Are Your Push Ups Perfect?

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

Push ups.  Ugh.  I’ll be honest.  I did not know where to start with this topic.  At all.  I mean, other than the fact that I half expect most people to do them wrong.  Not because people are stupid, but because it’s hard to find someone that has had detailed instruction on the matter.

I mean really, how much more instruction have people received other than in grade school PE class or little league baseball practice?  Most of the time, not much.  I’m not sure if that’s the reason, but lately push ups seem to be flying a little bit under the radar in terms of their importance.

Yup.  Just lie down, straighten your elbows then drop down again.  Whoopeedoo, right?  What’s next? Please give me something harder.

But hold on there, Dahntay Jones*.  Lets see if you really got it all down.

See. Even MJ was a Spidy fan.

What makes pushups look so easy, and perhaps look less important, is the required control over your entire body.  Anyone that has complete control of their body will often make physical feats look easy.  Think Michael Jackson mid-moonwalk or when guys do stuff like this.

Okay, I’m not implying that being able to do a proper push up will somehow result in the ability levitate or make millions of people lose their minds.  I’m just saying that when people have complete control over their bodies, they tend to make things look effortless.

So what is required to make a not-so-easy movement look easy?

For starters, try to think of your entire body as a stiff board.  Essentially, you’re planking with your body while moving around your shoulder joints.  The part that most people fail to grasp is that the movement starts between your shoulder blades and not by bending your elbows.  Think of your shoulder blades like you would your hips.  In the weight room, most of our compound lower body movements (not you, leg extensions) start with the hips.  Likewise, most compound upper body movements start with the shoulder blades.

So when you’re up in your plank position with your elbows extended and up on your hands (they should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart and turned slightly out, if at all), the FIRST group of muscles to move are between the lower halves of your shoulder blades.

Your rhomboids and lower trapezius muscles play a key role in your ability to squeeze your shoulder blades down and together (scapular retraction).  This is important in any type of movement as it pulls your shoulder joints into the best possible alignment in terms of support and range of motion.  Failure to activate these muscles before any upper body movement will result in motion through a shoulder joint that may be in less than optimal position.

What also happens when you retract your shoulder blades is what I refer to as “connecting your top half to your bottom half.”  This is a common problem when observing people that struggle with pushups.  To understand this concept a little easier, we’ll have to dive into Newton’s 3rd law of motion.  Sorry, I’ve sat through physics classes, so I know what yawning sounds like.  I’ll try to make this as quick and painless as possible.

Basically, Newton’s 3rd law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So if you’re hands are on the floor and you apply downward pressure to separate yourself from said floor, that same pressure will travel back up through your hands and arms.  At this point, if you haven’t engaged your rhomboids and lower traps, you’ll feel a lot of the pressure up around your shoulders.  The pushup may still be very doable for some people but it will be nowhere near as efficient as it should be.

The ground isn’t the only thing that can push back into your body.  It also comes from whatever weight you’re trying to move when you perform other movements.  Failure to distribute energy through your entire body indicates a “break in the chain” so to speak.  It’s in these breaks in the chain (ie. top and bottom halves not connecting) that most people struggle to perform certain exercises.

Now, had you been a good little boy or girl and retracted your shoulder blades before you actually started lowering yourself, you should feel something a bit different.  First, you should feel like you’re actually pulling yourself to the ground.  After you get to the bottom and you start pressing into the floor with those shoulder blade muscles contracted, it should feel like all the pressure coming up through your hands is being evenly distributed throughout your body.  But it is imperative to understand that this will only happen if you’re stabilizing properly through your hips as well.  Think about squeezing your butt cheeks together and locking out your knees as hard as you can.

You should also realize that knowing all of this is fine and dandy, but in the heat of competition, the furthest thing from your mind should be ‘retract your shoulder blades.’  Okay, sorry.  That’s an absolute  lie.  The furthest thing from your mind should be an image of Zach Galifinakas with no pants on, but I digress.

The point is that you don’t want to be thinking about proper body mechanics when it comes time to react in a game or in real life.  That’s why its so important to focus on proper movement with every repetition you do in the gym.  If you work on getting your shoulder blades moving first during a push up, they’ll be more likely to be in proper position when you need them most.

So if you’re pushup was not perfect before reading this, I hope I’ve given you an idea of how to start chasing down perfection.  In the meantime, stay tuned as I’ll be going into other movements in a bit more detail as well.

*As a Duke basketball fan, I promised myself I would use that clip if I ever wrote a blog about pushups.  Crap.  Cats out of the bag.  I may as well have said I use baby kittens as bait when I go shark fishing.


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