament to your strength, endurance, hard work, and dedication to fitness.
On Fitness. March/April 2017. “Push-Ups”
Kinetic Analysis of Several Variations of Push-Ups. Bradley Wurm, Tyler L. VanderZand, Mark Spadavecchia1, John Durocher2, Curtis Bickham3, Erich J. Petushek4, and William P. Ebben1,3
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