Movement of the Month- Push Ups

January has seen the emergence of the goal setting board. It offers great incentive in that we are forced to identify a particular goal and put it out there for all to see. From looking at the board I’ve noticed muscle ups and even bench press goals appearing and it got me thinking about the basics of these movements. Both rely heavily on pushing strength and surely the most basic measure of pushing strength is push ups. Unless you are able to perform push ups, the most foundational and basic pushing movement, efficiently and for reps you cannot hope to perform well in other related movements. From here we are going to break down the push up, explaining the set up, the different stages of the movement, common faults and assistance movements that can help to greatly improve your pushing strength.

The Starting Position

The starting position of the push up is a basic high plank hold. The body is positioned on the hands and toes with the hands placed directly under the shoulders with the arms fully extended. The rib cage is drawn upward and emphasis placed on core bracing throughout.

The Movement

The eccentric portion or “way down” in the push up starts by bending at the elbows and lowering the chest to the floor. It is important that the elbows are kept at roughly 45 degrees or “close” to the body to ensure efficiency in the movement and reduce the risk of injury. On reaching the floor it is important that only the chest is making contact with the ground and the rest of the torso remains under tension and in that strong plank position. A common fault we see here is a loss in tension at the mid-section, hyperextension at the lower back and the hips as well as the chest making contact with the floor. It is important to brace hard at the abdominals and ensure a strong position at the start of the push up.

The concentric portion is when we exert force through the floor, pushing through the shoulders, chest and arms in order to bring the whole body back to the top position. Again elbow positioning is hugely important here. The more the elbows flare and travel away from the body the more we are isolating the shoulders and exposing ourselves to risk of injury so emphasize close elbows. The push up finishes with the arms fully extended back to our starting high plank position.

Can’t get push ups?

If you struggle to get more than a handful of push ups or you are still waiting on your first one do not worry. There are a number of great assistance movements we can perform in order to improve both the overall position and pushing strength.

  1. Banded Push Ups-Banded push ups employ the same technique as listed above however on this movement a band, attached to the rig, is placed around the hips in order to provide assistance both in the starting position and the pushing portion.
  2. Negative Push ups– Again the technique remains the same on both the start and eccentric parts of the movement but at the bottom the knees, while maintaining a strong torso, are brought to the floor. Bringing the knees down will decrease the load on the way up while still giving that full push up stimulus on the way down.

Ultimately the best way to improve push ups is by doing more of them. Usually when push ups are included in a workout they are done for a large amount of repetitions. Take Murph for example which has 200 of them. Unless you are dedicating specific time before or after class to get in a few sets of push ups you will never build up a tolerance or efficieny in the movement.

On looking at the skill levels board muscle ups are classed as an intermediate movement. The board also states an intermediate level athlete should be able to complete 40 unbroken push ups for males and 20 unbroken push ups for females. If you are not achieving these numbers yet I would strongly advise you reassess your current goals and build more towards these more basic goals as, ultimately, they lead to greater success in the more advanced movements.