Poor Form Fix: Push Ups

If you’re reading this, then I guess you’re one of the poor, unfortunate souls (much like myself) who didn’t get taken up in the rapture last Saturday.  Oh well, I guess we will have to make do.

I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what a Push Up is.  However, finding someone who performs them correctly is a whole different story.  Of all the clients I’ve worked with in the last few years, maybe 2-3 actually did push ups correctly when they first started training with me.  (Big emphasis on the word “maybe”.)

The problem with this is that a push up done correctly and a push up done incorrectly are two completely different things.  When done correctly, they are great for strengthening the chest, shoulders, and abdominal muscles, as well as good for shoulder health.  When done incorrectly, they’re pretty much a waste of time and can leave you feeling pretty beat up over time.

There can be several things wrong with the way someone is performing push ups, but, for the sake of brevity,  I’m going to focus on just a few today.


One of the most common mistakes people make when performing push ups is that they fail to keep their elbows in.  Keeping the elbows tucked in relatively close to the body does several things.  First off, it puts you in a more powerful position.  Think about this, if you were going to shove someone as hard as you can, you would tuck your elbows in right?  This position also is much more shoulder friendly than having your elbows out.

I like to tell my clients to keep their elbow at about 45 degrees from their sides.  This gives them a good position of not too close to the rib cage, while avoiding letting them flare out.  Here are two videos, the first shows what letting the elbows flare out looks like and the second shows the position the elbows should be in.

While it may seem like a subtle difference, it has a profound effect on how the body reacts to push ups.


It’s not uncommon to see someone doing push ups with their butt sticking way up in the air.  Something like this:

The issue here is usually that the individuals abdominals are not strong enough to maintain proper alignment of the body (keeping the body straight from head to ankle.)  The common fix for this is to have someone drop to their knees to perform push ups.  Although I used to have clients do this, anymore I wholeheartedly do not agree with this.

A critical piece to the push up, and one of the things that makes it such a fantastic movement, is the core stability necessary to maintain proper body alignment.  If you have someone drop to their knees, you virtually cut out any core stability due to the two points of contact with the floor (your hands and knees) being so close together.

A better way to fix this problem, as well as regress the exercise to an appropriate level, is to do a modified push up:

By elevating the upper body, you take a significant amount of weight off of the upper body, without taking out the element of core stabilization.  This makes the push up possible for those who are unable to do them from the floor without cheapening the movement.

If you have been performing push ups wrong, give these fixes a shot and enjoy performing them in a brand new, and more effective, way!


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