Top ten common push-up flaws

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.

10. Quantity not quality
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.

9. Done too fast
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.

8. Narrow hand-placing
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.

7. Wide hand-placing
Hands placed wider than shoulder-width apart produces rotator cuff injuries. The shoulders aren’t designed for this.

6. Round shoulders, compressed chest
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.)

. Head retracted into shoulders
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.)

4. Movement of hip joint
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.)

3. Hips tilted back
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.

2. Lower back effort
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!

And the number one common flaw in the pushup is…

1. Thinking of the pushup as a chest and front shoulder exercise
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.


14 thoughts on “Top ten common push-up flaws

  1. i’m going to try this today! i’m very fond of pushups, but i’ve been so weak lately that i can’t get myself one mm. off the ground. this sounds entirely within my means!

  2. ama – excerllent. If you haven’t done push-ups for a while doing them right will feel very stenuous. I’d recommend just a couple of sets of getting into the top position and holding that for several long slow breaths, thinking the mantra (‘shoulders down, chin tucked top of head pulled out, elbows soft, body like a plank’) will suffice give the shoulder girdle and abs the right kind of work for day #1.

  3. hey steve, how useful that you are a psychologist, a philosopher, and a personal trainer all bundled in one! i’ll do exactly as you say. i have done some iyengar yoga so i’m used to paying serious attention to body posture. thank you!

  4. I started doing EFT (, free manual) while working out and just before – it helps a lot: I am actually much more liking the work-outs, and I am actually doing it, and not putting it off as i aften did before… I am very bad at push-ups, but with this tips I am going to put them on my menu 🙂
    Thanks for posting!

  5. I wish I had read this advice before I got injured! Thanks for sharing, perhaps this will avoid other people from getting hurt.

    “7. Wide hand-placing
    Hands placed wider than shoulder-width apart produces rotator cuff injuries. The shoulders aren’t designed for this.”

  6. Fantastic goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you’re just too wonderful. I really like what you have acquired here, certainly like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it sensible. I can not wait to read far more from you. This is really a terrific website.

  7. i’ve done a hundred pushups yesterday and now my upper back hurts like hell!! cannot even straighten my back and the slightest movement or whenever i take a deep breathe it hurts like hell too!! any suggestions?

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