Are you getting all you can from your pushups? If not the problem may lie between your ears – read on!
Maybe you long since dropped them from your program? Everyone ‘knows’ how to do pushups, but almost no-one does them well.
Consequently: physically uncomfortable exercise, lack of progress, injuries. And so the pushup doesn’t feature enough in training programs – people hate doing them!
This is a tragedy. To state just one reason – done well a pushup encourages excellent posture. Done wrong it leads to round shoulders/shrunken chest and sway-back, plus shoulder injuries (esp. rotator cuff).
This blog is about the workings of the mind and I propose that the mind gets in the way of doing the perfect pushup. 1. People’s very often think wrongly about the push-up; as a fitness exercise. And this leads to 2. wrong thinking during the push-up; switching the mind off in order to ‘get through’ them.
Let’s start with common errors.
Very old style gym teachers, coaches, and military instructors still treat pushups as a test of endurance and/or a punishment. The more pushups we do the merrier they are.
However, if pushups are to be a part of our efforts to a stronger, healthier body, then five perfect pushups outdo twenty incorrect ones every time. That’s right, five perfect pushups take considerable work. It’ll take you some time to build up to ten. There’s no reason to do more – rather employ these right technique with legs raised on a Swiss ball.
This is related to #10. Somewhere along the line the pushup has become thought of as a fitness exercise, as in the more pushups I can do the fitter I am. This is misguided. Correctly done the pushup is a strenuous whole body exercise which should be executed slowly and deliberatly. Three to four full seconds going down and the same going up.
The thinking seems to be that changing the hand-spacing works the chest from different angles. This is wrong (see #1) and dangerous. Hands too close promotes rounded shoulders/compressed chest. Instead the hands should be placed directly under the shoulders.
Hands placed wider than shoulder-width apart produces rotator cuff injuries. The shoulders aren’t designed for this.
As soon as people become fatigued they round their shoulders at the back and shorten the pectorals in front. Compressed chest muscles don’t have power – the chest needs to be open. This also means that the shoulder-blades will be flat against the back. See the photo above for perfect upper body positioning. (His hands are a tad far apart, though.)
The crown of the head must be extracted long and the shoulders pulled down producing a long neck; eyes directly down as in the photo. This straightens out the the upper spine and helps to get the right shoulder-blade positioning. (Also, flattening out the upper curve of the spine’s ‘S’-shape flattens out the lower curve.)
The next thing to go wrong is usually not maintaining a rigid body. At the top the butt points into the air, at the bottom the pelvis drags onto or near the ground – giving an overall impression of someone parodying intercourse. No! The body is to remain fixed, no movement at the hip joint. (It does not matter if the butt points a bit into the air as long as this position is maintained throughout the whole movement.)
By tilted back I mean the hips rotated into a sway-back. What’s reuquired is the opposite of sway-back. In fact having the butt lifted a little (#5) makes it easier to maintain the correct hip position.
Having the hips in the correct (opposite of sway-back) position makes the pushup hard work for the abs. This is a sign we’re doing it right. Every bit of midriff effort not put into the abs goes straight into the lower back – avoid!
Instead, the pushup is largely a lat and rear shoulder (and ab) exercise. I know it’s hard to accept. I’ll expand on this in future posts. In the meantime, try this: egt yourself in to the arms extended push-up position and adopt all the postural recommendation I’ve made. Slowly adjsu it until you feel your rear deltoids, upper lats, and abs working hard and no discomfort or undue effort in your neck, traps, front delts, or lower back. Just holding that for 30 seconds will do the right muscles and your posture a world of good.