Who would have thought the word “bungle” would make it’s way into a blog post title someday?
Winning the award for Least Creative Exercise Name, the pushup should be staple in everybody’s exercise program.
It combines a plank and a press into an all-around awesome movement that can build a base of strength, help us hypertrophy our upper body, prehab the shoulder girdle, and even supply a second grade class with cupcakes (seriously, every pushup you do gives a cupcake to a child in need).
However, if you’re into butchering exercises and making second graders cry, here is a list of the 8 most surefire ways to turn your pushups into a chaotic episode of misaligned body parts and forgotten good intentions.
1. Poke Your Head Forward …
Until you leave a nose imprint on the floor.
Kind of like a turtle. Come to think of it, poke your head forward all the time. A forward head posture is a good way to see your iPhone/laptop/iPad better, relieve headaches, and keep your cervical spine neutral.
2. Keep Your Elbows Pinned To Your Sides …
And allow your upper arm to hyperextend past your body. I mean really let that anterior shoulder capsule have it. See if you can extend your upper arm 90 degrees past your body. Your labrum will thank you.
Your arm doesn’t really have much extension range-of-motion past neutral, but IDFWU, science. #IDFWS
3. Arch Your Low Back Really Hard …
And then crank your head back while you’re at it. It’s important to be able to see what’s going on in front of your while you’re performing a stationary movement such as a push-up. You know, just in case some sort of 4-legged furry animal comes scurrying across the floor at your face in an all-out assault.
Arching the low back does another good thing for us: it allows us to take our core completely out of the movement. Remember, we want to keep the core as weak and dormant as possible. This means that we should ignore it completely when doing movements like pushups.
4. Flare Your Arms Out …
At 90 degrees (or more if you can handle it)! I suspect that holding the upper arm at about 30-50 degrees of abduction probably gives us the best joint congruency because the humeral head (ball) and glenoid fossa (socket) have the most direct contact in that range.
Bringing the arms up to 90 degrees or pinning them to your sides puts us in a more unstable position, kind of like squatting on an exercise ball.
And since we all know that unstable surface training is the best way to gain strength and feel better overall, we should look to create instability in our joints, too!
5. Pin Your Shoulder Blades Back …
Or avoid letting them retract at all! You see, the less the shoulder blades move, the more the humeral head (again, ball) has to.
If you allow the shoulder blades to move during a pushup, you lose out on the benefit of becoming dangerously hypermobile at the shoulder joint.
6. Choose a variation that is altogether too difficult …
And then inchworm yourself up into the pushup position. This will create massive extension in the lower back, but massive extension is good.
If we always kept our lumbar spine neutral, we would need to rely on our anterolateral core muscles and lower body posterior chain to keep us standing upright.
Better yet, we could stop standing upright altogether. If you sit more, you’ll be closer to your iPhone/laptop/iPad (and also the ground, which would keep your cooler during those hot summer days and saving you money on electricity).
It would also make you more like a gorilla – and gorillas are just like fuzzy humans with 8 ft wingspans.
The obvious conclusion is this: there are a lot of ways to mess up a pushup. And that really sucks, because pushups are great for building strength, hypertrophying the upper body, and keeping the shoulder complex moving correctly.
They’re also a great option when you’re short on equipment or on-the-go. They can be a metric for measuring relative strength, muscular endurance, and core endurance. And pushups are generally a component of any great physical training movie montage.
Here are a few tips to make sure your pushups are actually awesome:
- Maintain a neutral spine – that means chin tucked into your neck (don’t poke your head forward or crank it back into extension) and anterior core braced (you can also fire your glutes to help tilt your pelvis posteriorly).
- Allow the shoulder blades to move freely through full retraction and protraction.
- Understand ranges-of-motion – I generally use 45 degrees as a rule of thumb for upper arm/torso angle. Pinning the elbows to the side or flaring them out creates a more unstable environment at the shoulder.
- Choose the right variation – that might mean doing pushups from the knees. They aren’t for girls, they’re for those who can’t perform a full pushups correctly yet.