6 Pushup Problems That Increase Your Risk of Injury


Pushups are one of the most effective upper body exercises because they work multiple muscles in the upper body in a functional manner. When you first begin doing pushups, you build upper strength, but unless you use progressive overload by increasing the volume or by doing a harder push-up variation, you’ll eventually reach a strength plateau.

As you push yourself to do more pushups or do advanced pushup variations, it’s critical that you use impeccable form. Bad form will reduce your gains but also increase the risk of injury.  Some of the most common injuries people get when they do push-ups with poor form are shoulder injuries, and an injured shoulder can take weeks to months to heal.

Why is an injury so common? People use incorrect form when they push their bodyweight up. Let’s look at the most frequent mistakes people make with push-ups that lead to injury.  Hope this will help you avoid an upper-body strain or injury.

Not Keeping Your Head in Alignment

Have you ever experienced neck pain after doing a set of pushups? It’s a common problem and you’re more at risk if you have a history of neck pain or injury. Here’s why it happens. During a push-up, people tend to drop their head toward the floor. Has this ever happened to you?  Letting your head fall places added stress on your cervical spine and upper back muscle called the trapezius. Over time, this can bring on a neck or upper back strain. It could also lead to a herniated disc in the cervical spine.

Some people also arch their neck when they do pushups, another approach that can lead to injury. The proper approach is to hold your head in a neutral position and maintain a straight line from head to foot with ears and shoulders in line. Good alignment takes the strain off your neck and back.

Another reason you might experience a strained neck from push-ups is you may have weak shoulder muscles. With weak shoulders, your upper trapezius muscles have to work harder to compensate for the shoulder weakness. An investment in shoulder strengthening, including exercises that strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, may help correct this problem.

Letting Your Hips Sag

Saggy hips are one of the most common pushup mistakes people make and it’s easy to do it without being aware. However, it carries a high risk of injury. When your hips droop or fall, it places added stress on your lower back and spine. If you do this consistently, it can lead to a lower back strain or even a herniated disc in the lumbar spine. You also don’t want to push your hips upward as you descend into a pushup. When you push your hips and buttocks up, it places added stress on your shoulders.

One reason your hips sag when you do pushups is you have a weak core. A strong, tight core helps keep your hips in a straight line with the rest of your body when you do pushups. Hips sagging and drooping are often a sign of core weakness. Ask someone to critique your pushup form, if they notice your hips are dropping when you push up, add more core exercises to your routine.

Flared Elbows

Flared elbows during pushups is another recipe for injury. When you do the exercise, your elbows should never move below your wrists. Rather, they should remain above your wrists at all times. One way to reduce elbow flaring is to turn your hands outward a bit so that your fingers point away from your body. Your elbows should also form a 90-degree angle at the bottom of a pushup. When you let your elbows flare, it places unwanted stress on your elbow joints.

Placing Hands Too Far Apart

When you place your hands wider apart, you recruit the large latissimus dorsi in your back more along with your biceps. However, you also target your triceps less than with a standard pushup. The downside? Using a wider grip is harder on your shoulders. Although you may want to use a wide grip on some occasions to work your biceps harder, don’t overdo it and do them in a slow, controlled manner with impeccable form. Also, widening your grip places your body closer to the floor, so you’re not working your upper body as hard.

Doing Harder Pushup Variations Too Soon

At some point, you’ll want to advance your pushup training and do more advanced push-up variations, like spiderman pushups or clap pushups, to name a few, but you need significant upper body strength to pull these variations off using good form. When you first start, you might even be too weak for a standard pushup. You could do them off your knees at first, but this doesn’t teach you the skills you need to do an effective pushup. Instead, place your hands on an elevated surface, like a bench, in the beginning and practice doing standard pushups using impeccable form. The higher the bench, the easier pushing up will be. Take your time and master form first. There’s plenty of time to challenge yourself more as you get stronger.

Not Going Down Far Enough

Doing partial push-ups doesn’t increase your risk of injury, but it reduces the benefits you get from the exercise since you aren’t working your upper body muscles through their full range-of-motion. One advantage of partial reps is you can do more repetitions before fatiguing, but you’ll get greater benefits in the long run if you use full range-of-motion. There are advantages to doing partial reps when you work with barbells and dumbbells since you can use heavier weight when you do partial. However, you don’t use weights with pushups, so there are few advantages to using partial range-of-motion.

The Bottom Line

The pushup is a functional exercise that can make your shoulders, chest, upper back, and triceps stronger. Now you know some mistakes to avoid when you do this exercise. Keep doing push-ups but make every repetition count!



  • Medical News Today. “What happens if you do pushups every day?”
  • org. “Effects of Hand Position During a Push-Up on Scapular Kinematics”
  • 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.


Related Articles By Cathe:

History of Push-Ups: They’ve Been Around Longer Than You Think!

Is a Push-Up the Ultimate Measure of Physical Fitness?

Which Push-Up Variation is Toughest?

5 Ways to Make Bodyweight Exercises More Effective


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